Friday, February 5, 2010

You Tell Me: Writer's Conferences

In the fine tradition of Nathan Bransford, I am having my first "you tell me" blog post.

I have never been to a writer's conference. I didn't really see the point; so many people seemed to treat it as an opportunity to pitch agents, but by the time I started learning about conferences I had already sent out queries to everyone I thought was a good fit, which seemed to mean that if I did attend one of these things and got the chance to talk to an agent, I'd end up pitching someone who (1) already rejected me, (2) got my query but had not yet rejected me, which would make me feel like a stalker ("have you read it yet? how about now?") or (3) is not a fit for my book.

These did not seem like good choices.

However, I am now a Grubbie. And Boston's Grub Street hosts a conference every year called The Muse and The Marketplace, with classes and keynote speakers and all that good stuff. We know how I like the Grub Street seminars, and the fees for the conference include attendance at up to eight seminars, which adds up to a quite inexpensive price per class... yes, they're likely going to be more lecture-style and not be the nice small classes I've been attending with no more than 12 people, but the content will surely still be excellent. And, the bloggers I know who have been to these events all seem to rave about them.

So, should I go? For one day or both days? I normally wouldn't sign up for anything that took me away from Serious Girl for two whole days in a row, but I don't have to travel overnight or anything. I love the Grub Street community, so I know I'll enjoy the company (rather than feeling like I'm just there to "network" in an awkward way). And, assuming that I do decide to go, should I sign up for any of the extras?
  • Manuscript Mart ($130). Spend 20 minutes discussing your work with a prominent literary agent or editor, who will have read your [20-page] manuscript in advance. This fee is in addition to package registration fees.
  • Preferred Lunch Seating ($50). Enjoy your lunch on Saturday at a "Five-Star Table" with a combination of 5 guest authors, editors and agents. Fee is in addition to other registration fees.
Have you been to a conference like this? What did you like best? What did you like least? What do you wish they had that was missing? What should I know before I go?


  1. I have only been to one conference, the NESCBWI last spring, and I signed up too late to do the discuss your work thing. But I loved hanging out with other writers. And getting my feet wet, and chatting with agents (I did not pitch). It just made the writing world seem much closer to me. But, I really would like to do the discuss your work thing, simply because most of the time feedback from agents and editors is hard to come by. That is what I'm looking for this year.

  2. For the price, I would definitely say go for it. Maybe save the $130, but if you don't mind spending that go for that too. I've never been to a writer's event, but my past experience with trade shows tells me that the opportunity to network, hear new ideas (or the same old ideas), and just be part of the writing scene adds to your experience and getting your name out there. Take some business cards or something to give to people so they'll remember you.
    Come back and tell us about it on the blog.

  3. I'm attending a conference where I only signed up for the Saturday session - it's hard to leave kids. I think you should go. It's fun to hang with other writers. Check and see if there are any contests going on as well - like a first chapter or page contest - it never hurts your query to be able to say you won something.

  4. I've never gone to one either, but it is something that I hope to do in the future. It seems like a great opportunity. Do it! And don't forget to tell us about it.

  5. i have never been to a conference either.
    BUT i think you should go because then you can blog about it and tell us everything about it!
    Yes, i'm selfish like that ;D

  6. The conference that I just went to didn't include any pitch appointments or anything, it was just great speakers. I liked it that way. I learned a lot. I think any conference will be useful. Some are probably more worth it that others, but I say GO! You'll have fun.

  7. I think you should [a] go, and [b] sign up for the extras you mentioned. Look at it this way--you'll be there, and those kinds of opportunities to sit and talk with agents don't come very often. The lunch thing is about networking and making contacts so that they remember you when you query them. So, YES YES YES. (And I want a full report!)

    And, kudos to you for getting involved. I too avoid conferences for the reasons you cite. I know in a way that it holds me back from making contacts.

  8. But see, what's the point of getting someone to "remember me when I query them" if I already queried them? I guess there's Book Two to think of, but that seems so far off...

  9. Lots of people requery agents who've previously rejected them. It's pretty common. Especially if you've changed your story since, or written a new one. And meeting them face-to-face is really, really beneficial. Just something to consider. :)

  10. I went to the Willamette Writers' Conference a couple years ago. It is perfect for someone in your position: agent hunting. They had some free "pitch practices" where authors could pitch their ideas to a panel of agents and get instant feedback. Some people made contacts right there.

    You also saw how subjective it all is. One woman pitched her novel about a girl who was deliberately trying to get AIDS. One agent said, "I'm intrigued; I'd definitely want to read more." Another agent said, "I wouldn't want to read it. It sounds dreadful." It made me see that rejection isn't always about me or a flaw in my proposal.

    It could be interesting to approach an agent who has turned you down . . . though I admit that would take guts to do!

  11. I'd say go--but mostly for the networking with other writers. That can be way fun. But I wouldn't pay extra for pitch sessions because very few agents report finding clients in them. Mostly they're money-makers for the conference.

    Ditto the VIP lunch table. Some idiot will dominate the conversation trying to pitch her faery trilogy the whole time and you'll end up frustrated and annoyed.

    What commercial boost the conference can provide is that you can say in your query "I heard you speak at the conference, and I was fascinated by what you had to say about..." Foot in the door. The agent will pay more attention to the query and figure you're not a total ignoramus.

  12. never done it.. but excited to learn how it goes with you :)

  13. Never been to one, but I'd love to! It kinda sounds like you're trying to talk yourself into it.

  14. I've found conferences more or less helpful depending on where I am in my writing process at the time they occur; if it's an industry-focused conference when I am in the midst of writing, or a writing-focused conference when I am in the midst of querying, it's less helpful and sometimes frustrating. But the right fit conference can be really energizing, and usually one day is plenty for that unless there are particular workshops speaking to me on multiple days.

    As for the Manuscript Mart, I used to see it as a LOT of money for what it is--a full-manuscript read would be another story, but you've probably gotten feedback on the first 20 pages from workshops/readers/writing groups already and wouldn't hear much different--but when I started budgeting money each month for charity, I realized that if I just thought of it as a donation (which it is, 100% of the $ goes to Grub Street), and I was going to be donating that money somewhere anyway, it felt different and might make some sense to do. So I'm thinking I might submit and request an editor rather than an agent, and use the opportunity to ask some targeted questions about this book in this market that are harder to get answers to from agents or from general industry reading.

  15. Go for the full two days. If you've heard good things about the content from other writers, it will likely turn out to be worth the time and money as far as you're concerned too.

    If your manuscript is almost-there but not quite there, and you can't figure out what else to do about it, go for the manuscript review. If it's either far from being ready or totally ready and you just need to find the right person for it, I'd say skip it.

    The preferred seating thing is for the fangirl in you. Only spend the money if meeting these people is really exciting for you, and if you're doing it purely for the entertainment value. I don't believe the situation would offer any real networking potential.