Writing Conference Roulette

A plaintive call from the comment gallery: "tell us three writing conferences that are Snark worthy"

While Miss Snark likes thinking of herself as a cross between the oracle of Delphi and the Wizard of Oz, the grim reality is she neither speaks Greek nor hails from Kansas. That said, she relishes hurling her opinion bolts from the Olympian heights of her balcony on Flyover Street.

Miss Snark's idea of a GREAT writing conference is one that does not require her to leave the boro, drinks are free and served by Ewan McGregor (oiled), and is also being attended by three executive editors with sudden holes in their winter list and money to burn.

None of these things should be anywhere near YOUR list, beloved Snarklings.

To figure out what is best for you herewith four statements of purpose:

1. Meet an agent or editor to pitch your FINISHED novel or proposal

2. Learn more about the arcane ways of the publishing industry

3. Meet agents /editors/other writers who will be helpful to you when your book is finished

4. Learn how to be a better writer or to get some help for your novel

Prioritize those statements
If 1 or 2 is the highest priority, here's my advice:

1. Pick a conference with agents and editors as the attraction, not a big name author.

2. Look for conferences attended by agents who run their own small or boutique agencies. They are the decision makers and usually they are looking for clients if they are at a conference. Assistant agents at ICM are usually NOT decision makers.

3. Go to every panel you can. Sit in the front row. Take notes.

4. Don't spend more than $500 including travel. Less is better.

5. Stay at the conference hotel. Leave your spouse and kidlets at home to fend for themselves.

6. Sign up for as many pitch meetings as you can afford (keeping the $500 limit in mind).

7. Take your laptop and spend the first night of the conference googling every agent who's there.

If your priority order is 4 on top and 1 on the bottom

1. Look for a writing conference that has writing workshops and lots of authors. Not necc. BIG name authors. That can be like getting beauty tips from Miss America ...those girls operate in a whole different league from those of us shopping at Sephora.

2. Look for a conference with writers of books you enjoy reading. If you don't recognize an author's name, google them, and read their latest books. Often times the big names are NOT the best teachers.

3. Sign up early. Preferences can be given in registration order.

4. Don't spend more than $500 including travel. Don't buy any books at the conference. They charge full retail on most of them and you can get them at the library mostly.

5. Take your laptop AND a printer. Plan to write and revise while you are there.

6. Stay at the conference hotel.

7. Meet other writers. Let the blowhards talk. The real writers are soaking it all in and putting it back out on the page.

If your top priority is 3, don't go. Go to free events like readings or book fairs.

For everyone, whatever priority is first:

8. Treat this like work. Fun is fun, but plan to get your money's worth. Use your free time to work, not fuck around, unless your goal is being on Page Six with Miss Snark.

9. Do not plan to accost or befriend an agent in the bar. While Miss Snark has funded entire college educations for bartenders with her tips, she's never once not EVER signed anyone in a bar or remembered anyone after a social conversation. Miss Snark remembers your work, even if you are funny and buying the drinks. She will REALLY not sign you if you ever produce video showing both her dress and syntax askew at the end of the night.

10. Never ever NEVER pitch unless an agent asks "what is your novel about". Some time back Miss Snark received an enthused call from a potential client. This author was so excited! because! her! husband! met! an! editor!!! on! the! train! into! town! from! the! airport.!!! The editor wanted to see her work!!! The editor however, sadly, worked in a house that only accepted agented work. (insert sound of CLUE GONG ringing here). Thus, the opportunity of a lifetime for Miss Snark: a deal right here in the offing and no work involved.

Miss Snark discreetly muted the phone while she guffawed. But lighting CAN strike, and not foolish enough to miss a chance if it drops in her lap, Miss Snark said, send the ms, I'll take it over to 666 Publishing.

The ms came. Miss Snark ripped the package open with her pointy little fangs. It was not the worst thing Miss Snark has ever read, but it was in the bottom 10.

Needless to say, the editor passed, Miss Snark passed and that poor author still doesn't know why.

Here's why: editors AND agents, but mostly editors have a hard time saying no to your face. That doesn't mean they are going to buy your project. It means they are going to have you send it and then send you a rejection letter. That seems like a waste of time and money you might think. Well, yes, but it's YOUR time and money, not theirs. Like most of us, editors will take the easy way out to avoid saying no to someone while sitting across from them in a bar, on a train, in an elevator or god forbid, at breakfast before 9am.

For any person who tells you they pitched successfully in any of those places, the next question to ask is "did the editor or agent take it on?" I'll bet my bottom dollar the answer is no.

Writing conferences can be useful. Serendipity can play a part. Just remember to ask direct questions politely, and remember everything you hear including Miss Snark's blog is just opinion.