Miss Snark, what is your goal when you attend conferences and what do you feel your job is?

Until this blog was born, writing conferences were the only way to actually teach writers some of the more practical aspects of how to get their work considered. All the questions on this blog from writers were the same ones writers asked at conferences. It's MUCH more efficient to teach large groups than small groups when we're doing the basics like "what goes in a query letter".

The writing conferences I've been to never asked if I was taking on new clients. Perhaps it was assumed I was since I said I would attend. The truth is I'm always on the look out for great work. The downside of that is I'm not going to take something half assed just to say I signed up a client from a conference (and conference organizers push for that HARD).

A writing conference is just a walking slush pile. 75% of the work there isn't publishable and probably won't be. Ever. Not even with all the seminars, classes and pitch meetings. That's just a cold hard fact. No one ever made money telling people they were probably never going to get published so the writing conferences don't ever say that. And they hardly ever let you give anyone an honest critique. In fact, bringing pages to a conference is frowned on. Giving pages to an agent is frowned on. Letting agents actually teach a class using writing samples from the conference attendees is rare. What conferences pitch is the idea that you can sit across from an agent and in five minutes "pitch" your work and have them want want want it.

It's a racket. Conferences actually charge people extra money to sign up for pitches. I'd MUCH rather read a query letter and ten pages than listen to a shy, embarrassed terrified author talk about his/her work. The only way you ever get good at that kind of challenge is to do it a thousand times. I STILL write phone scripts when I pitch a new work and I've done this MORE than a gazillion times.

I'd probably never say any of that to a conference organizer cause it would be such a slap in the face. Most of them are good, well intentioned people who work incredibly hard for no pay and only want to see writers succeed.

I know there are agents who feel differently about this. Good agents too, not just the attention hounds who like to be treated like rock stars in downtown Not-NYC for the weekend.


Robin said...

Thank you for this and for your blog in general. I check in here often -- it makes writing a little like working in an office with someone who knows what the hell is going on. Which is priceless. I owe you a bottle of gin. Maybe two. I'd like to deliver George Clooney, but he hasn't talked to me since the trial. Pissy actors.

I will probably attend some conferences, though, just because there are some people I'd really like to meet. Karen over at Backspace is so nice, as are many of the Backspace members (though I don't post there often). I do appreciate your honesty about the issue, though. It's good to have realistic expectations.

Thanks again. Advice with humor and snark. What more could we ask for?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Wow, I feel pampered Miss Snark. All the things that you say they won't let you do at a secular conference, we do a Christian Writers conferences! The one I attended in July (Lisa Samson was one of the featured writers and one of the editors was from WaterBrook)

We were told to bring packets of ten pages plus a synopsis to pass out.

Critiquing was a note taking experience, and several agents used attendees writing samples as teaching tools.

In fact, one screenwriter had a scene played out as a class tool.

You need to switch conferences :-)

Miss Snark said...

Think about that last comment for a minute.
Can you imagine Miss Snark - gin swilling, blue language, stiletto heeled, Clooney stalker - at a conference of Christian writers?

Hang on, I hear hell freezing over, I better get my skates!

They'd toss me out the door and do an exorcism!

randy said...

Interesting you bring up the subject. I've been to four RWA National Conferences. The first three were indistinguishable from the pep rallies I remember from high school. A lot of, "you can do it, you can do it, you can, you can."

Not the fourth one. This past July in Reno, I heard agents, editors, keynote speakers, and multi-pubbed authors sounding the first notes of doom I can remember hearing. I wondered at the time if this new frankness was a trend or a coincidence.

I joked to my fellow unpubbed writers that maybe it was RWA's attempt to thin out the ranks.

Mark Pritchard said...

That was a great entry, Miss S.

What I like about your blog is that you perform a valuable crap-detection service while never coming off as haughty or bitter (as did one famous author in her anti-creative writing essay in Harpers this summer). Perhaps it's a difficult balance to strike, but I for one really appreciate the way you do it.

Goldfish said...

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a volunteer at an annual writers' conference in a particularly gorgeous and sunny sea-side town that just started including an Agents Day last summer. I contacted the coordinator yesterday to check my facts, because I felt certain that - at least in our case - it was not the money-grubbing, greed-based exercise in futility that you seemed to think it is. Here is her response (names changed to protect the innocent):

"Miss Snark is certainly snarky! Whew! Here’s the scoop on our Agents Day. We charged $20 for each slot with an agent, half of which went to the conference, half to the agent. However, we also paid for all their lodging (two nights at stiff rates) and, for some, travel expenses, and I lost a lot of money on the deal. We won’t offer free lodging or expenses next year, but will offer a flat $250 honorarium for any agent who comes. I’d love to make money on the deal, but it’s most likely going to be a wash. I’ll tell you that many of the agents who came last June were thrilled with the quality of our writers – several went out of their way to mention it – and [Major Agent at Well-Known Publisher] has signed at least one writer and is talking seriously to four others I know of. So, Miss Snark ought to come to [our conference] perhaps. What do you think? :) "

I'll admit that there was a small but vocal minority who thought it was a bad idea, and who likened the $20 to 'reading fees'. Conferences are expensive to run, and we do our absolute best to make it a good deal for everyone, including the agents.

The focus of our conference is on craft, and the entire week is spent in read-and-critque groups led by multiply-published authors with expertise in their literary niche. We placed Agents Day early in the week so that attendees could quickly shift their attention away from 'the pitch' and back to the craft. It worked. We had happy authors, happy agents, happy staff and happy volunteers.

Your experience with other conferences may be vastly different. I just wanted to set the record straight for any among your wide and exalted readership who may have attended a conference last June in said beautiful sea-side town and were concerned about where their money went.

Thank you for the magnificent blog.

Ever Yours,

A Sea-side Snarkling

Goldfish said...

(And in case anyone wonders why I'm not plugging this fabulous conference by including the name of it - it's because I didn't want this post to be written off as a plug, and therefore another money-making scheme. )

Dee-Ann LeBlanc said...

The Surrey International Writers Conference in BC, Canada doesn't charge extra, includes "blue pencil" appointments where a professional editor or writer will go over 5 pages of your manuscript with you (again no fee), has plenty of talks where they're bluntly honest about your chances of breaking in, and more. That must be one reason that it's so popular with attendees and presenters. I've gone for years because it's close to me and otherwise have no affiliation, I'm just in love with the conference. :)

-- Dee-Ann LeBlanc

Let me add my own annoyance, I hate blogging services that require me to "Create" yet another blog just so I can post!!! Aaaaaaaaaaarg! It's bad enough being a writer with multiple pen names, I still don't need an infinite number of blogs. My real blog is here.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Now, Miss Snark,
I know a lot of women who wear stilettos. But the Clooney thing....uuhhh, I think you'd have some definate competition. No one would judge you. They'd be too busy trying to get you to critique and sign up their work.

Besides, a friend and I went to dinner with a woman who was so glad her piece had recieved a favorable review, that we practically had to carry her back to the conference. And the best part was she didn't want a breathe mint.(yikes) :-)