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.