Writing Conferences

Miss Snark,

Have you heard of "The Muse and the Marketplace 2006" conference sponsored by Grub Street, Inc in Boston?

I'm in the Beantown area and thinking of attending. I'm also thinking of shelling out the additional money for the manuscript mart--it's a bit pricey, but the money is a donation to Grub Street, Inc, which seems like a good organization.

Are these types of conferences worth the price of admission? Or should I save my pennies for query postage?

I looked at the website and I know quite a few of the agents and editors on the roster. Whether it's "worth the price of admission" I don't know cause I've never attended one of these things as a writer ...ie paying to go. I sit on the other side of the desk with Killer Yapp and shout for refills of the gin IV.

My guess is however that among the readers of this blog are a fair number who have attended conferences like this, or even this one in previous years. Let's ask them to give us the scoop:

Have you attened a writing conference like this?

What are the "this is a good thing" signs to watch for?
What are the red flags to watch for?

Was your experience "worth it"?
Would you attend again?

Email me your experiences and I'll post them. If you want anything to be confidential, let me know in the email.

Miss Genoese published a lovely bit of advice on attending these kinds of conferences. If you're thinking of going, you might want to print it out, memorize it and live it.


Anonymous said...

I've only been to one, but I've gone three times and found it absolutely worth it. For good mentoring, fascinating craft lectures, great fellowship with other writers. It's my favorite kind of vacation ever. But I didn't go with any business goals, ie snagging an agent or editor. I went because it was fun to hang out with other writers and talk about things that are interesting to me.

Bill Peschel said...

I haven't been to this one, but I've been to two Bouchercons, several Harriet Austin Writers Conferences and a small MWA event.

They were good conferences, and in those pre-Internet days, vital to learn about the business (I remember in particular thriller writer John Gilstrap's vivid sermon on how to pitch your book). Now, it's amazing what you can pick up by hanging around the writers, editors, agents online.

So here's what I would ask before sending in my money:

* What do I want to accomplish? Fun? Networking? Pitching an agent or editor? Do they have what I'm looking for.

* How big is the conference, in space and number of attendees. Bouchercon can be overwhelming, but at the HAWC, there were only a couple hundred people and a leisurely atmosphere.

* Now that I've been to a couple, I would seriously question going unless you can show a specific benefit from going. It's great fun to go, and if you're book's coming out, meeting the bookbuyers in your genre is good marketing. But if you're serious about getting published, it's not necessary.

That said, I'm still going to a Pennwriters' conference in May to pitch my snark-o-metered novel, and to Bouchercon.

Sal said...

Here's the link Miss Snark gave back a month ago to Miss Genoese on pitching editors at conferences. The blog post also has an outline of what's considered general good behavior at conferences and why you should practice same.

• Don't accost an editor in the bathroom.
• Don't be rude to other people.

Miss Genoese also has a whole clutch of posts that she's tagged demystifying publishing that are worth a look or three.

She also has a great rant "about people who do stupid things where I can see them..." that includes this gem,

Here is an example: I have, in the past, been known to Google my own name. (My grandpa and mother both do it too. It's kind of neat.) I found a blog written by a woman who had submitted work to me, and been rejected. In one entry, she compared her book to other books I had chosen for publication, pointing out why her book was better than all of those books.

Then she submitted work to me again.

This is another entry about common sense and politeness, I think. Use your freaking brain. If it's on the internet, anyone can find it.

If you don't read Anna Louise Genoese's blog, you should.

Ginger said...

I’ve attended conferences and I’ve also helped to organize them, both as a volunteer and as staff. So, I’ve seen them from different sides.

Know why you want to go. That will help you target the conference that has the same goal as you do. Are you going because you want to schmooze with published authors? Are you wanting to meet agents or editors? Are you looking for workshops on the craft or business of writing?

Knowing what you want out of the conference will also help you focus on achieving your goal.

If you choose your conference based on the great workshops or panels, then you can plan your day(s) so that you hit the classes that you want to attend. You’ll sit up front and center. You’ll be ready to ask questions.

If you choose the conference based on agent attendance, then you can do research on the agents and editors attending, down to pictures, if possible, of the ones you want to meet. You’ll know who represents what you write. If the conference offers one-to-one consultations, you’ll sign up in time to get the agent/editor of your choice. You may even look for conferences that offer more than one consult or perhaps offer other opportunities, like getting your query or synopsis read by agent/editor/published author in your genre. If you want to meet agents, then going to the bar will take priority over attending the workshops. Seriously.

If you’re going to meet other authors, then look for conferences where the workshops are taught primarily by authors, where there are a lot of author panels, where there are book signing opportunities.

No matter why you’re going, leave the wallflower personality at home. If you have to, pretend you’re someone else. Do not sit alone at lunch. Do not go to dinner alone – walk up to a group and join the conversation, ask someone to go with you to dinner, go into the bar and ask to join a group wearing conference nametags.

Collect business cards, give out your own. Take notes on who you meet.

If you live close to the conference site, volunteer to help. You may wonder why you should pay to go and then work for free. Have you ever thought about what goes on behind the scenes? Who drives the agents and editors to and from the airport? Who takes care of them during the conference, making sure they can find the rooms or the luncheon? Who are those people assigned to each agent/editor during those consults? The volunteers. But not just any volunteer. The trusted long-time volunteers, so volunteer all year-round, not just at conference time.

Okay, I think I’ve gone beyond the question. I could go on and on. Many a time I’d see attendees just standing around or obviously too shy to join in. When I did, I’d take them and introduce them to an agent or a more outgoing attendee.

Whatever conference you attend, make the most of it.

orion said...

Both anonymous and bill are right on as far as I am concerned.
I attend the Maui Writers' Conference and Retreat. The Retreat is SOOOO worth it to me (keep in mind I live in Hawaii so it is the only conference I go to). You can work on your craft and really focus on LEARNING while studying with a published author it is immensely valuable. I networked with newly published authors that are diligent and intent on improving their writing. They have evolved into a tremendous support group for me.
The conference itself...less beneficial and full of people (with ideas rather than books) mostly just looking for an agent...
Writing workshop, retreats and classes can be terrific.
The people these conferences won't work for? The ones who ask -- How can I make a million dollars selling the novel I haven't written yet?
It's a humbling experience talking to agents face to face and seeing that they are real live hardworking people who are looking for good publishable work -- then hearing that the poor dears are knee high in stuff that...well...that I used to send out...ARGGHH!
I know I am a better writer for having attended and I will continue to attend each year because I see the improvement. The first year I received nothing but rejections...the second year I am sending out partials and fulls...
I didn't go to get an agent...I went to improve my writing...
Oh Miss Snark come to Maui...Please?
There is gin here...palm trees swaying...although it has been cold this winter...it got all the way down to 78...

Anonymous said...

I'm signed up for this one. Just the saturday--and my expectation is to learn from the workshops and network with other writers. I won't attack an agent in the hallway. I did not pay $50 extra to sit at a table with an agent.
I did not sign up for a reading with an agent. Although, I did do this at the very beginning of my novel journey at another conference--paid 100 bucks for 15 pages and 15 minutes--and it was the best money ever spent because I got the encouragement and enthusiasm I craved to go on--and I've gone on now to revise and resubmit.

Julia said...

I'm going to my first conference on 4/7.

I'll be sure to let everyone know what I think.

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

Ditto what Ginger says about knowing why you want to go.

Conferences, when chosen well, are well worth it and not just for the workshops, critiques etc...

Meeting people and talking about your passion outside of the computer are also great perks.

Writers live inside their own heads a lot of the time. You shouldn't have to pay for a conference to get out of it - but some of us do. Attending a conference is often the best way to get away from the PC and use those other communication skills -i.e. interpersonal.

Anonymous said...

Grub Street is an incredible resource.

I have been to the Muse twice and will be going again this year. Not only have I learned a great deal about the business, but I've had my manuscript requested by agents, befriended other writers, and made contact with editors at major publishing houses.

I strongly recommend shelling out the fifty bucks to have lunch with someone from the list. Publishing is a business and networking is essential to every stage of your writing career.

Some advice: Be prepared. That means have business cards printed (think of them as calling cards with contact information); when an agent or editor asks what you're reading, have a list ready; when someone asks what you're writing, have your sound-bite polished.

Be polite, be professional, and spend time with people who are as passionate about writing as you are. Enjoy.

bordermoon said...

I've been to a couple and they were huge amounts of fun. But I went to have fun, meet other people who were also nuts about books, to listen to panel speakers (which can be huge amounts of fun too -- I'll never forget the Romance Writers conference I went to where one of the tracks was crime and mystery, and the speaker, a homicide investigator, discussed a murder he'd worked on -- a woman murdered in her own home. He clearly thought we were all sweet and pure, as we were at a Romance conference. So he shows photos and tells about the murder and then said, "And the victim's face had been covered with a cloth -- anyone know what that means?" When the entire audience chorused "It means the killer knew her!" the presenter sort of staggered back in astonishment before recovering enough to choke out "That's absolutely correct." He got a lot less careful of our supposedly delicate sensibilities after that...

There are also often great shopping ops. And at one of the conferences, I got to sit next to Carole Nelson Douglas during the book signing and actually got not only to SEE, but to HOLD, the one of a kind "Midnight Louis" pumps that Stuart Weitzman made for her in exchange for a complete autographed set of the Midnight Louie books for his daughter.

Anonymous said...

I attended HAWC last year. It was my first and I felt well worth the time and money. Since I am the shy girl that doesn't say much I did a lot of listening. Truthfully, I was blown away by the talent that was there.

Harriet's adopted child
Georgia Girl

Andrew Freeman said...

I keep hearing good things about Grub Street, first at Bread Loaf and then in the Boston Globe and Poets & Writers. They've got some great writers teaching their classes, and there are a lot of heavy hitters in the conference line-up. I know a bunch of people who got agents and book deals at conferences like this, but I'm a poet so I ain't got a shot. I might still go to this conference, though, just to get my Grace Paley books signed. The Grub Street conference seems like a bargain compared to a lot of the other conferences I've seen.

Anonymous said...

I've been to a number of conferences, and they can be wonderful, but this one leaves me cold. They charge $120 to meet with an agent or editor! That's ridiculous, and is normally not done at conferences. They also charge $50 to be seated at a lunch table with an editor or agent. Odd. The workshops are limited in comparison to other conferences I've attended for similar $. However, I have heard nothing but excellent things about the Grub Street organization, so it may be worthwhile, depending on what you are looking for.

Little hint on conferences. You can often meet the editors/agents by simply introducing yourself to them in the bar or just after a workshop or panel. Ask a question relating to their talk or what they're looking for, and you'll usually get in response, "So what do you write?"

Then, tell them, in a sentence or two. Just the main concept...if they want to know more, they'll ask...or may even say, "That sounds interesting, why don't you send it to me."

And that's a freebie. Less pressure than a formal meeting, especially if you have to pay for it!


Mary R said...

One note about the cost of the Manuscript Mart - the person you are speaking with will already have read 20 pages of your manuscript. All the other conference pitch sessions I've seen have just been cold pitches.

I've found that I have to be careful about attending conferences, classes and such. It's easy to feel like you're making forward motion, but focusing on the business and social side of things before having a solid writing habit and really knowing what your writing voice will be can be counterproductive.

I'm in the area, but pulling back from getting involved with Grub until I have a full manuscript finished.