How Important are Conferences

Dear Miss Snark,

I've read on various agent blogs that a good way for first time novelists to get a "foot in the door" is to go to conferences. Pitch to an agent there, network, etc. and perhaps they'll request a partial or recognize your name when the query appears out of the slush pile.

How important are these conferences? I live in BFE and it would cost nearly $1000 bucks or more to attend most of these things (including hotel and travel). And if I did manage to spring for one conference...well, it's only one conference and most likely one agent. Seems like a costly gamble.

What's your advice?

The more email I get from y'all the more convinced I am you don't think we read the slush pile: that it just sits here and when we get bored we sit around nipping from gin flasks, ripping out SASEs, writing "no dice" and sending them back.

CLUE: I read every single letter in the slush pile. EVERY ONE. So do ALL of the agents I know well, and probably the rest of them too. Yes, people arrive in ways other than the slush but pound for pound the slush pile produced more clients for me than ANYTHING ELSE, including conferences.

Conferences can be good for a lot of things, primarily meeting other authors, making friends, and getting a chance to actually see with your own four eyes that agents are human beings (editors...that's a different story of course).

You don't need a conference to get an agent.
You need to write really really well.

I read the slush pile...most of it's crap. Don't write crap.


ORION said...

I feel like a broken record.
Wait. I AM a broken record.
I am a fan of conferences.
The networking is invaluable and you learn much about not being a nitwit.
I think it is great when there are workshops and it is especially good for those who have finished manuscripts.
Are there other ways of networking? Sure. This is just one way.

r louis scott said...

Maybe, just maybe, you will go to one of these conferences and get to have a drink with an author you respect and admire. Maybe you will talk to a fellow attendee and find that you are both in the same boat- no time for a real life writer's group, so you will hook up and edit each other's book via email. Maybe you will get a glimpse of reality concerning the market for your work. Maybe you will go to a conference and gain motivation to keep going from a nice bunch of people that share your boat.

It worked for me.

Cathy in AK said...

I do believe I'm going to post a "Don't write crap" sign atop my computer screen. Wise words from a wise woman.
Thanks, Miss Snark!

Anonymous said...

The rejector said she reads the slushpile and that many agents use assistants and interns to read the slushpile, since, as Jackie Gleason said, "you don't have to be Alexander Graham Bell to pick up the phone and know that it's dead."

How many cients do you pick up each year? My agentcy's entry in writersmarket indicates that each of the agents has about 20-25 clients and that 2 percent of the clients are new and unpublished which calculates out to less than one new client per agent per year.

I guess it varies by agent. Some are living off the fat of the land, while Miss Snark takes the lean and hungry approach.

Anonymous said...

Conferences are fabulous. Esp. the ones where the agents, editors and assorted sundries are readily available with the gin and tonics. You really get to know everyone and I have met more than a few agents/editors that have followed up with me regarding projects. And no...Most conferences do not cost upwards of 1K. Check out Algonkian,Frontiers in Writing,etc etc etc. Google writers conferences, I am sure you can find a large amount of conferences that are all inclusive that can keep your budget in check. Who knows, you might save yourself some of those "Fedex" bills from shipping out your partials to a bunch of faceless agents and editors who might reject you from their slush piles....Good luck!

SherryD said...

I've gone to numerous conferences, had some fun, learned some things, and even met a few editors and agents. The one agent I wanted to meet the most, happened to get into the elevator with me during a break. I was so nervous my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. She finally said, "When I was invited to this conference, they told me to bring summer clothes because it's July. I'm about ready to freeze my butt off." After that, I felt a whole lot better, but still never had the nerve to pitch my novel to her. I told her to never trust the weather in Seattle; to always bring sweaters.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. If you have to "write really really well," then how the blazes did all those books out there get published?

Omigod, don't tell me they are all xLibris books.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I whole-heartedly agree with you, Orion. Plus the ENERGY you get from them. It always makes me want to rush home to write, write, write.

Anonymous said...

Conferences are fun. Writing is work.

In other words, use conferences as a networking tool, but don't mistake attending as anything but a field trip. You must write well in order to succeed. You might meet all these fun folks, but you must write well to get anywhere.
At most conferences, there are a large percentage of writer/publishing groupies, for lack of a better term. They love hanging out, and the atmosphere, and being "in" with scoop, but they either don't write, or don't submit. Conferences and writers' groups are the extent of their involvement.
Miss Snark is pointing out that they are not a necessary part of your journey. Others have pointed out they are expensive. I'm just saying they are what they are, and don't mistake one for the other.

Kimber An said...

Thanks, Miss Snark. There are those of us who have never had the opportunity to attend a conference. The Internet is our primary way of connecting. Now, if you don't mind I'm going to go check if the wind chill factor is still 18 below Zero here in Alaska.

Peni Griffin said...

Most of y'all are missing the point. The OP's expenses start at $1,000 because of where she lives. I know a writer who never, ever, ever gets to conferences unless the publisher springs for the whole thing because she lives above the Arctic circle. This means she had to get a publisher before she could go to conferences, or combine them with vacations. The internet is her friend and has served her well in place of conferences.

Everyone needs to do her own cost-benefit analysis. You need to compare the conference to your stage of development and the state of your budget. Can you combine it with anything else? (Hi, gramma, will you watch the kids while I catch the panel on "75 Romance Cliches to Avoid?") Can you share expenses with another writer? Do you really have a manuscript worth pitching? Do the panels really discuss anything you want to know? Is the opportunity to make goo-goo eyes at your favorite author as he gives his keynote worth the cost of airfare?

Only you can know this.

Anonymous said...

Conferences = the Amway approach to writing.

Of course you get pumped!! That's the idea. Then you go and buy autographed copies of all those books.

Conferences make money for their organizers, and get exposure for the writers who attend. It's a BUSINESS. Go, enjoy, but know what it is. The thing it is not is helping your career in any direct way. You may meet someone, and have the opportunity to submit, but your writing still has to make it on its own.

Save the money until you are one of the authors signing those books.

Kim Stagliano said...

Lori Perkins is asking on her blog if she should throw away queries she hasn't gotten to after nine months or should she still respond to the writer. You can imagine the responses. Not all agents seem to be as into the drudgery part of their job as others. I've been to one conference and really loved it (Backspace last Fall.) I don't think Serendipity exists online, only in person where you can connect, or horrify an agent in person.

Karen said...

If you can plan a vacation or trip to somewhere outside of BFE that coincides with a writer's conference, I'd say do it. I look at the conferences near my relatives and plan to visit for a few days around the conference - that way the travel fare does double-duty and I have someone to stay with - no hotel fees.
After you go to one conference, you might meet people who you can stay with or bunk with for the next one.

Anonymous said...

"Everyone needs to do her own cost-benefit analysis. You need to compare the conference to your stage of development and the state of your budget."

Conferences can be damn expensive. Fees, airfare, hotel, meals. It better really be worth it.

Clarice Snarkling said...

I just got back from my first conference -- literally, less than an hour ago! It was a wonderful experience, and I'm shaking with motivation. I am a little frightened that I'll be writing all night. There were no agents at this conference, just editors, and perhaps the most motivating thing about the conference is that these editors are inviting unsolicited manuscripts to those of us from the conference... for a limited period of time. Usually, I believe, these houses have a "solicited only" policy. THIS is the kick in the ass I've been needing to whip my manuscript into shape. Plus, my critique session resulted in a brilliant moment of realizing that my work IS marketable.

If you're not able to attend conferences, though, you're doing the right thing by reading Miss Snark and other online writing and publishing resources. Most of the questions asked at the various panel sessions and workshops this weekend were about issues that have been covered pretty exhaustively by Her Snarkiness and other blogging agents. I was surprised by the number of writers I met who were about to begin the query process but who had not done their homework. It was nice to introduce some people to P&E, Absolute Write, Agentquery.com, etc.

RB said...

I know a number of authors who have never been, and have done just fine--better even than many of us who have been. It is, however, an experience that is worth having. But when to go, which one to go to, these are important decisions.

There are different cons, and if you want to experience one, pick and choose wisely, because you could very well make the connection you hope for and come away with learning tons of info.

There are fan-based cons, and writing cons. (And I think there may be a difference on convention vs. conference, but who cares?) So if you really want the experience, decide what you want out of it, save your pennies, and research the heck before you hop on a plane and land smack dab into a conference that will do nothing more than make you feel good about yourself, and leave you with a few good freebie books and a card from an agent that will do you no more good than going through the slush pile anyway for the mere cost of postage.

I have friends who became published after attending the following "how to write" cons: Maui Writers, RWA National, Corte Madera Book Passage, Backspace Writers. I have other friends (and I'm one) who became published after entering various contests for unpubs (RWA Golden Heart, Malice Domestic, Maui Writers). More importantly, I have friends who hop from con to con, never selling, thinking that each time they attend, they're going to make that one connection. They're still waiting, even though they have all these connections. And then I have the majority of friends who became published after sitting at home and writing each night, perfecting their craft, never attending a con until after they made a sale--thereby making connections that are important, and not spending the con money until the right time.

Connections are important, but you can make many of them on line via writers on line organizations (like RWA, SinC Guppies, etc.) or via local writers chapters (but be careful with these. Many are too loosely knit, and unless they're bringing in pro writers, editors, etc., you might consider concentrating your efforts on staying home and writing and looking for that good on line group.

My two cents, and with inflation, you know what that's worth...

Cyn said...

"these editors are inviting unsolicited manuscripts to those of us from the conference... for a limited period of time. Usually, I believe, these houses have a "solicited only" policy."

I think you mean unagented manuscripts. If they are inviting you to send, the manuscripts are not unsolicited.

Anonymous said...

...but another side of the coin:

I also live in BFE and the national conference would cost me a similar $1000 (even with all my cost0saving devices), but I buckled-down and did it.

Yes, I was motivated. Yes, I was inspired. Yes, I got to meet a lot of amazing people including authors, agents and editors. But here's the thing: at the Writer's Intensive (where an agent and/or editor actually *reads* a sample of your writing), I had not one but BOTH the agent and editor find me later to ask me to send them my manuscripts.

I do not know what will happen now that I have sent these in, but I *DO* know for a fact that this would not have happened had I not been physiclly at the conference and participating in this opportunity. AND it wasn't based on my shmoozability, it was based one my writing.

Was it worth it? Even just getting the tap and the business card -- hell, yeah!!!

Wish me luck!

A Paperback Writer said...

Besides reading the scriptural voice of Miss Snark, my biggest non-nitwittery lessons have come from listening to authors, agents, and editors talk at book festivals, which, I suppose, is much like going to a conference. For me, it was worth it. I also go to numerous readings provided by my favorite independent bookstore. There I also sit back and let the nitwits ask the dumb questions (not all are nitwits and dumb, of course), and I learn.
So, conferences may be expensive. Book festivals and readings generally aren't. Try some of those if you're concerned about price. Thus far, I've met authors from Ian Rankin to Neil Gaiman to Margaret Elphinstone to Debbi Gliori to Stephenie Meyer and tons more. I can't tell you how much it's worth to listen to these people.

Anonymous said...

This was a good thread. As usual, Miss Snark was right. You don't need conferences to find your agent. While some people may meet their agent this way, there are far more writers who were "asked for the ms," who never got signed.

The most frustrating part is that, as most people know, agents should not charge for a read. However many conferences do charge money for this. Worse, some of them split the money with the agent (in addition to paying travel expenses). These agents tend to ask for manuscripts to keep the organizers happy. This is not to say that some agents aren't doing it for free to help new writers, get to network with friends and editors at the con, and also look for new clients. But not all of them.

Anonymous said...

I learned to my dismay this was the case at the big kahuna of all conferences this year that the previous poster, who mentioned that agents ask for submissions to keep the organizers happy.

I don't believe agents got cash out of this one, but their travel expenses(from NY), hotel and meals were paid, so there was a lot of pressure to ask for ms so participants would want to come back. There are also some agents and eds who come year after year. Someone you were particularly targeting with a manuscript that was ready to go would be the only reason to think about this being worth it from that angle.

Some clients might come this way, but none of the people in my little informal group -- 14 of us -- was lucky enough.

It was good for what it was, but conferences in general are no guarantee of hooking up with an agent or editor.

Anonymous said...

"Don't write crap"
THAT'S what I've been doing wrong...

Anonymous said...

Agents at conferences ask for proposals on everything that's pitched to them face-to-face. I once pitched an agent whose bio said she repped the kind of work I do, but when it got to the meeting, it turned out she didn't. I swallowed hard and spoke for my allotted five minutes. She stated she didn't rep this sort of work and then requested that I send it anyyway.

I didn't believe she would look at it, but I sent it. What happened then? You got it: rejection letter.

Peeps, you can't always believe what you hear. Agents at these events may tell you what you want to hear, not what will really happen.