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View Full Version : When is the right time to attend a writers' conference?



AndreaGS
12-20-2011, 08:51 PM
So there's a writers' conference in my area mid-February, and it sounds pretty amazing. It's also expensive.

I know a big advantage of going to a writers' conference is networking, meeting editors and agents, and having the chance to pitch your book.

I'm in the process of revising my book, and have planned to have revisions finished by mid-February. I was going to send it through my beta readers then and do another round of revisions when I got the feedback.

Would it be jumping the gun to go and pitch my book? I'm wondering if it would be a better idea to just wait a year and go in 2013. I'll have three manuscripts finished and polished by then.

Anyone gone to one of these? What would you suggest?

The Lonely One
12-20-2011, 08:55 PM
I've been to the Sanibel Island one through the university down there several times at a discounted rate, but I'm much too shy to pitch my work in person. I did learn a lot from the workshops and whatnot, though. Maybe someone less bashful will be along to help you with this question.

leon66a
12-20-2011, 09:38 PM
Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but does that mean you have two finished and polished MSS now? Why not go and pitch one of those? I suppose the answer is money, but going through a pitch can be a great learning experience.

AndreaGS
12-20-2011, 10:07 PM
I have one complete, and it'll be mostly polished by the time the conference rolls around in Feb 2012.

I'm working on two other manuscripts on a strict schedule, so I'd have three finished and polished by Feb 2013.

Drachen Jager
12-20-2011, 10:40 PM
Most conferences need volunteers. You won't get to do as much as a paying visitor, but when you have free time you can attend seminars etc.

As long as you play your cards right you can probably pitch an agent or two as well. They know why people volunteer and I've heard several stories about agents who went out of their way to ask volunteers about their manuscripts. Just don't be pushy about it.

inspiredbymusic
12-20-2011, 11:03 PM
I know a big advantage of going to a writers' conference is networking, meeting editors and agents, and having the chance to pitch your book.


That is an advantage, but there are many others, depending on the type of conference it is. You may also get very valuable information/insight that will help you immeasurably with your current and future projects. You might have an opportunity to have a chapter, or 10 pages, or a query letter critiqued. You may meet other writers who can become your betas or critique group. You may also still have the opportunity to submit, later on, to editors and/or agents you make a connection with. So I think if it is a really good conference and you can afford to go this year, go.

suki
12-20-2011, 11:08 PM
You will also want to really look at what the pitch options are - many conferences are more about networking and learning than actually pitching your project. Sure, you might get to mingle with agents or editors, and often what you write/are writing comes up in conversation. But not all conferences are really focused on pitching, per se.

So if this is a conference without scheduled pitch opportunities, you might not get to pitch your actual project, even if you get to mingle with agents or editors. And if pitching your specific book is your primary objective, you would want to know that up front.

Cathy C
12-20-2011, 11:13 PM
I'm a fan of writer conferences as they're a terrific way to meet future friends (who might someday ask you to be in an anthology with you) or editors/agents you might someday work with. If pitches are on the schedule, even if you don't want to participate, you can see how they work, which can be a benefit later.

If you can afford it, I'd say go for it! :D

Karen Junker
12-20-2011, 11:18 PM
I've been to large conferences where you get to pitch your manuscript in either individual or group sessions. I've also been to smaller workshops where the focus is not so much on pitching but on getting feedback on your work. In both, I've had editors and agents ask me to send them more material.

The smaller, non-pitch focused workshops are not a guarantee that you will get a request, but they do sometimes provide an opportunity to network--something that can result in a request down the line. At the very least, meeting an editor or agent at an event gives you the opportunity to include that as a personalized greeting in your query letter to them.

As far as pitching when you have an unpolished manuscript -- that, I have found, is the quickest way to get a request for a full manuscript. I'd recommend waiting until your work is the best it can be and ready to send out immediately.

blacbird
12-21-2011, 04:37 AM
Never, in my experience. I attended maybe seven or eight major conferences during a stretch of the late 1990s/early 2000s. The last two or three were piranha-tank festivals, feeding frenzies of desperate writer-aspirants taking nibbles at agents and editors at every moment. Disheartening is the best word I can use to describe them.

caw

The Lonely One
12-21-2011, 07:51 AM
That's what I liked about the Sanibel Conference. I don't think it's one of those "represent my book" conferences. If it was I ignored pretty much everyone in between workshops and readings (in other words I was off on the beach somewhere writing). I don't have what you'd call swagger, so a personal "how're you doing" wouldn't be any more advantageous for me than submitting directly to agents with a finished product.

AndreaGS
12-21-2011, 08:57 AM
Thanks! I think I should wait to pitch my manuscript, but may still go, I'm undecided. It's the San Francisco Writers' Conference, in case anyone's been to that one. I'm especially interested because an agent who had some nice things to say about my last book is going to be there, and I think she'd like the manuscript I'm working on, but she's no longer accepting unsolicited queries.

Karen Junker
12-22-2011, 12:52 AM
I think I've heard that the pitches at the San Francisco Writers Conference are speed pitches, so like speed dating, you stand in line and wait your turn to give a one or two minute pitch. I've read reviews of this which describe it as both invigorating and frustrating (in the case of not getting up to the front of the line). But I think the other programming they offer may make it worth your while to attend.

Gillhoughly
12-22-2011, 02:23 AM
Okay, I looked up the price and 600.00 is WAY TOO MUCH for you to toss away on this one at this point. Heck, it's way too much for me to toss!

Let me run a much less costly alternative past you:

Consider attending a literary-oriented science fiction convention.

It may not be your genre, but writing is writing and the general rules are the same for all genres. They're also a lot more fun, relaxed, and you have better access to the attending pros.

Most S.F. conventions that are not media-oriented (actor guests), will have tons of writer guests and so many panel talks you'll have to be ruthless in what ones to attend.

Most fan run local S.F. cons will cost a grand total of 40.00 to get in for the whole weekend. This frees up cash for travel and food. And buying BOOKS. The dealer's room and art show are not to be missed.

These conventions tend to be non-profit events with a charity auction, and you might get a discount off your ticket by volunteering, as has been stated above. They're always in need of door minders, gophers, and someone to refill the chips bowl in the con suite.

Best of all--you don't have to dress up for it. Jeans and a casual shirt are fine. (I hate dressing up.)

Avoid Creation Cons (media-oriented) and look for fan run cons with a dot-org in the name. Attendance is usually a few hundred people, so there's a great fan to pro ratio.

If you write paranormal, there is plenty of cross over traffic to urban fantasy. I have seen more than a few paranormal romances in the bookstalls in the dealer's room.

Here's a very incomplete list of conventions and their general focus:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_science_fiction_conventions

There's usually a con going on somewhere every weekend of the year.

ConDor in San Diego, which attracts NYTimes bestselling authors:

http://www.condorcon.org/events/guests_11.html


WonderCon: http://www.comic-con.org


BayCon: http://www.baycon.org/

It's a major regional convention and costs more: 65.00 -- which still beats that other conference.

Check out their "Iron Editors" panel!

http://www.baycon.org/index.php?pageID=iron_editors

Yes, you might see a few people in costume, and this year everyone is crazy for all things Steampunk, but it's all part of the fun. The con entry fee is cheap enough--bring a writer friend and get your feet wet!

blacbird
12-22-2011, 02:26 AM
I think I've heard that the pitches at the San Francisco Writers Conference are speed pitches, so like speed dating, you stand in line and wait your turn to give a one or two minute pitch. I've read reviews of this which describe it as both invigorating and frustrating (in the case of not getting up to the front of the line).

This kind of thing is a goddamn horror.

caw

jaksen
12-22-2011, 02:46 AM
Thanks! I think I should wait to pitch my manuscript, but may still go, I'm undecided. It's the San Francisco Writers' Conference, in case anyone's been to that one. I'm especially interested because an agent who had some nice things to say about my last book is going to be there, and I think she'd like the manuscript I'm working on, but she's no longer accepting unsolicited queries.

Many agents will accept queries from writers who've attended conferences or lectures/seminars etc. in which the agent spoke. I've seen this on their blogs or their 'agent's page' on various agency websites. It will say something like, no unsolicited queries unless you attended the blah-de-blah conference last winter. (Or sometimes any conference/convention will do at which said agent appeared.)

areteus
12-22-2011, 04:17 AM
About the only thing I can add to this is based on anecdotes from a friend of mine who, as a full time writer of sci fi and fantasy comics, generally has to make the trip to the san Deigo comic con every year. The way he describes it, he seems to get drunk with people and then, somehow, in the process of this drunken conversation, he seems to have pitched an idea to someone with some clout, had it accepted and been given the brief to go off and write it. I'm not sure he got all his work published this way but it seems that a fair chunk of it came about like this...

But this may not work for anyone and we are talking comics here not books - there are differences in the attitudes of the two industries.

I am not sure I would go to a con with the specific and binding intention to pitch a book, though. To me there is a risk there that you will come across as desperate because you will arrive with all these expectations and you will either end up annoying some agent by trying to pitch at them when they don't want to be pitched at or freezing up in fear during the pitch.

Now, I may turn up and happen to have a pitch prepared should there be an opportunity to do so - perhaps there is a special workshop where this happens or you happen to get into a social situation with an agent and a couple of publishers and they indicate that they might be interested in any ideas you have as a writer - but I don't think I would arrive with the sole intention of pitching. I'd be there for the more general networking and the seminars.

Gillhoughly
12-23-2011, 10:44 PM
The San Diego Comic con is a world-level event. The focus is on pros, publishers and media types promoting/selling their works. George Lucas took Star Wars there first before it was ever released. Others learned from it so they all crowd in and go overboard.

It is NOT a place for you to drop your S/F convention cherry.

The cons I'm talking about are smaller literary-oriented events with a couple hundred people, not thousands.

They're about pro writers discussing the industry, talking shop and having a drink in the bar with fans.

Yes, there is a party element, but you won't find them to be the wild costume bashes that happen at SDCC or DragonCon. It's usually small room parties on a designated floor. You might see a few people in costume, but that adds to the fun. Steampunk is in and I find the Victoriana to be charming and the folk inventive and friendly.

The most recent cons in my area have bestseller Gail Carriger (http://gailcarriger.com/) as the guest of honor, and she did panels on how she sold her books, the other books she's got under different names, her passion for retro costuming, steampunk panels, etc.

She had nice things to say about FenCon and a good time was had by all.

I served on panels that discussed commercial vs self-pubbing via Kindle, literary scams, and one for pure fun about real-life ghost hunting. There were other panels on urban fantasy vs paranormals and what publisher are buying, which agents are looking for new clients.

At other cons I talked to and sold an anthology idea direct to the CEO of a publishing house (a small one) and the book was in stores a year later.

I've attended events that hosted Harlan Ellison, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, Lois McMaster Bujold, George R.R. Martin, Peter David, and learned from all of them.

Wild parties? Okay, at a WorldCon I got into a slow motion balloon volleyball match with artist Phil Foglio at the Baen Books party. If there were orgies in the hallway I totally missed them, darn it.

Small literary cons are to SDCC what a cozy tea party is to a bash at Animal House.

Filigree
12-24-2011, 02:42 AM
I don't attend conferences to pitch. I'm horrible at pitching my writing in person, even though I can market my art nearly anywhere to anybody. But the art either sells itself within a glance or two, or it doesn't. Writing is completely different.

When I can afford conferences, I've gone to keep track of market trends, meet up with friends, and get submission/query tips. Since I'm no longer querying agents, and the e-pubs I'm planning to query have straightforward submissions policies, I have no professional reason to attend conferences. If I can get a book deal, then I might have a reason.

Local conventions may vary. The ones I've attended are fun, but tend to be full of big fish in little ponds, not very useful for networking in a larger environment. There's an RWA conference in my area in the spring, but I have to see if I can get time off and funding for it.

AndreaGS
12-24-2011, 11:10 AM
I think I'm going to go. I've been to BayCon several times, and done the writer's workshop there. Liked it, and definitely enjoy getting up close and personal with the writers/artists I admire. I'm looking for something more writing-specific and not genre-specific.

On the plus side, I know people in the area, so I don't have to pay for lodgings. We'll see how it goes!

Norman D Gutter
12-24-2011, 08:06 PM
I would say the right time to attend a writers conference is:

- when you know that the conference will be beneficial to you at whatever point you are at in your journey to be published,
- the conference (tuition, board, and travel) is affordable to you, and
- you are ready to give something to other writers, in terms of conversation, shared experiences, and helping others to the extend your current knowledge allows.

NDG

CAWriter
12-28-2011, 12:22 PM
Thanks! I think I should wait to pitch my manuscript, but may still go, I'm undecided. It's the San Francisco Writers' Conference, in case anyone's been to that one. I'm especially interested because an agent who had some nice things to say about my last book is going to be there, and I think she'd like the manuscript I'm working on, but she's no longer accepting unsolicited queries.

You will often find that simply taking an agent/editors' workshop or having a conversation with them (not a pitch per se, simply a conversation) will take you out of the 'unsolicited' category. I've been in numerous workshops where the instructor will say, "you are all welcome to submit to me via _______________; just put (Conference Name) in the subject line/envelope."

Yes, your work should be pretty close to ready to send out in case you do get the go ahead, but you really don't need to wait until you have 3 polished manuscripts. Chances are no one will look at more than a few pages at most of anything you bring with you. Don't miss an opportunity to make a good connection when that opportunity won't come again for a year (and the person you want to meet might not be there next time).