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View Full Version : Writers' Conferences, What do you think?



Rob B
03-04-2007, 08:39 PM
I'm a newbie and I posted this in the newbie section and I hope it's okay to post it here at the same time.

I'm trying to get some info on writers' conferences in general: recommendations, negative experiences, worth the money and time, etc. Also, if anyone has knowledge of any conference(s) that are
geared toward the suspense/thriller genre, I would greatly appreciate hearing. Thanks. Rob B
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Linda Adams
03-04-2007, 09:35 PM
I'm going to two this year and have been to three others. In truth, I really haven't had a negative experience. But I also researched them online first to see if they would even be a good fit. Some conferences have agents and publishers and name authors attending them. Others are done by colleges, with the focus on learning the craft, rather than selling it (those always seem to have writers I've never even heard of).

You do have to keep your expectations in line when you go, though. I think a lot of people go just because they think magic will happen, and they'll get their foot in the door. The problem is that your story still needs to be able to stand up for itself. If it doesn't, meeting the agent isn't going to make any difference from sending them a query letter. But meeting the agents does give you a chance to see their real people, see how they work, and with some conferences, actually talk to them.

There are two thriller oriented conferences this year. One is the International Thriller Writer's conference in New York: http://www.thrillerwriters.org That one is very expensive.

The other is one that will likely have a thriller emphasis, and that's the Backspace conference. http://bksp.org/

Some more conferences are listed over the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller board.

weatherfield
03-04-2007, 11:10 PM
I've only been to one conference, and while I wouldn't call it a negative experience, there were definitely elements that made me feel that perhaps it was a bad fit. Here's a list of my general impressions, so I don't know if it will help, but for what it's worth:

Socially, it was interesting because I was way (way, way) younger than most of the other attendees. I also had a different kind of education, different reading tastes, and even though it was a genre conference and I write fantasy and horror, it seemed like I write different stories. There was nothing bad or disappointing about these differences themselves, and I met a lot of really interesting people. However, I often felt that many of the conference-goers were inclined to treat me more like a child than an adult. I believe that it really was out of kindness and a desire to mentor, but I had well-meaning people explaining self-explanatory things to me constantly—about writing, publishing, networking. All kinds of people were cautioning me against various newbie mistakes and giving me writing tips, and it became kind of exhausting after awhile.

The agent and editor panels were wonderful and entertaining. It gave me a chance to see a side of publishing that I don't know a lot about, and to really get an understanding of the way people's sensibilities differ across the board, just like with anything else. I liked listening to editors and agents talk with each other about projects and concerns and what they get really excited about. This was the part that seemed most “worth it” to me.

I was not at all impressed with the workshops. Because each generally ran only about an hour, the information was very cursory, and mostly reiterated things I've either read on my own or studied in school. A lot of the books that the presenters used as examples were books that I hadn't read, or else books that I don't particularly like and certainly don't think are shockingly good (Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Laurel K. Hamilton). I know that's a matter of taste, and these are books that sell extremely well, but I generally didn't find what the presenters had to say about them informative. It was especially frustrating, because I would get very excited about the titles of the workshops—they promised so much—and then by the end I would usually wind up feeling cheated

Although you do find all different types of people everywhere, it seemed that the conference proportionately drew more people who were likely to monopolize discussions, argue senselessly with the presenters, and generally exhibit very poor social skills. This does not at all represent the group as whole, but these types certainly made themselves more visible than those who were content to listen and behave in a more civilized way.

It seems like there are many writers who enjoy conferences, get a lot of out them, and make useful contacts. My experience just doesn't happen to mirror that. I'm glad I went, but I don't think I would want to go to another one. In the end, I just didn't feel like it was worth the money.

P.S. The food was excellent, though.

CheshireCat
03-04-2007, 11:49 PM
Conferences vary so widely that it's almost impossible to offer an overall positive or negative, Rob B.

Small local or regional conferences may give you some idea of whether they're a good fit for you. Check local newspapers, check with colleges and universities, bookstores, and Google your genre/area -- or ask in forums such as this one. :)

The national conferences put on by the ITW and Backspace have been rated highly by attendees. Various mystery groups put on yearly conferences.

The thing is, you really do need to figure out what you need or expect from a conference. Workshops can cover anything from basics (manuscript formatting, for instance) to how to understand legal terms in publisher contracts or how to build your readership through promotion. Some cons offer editor or agent appointments (which tend to be brief, hectic, and stressful), or just opportunities to schmooze with other writers and people in publishing during lunches or cocktail parties.

You also have to keep in mind that some workshops may be "taught" by people with little more -- or even less -- experience than you have yourself, so weigh the information offered carefully.

Even experts in the field and Big Names are still, virtually always, offering their own opinions based on their own experiences.

All that said, conferences are great ways to build social networks with other authors, and while the internet has allowed us to form a different kind of long-distance social network, there's nothing like sitting in a hotel lobby or at the bar talking one-on-one with someone else sharing useful information.

:e2drunk:

Linda Adams
03-05-2007, 01:23 AM
You also have to keep in mind that some workshops may be "taught" by people with little more -- or even less -- experience than you have yourself, so weigh the information offered carefully.


No joke. A few months ago I checked out a regional writing organization to see if I wanted to be a member. They had several local workshops on getting published. I decided to pass on membership after I checked out the publishing credits for the writers giving the workshops--all the writers had been published through Publish America!

PeeDee
03-05-2007, 01:41 AM
Rob, you might do a search for writer's conferences, we've discussed various ones (and conferences in general) at length before. You might find something interesting.

veinglory
03-05-2007, 02:03 AM
Some are less worth while then others. Depending on the costs and investment required to attend, and your goals.

CheshireCat
03-05-2007, 02:18 AM
No joke. A few months ago I checked out a regional writing organization to see if I wanted to be a member. They had several local workshops on getting published. I decided to pass on membership after I checked out the publishing credits for the writers giving the workshops--all the writers had been published through Publish America!

Yeah, it's like turning up for a booksigning only to find that every other author there self-published their Magnificent Novel (which they discuss that way, capped and emphasized) and is engaged in aggressively hawking it to every startled passerby.

:crazy:

One of the problems with conferences, I believe, is that too often it's the newbies "teaching" workshops, mostly because (again, IMO) they're still in that no-man's-land between books #1 or #2 and around book #5 or #6.

That's when you think you actually know what you're doing, and are eager to share your wisdom.

If you're lucky enough to reach book #5 or thereabouts, you generally discover that you actually don't know shit.

It's a curiously freeing discovery.

And you stop teaching workshops.

calamity
03-05-2007, 06:49 PM
I've attended a few. I think the most valuable thing about conferences is NOT workshopping, panels, or getting chummy with agents but meeting other writers, and if you can find a person who is as serious as you about writing, that can be an invaluable experience.

Petroglyph
03-05-2007, 09:10 PM
I've attended a few local conferences and I had a good time. I met a couple of my favorite authors, which I enjoyed from a reader's perspective. I met an editor and an agent and both were quite nice and friendly. Most of all, I met some other people who are wannabes and we have a bit of a support group going on. I have volunteered at a conference and got free tuition for my efforts.

A piece of advice (not necessarily for the OP, but for anyone who is interested):If the money is a problem, contact the organizers and see if you can work for a discount. I did not miss any sessions but I spent the day before setting up and checked in now and then to see if my help was needed.

I had fun, socialized, learned some stuff....

ETA: The Hillerman conference in ABQ focuses on mysteries, if you are interested in that.

just_a_girl
03-05-2007, 10:22 PM
I've attended one conference. I met my former agent there, which at the time I thought was great. Unfortunately, after a year of representing me, she was unable to sell my book and we went our separate ways. She's a reputable agent, but in retrospect I wouldn't have signed with the first person who offered.

Rob B
03-05-2007, 10:57 PM
Linda, I am so pleased with your response and insight. I have been writing for a long time and "agented" three times, but am still unpublished. My primary interest in a writers' conference is not so much in meeting agents, but in confering with other thriller writers. Again, your reponse was wonderful and I will check into both conferences and the links you suggested Rob B

Rob B
03-05-2007, 11:10 PM
Your detailed response was certainly more than I ever could have expected, and it is most appreciated. Related to the banality issues, I had a similar experience with a mini-conference about ten years ago and I left with a poor impression. So many of the attendees were more into self-aggrandizement than in learning from others, and I did not have a good feeling about the experts really being expert at much of anything. My hope is that I can find a thriller conference run by true professionals, and an environment that will enable a group of serious thriller writers the opportunity to meet and discuss the nuances of the publishing industry and where we might seek quality agents interested in our genre--and publishers with equal enthusiasm.

Sadly, it sounds like conferences today have not changed from what I experienced, and this is what I wanted to find out, and what you answered so adequately. Thank you for taking the time and have a great day.

Rob B
03-05-2007, 11:30 PM
Thank you for your reply. I am interested in the element you alluded to related to meeting other writers who can share experiences with the publishing side of the business related to thrillers.

Rob B
03-05-2007, 11:35 PM
Thanks, I will check the link. I am new to Absolute Write and it will take me a while to get oriented on the terrific medium it is as resource. Again, thank you.

Norman D Gutter
03-05-2007, 11:35 PM
I've been to four writers conferences. One was local, more of a presentation by a single speaker on how one could get published. One was a regional conference, with writing classes and appointments with writers--no editors or agents. The other two were national conferences, Christian oriented. Both were valuable in terms of craft development and networking, and meeting with editors and agents. However, at $1,000 a pop by the time you add in travel, not including burning almost a week of vacation for each, I don't think the value justified the cost. All of my appointments with a&e did not pan out, with one still not completed either for acceptance or rejection. At this point I have no plans to attend any others, though I haven't ruled it out for next year.

NDG

Rob B
03-05-2007, 11:38 PM
Calamity, this is exactly the reason I am interested in attending a quality conference. Thanks

Rob B
03-05-2007, 11:39 PM
Many thanks for taking the time to respond. My one experience many years ago with a mini-conference (if there is such a thing) fit into what you described. Again, thanks.

Rob B
03-05-2007, 11:41 PM
Thank you. Can you tell me anything more about the Hillerman conference?

Cathy C
03-06-2007, 03:14 AM
I posted a link to International Thriller Writers on your Newbie Room thread, Rob (not realizing you had two threads.) But I'm also asking a few thriller writers I know down in Florida what they'd recommend, so stay tuned.

Oh, and BTW--I notice you're responding to each individual post. Just so you know, there's a much easier way! If you look next to the QUOTE button on the bottom of posts, there's another button with an end quotation mark ("). If you click this button on EACH of the posts you want to respond to and then click the POST REPLY at the bottom, they'll all show up in a single post, so all you have to do is type between the quotes to respond. This is a BRAND NEW thing on the forum, and it's very cool! :)

James D. Macdonald
03-06-2007, 04:25 AM
Go if you enjoy going to them for their own sake, not for what they might or might not do for your writing or your ability to sell material.

KAP
03-06-2007, 07:37 AM
Thank you. Can you tell me anything more about the Hillerman conference?

As a thriller writer in Albuquerque and a Hillerman fan, I can answer that. Click here (http://www.wordharvest.com/hillerman.htm) for more information. They also have a great contest.

spike
03-06-2007, 06:06 PM
I've been to 3 conferences in the past year and each was very good. If you are in the Eastern Pennsylvania area, I would recommend:

Greater Lehigh Valley's Write Stuff (http://www.glvwg.org/conference/2007index.htm)

Philadelphia Writers' Conference (http://www.pwcwriters.org/)

Montgomery County Community College Writers Club's Conference (http://www.mc3.edu/sa/stact/clubs/writers/conference/index.html) (note: this is held in the fall and they still have last year's info up).

Rob B
03-08-2007, 10:11 PM
Cathy, thanks for the advice on how to use the "reply" medium. I'm still trying to figure out some of the rudimentary navigation aspects, such as how to immediately get to my original thread so I can check for responses. I want to also express my appreciation for your continued efforts in trying to locate other suspense/thriller genre conferences in the southeast and in Florida in particular.

A new chapter of the Florida Writers' Association is holding its initial meeting in my area on April 3. I have joined this group and I hope some of the members will also have some ideas. The biggest problem is that unless someone has attended a specific conference, it is difficult to evaluate publicity material. I realize that a specific conference can also vary year-to-year--especially as the dais or workshops or significant attendees relate to a writer's desires--but I'd like to to get the odds in my favor considering the time and expense involved.

Thanks again for being so generous with your time in trying to assist me and know that I am deeply grateful. Also, thanks for the advice on how to respond to the individual messages. Responding to you with this reply is my first attempt, so I hope I did it right. Now if I can just figure out how to go directly to my thread to check for posts. Rob B

Rob B
03-08-2007, 10:24 PM
Linda, I hope I thanked you in a reply that reached you. I am still learning how to naviagate around the AW site and how to use the various "reply" options. With this all being said, I understand appreciate the points you made. Again, mucho thanks.

Rob B
03-10-2007, 09:54 PM
Midwife, if my reply did not get to you earlier, I hope it does now. I am still trying to figure out how to respond to a respective post and have it show up in that person's inbox. Don't ask, its' me with anything new, especially navigating through the nuances of something I'm unfamiliar with.

I want to thank you for your advice and mention of the Hillerman conference.
Is this one you have attended? and, if so, can you tell me about it?

As I alluded to in a response to another AW esteemed member who was kind enough to respond to my question on writers' conferences, I am not fond of the respective publicity material that's available. I would rather hear from people who have attended or who even possess good hearsay.

The last conference (more like a mini-event) I attended was close to ten years ago, and it was not productive from my perspective and for many others who also expressed their equal chagrin. From listening to other writers at that time, the consensus was that conferences in general were becoming more like what I had just experienced. This was a huge turn-off for me.

The lead panel was chaired by a group of purported agents and authors who no one in the audience was familiar with (the publicity material was nondescript, stating only that book agents and published authors would be on the dais). And most of the time was spent on rudimentary issues, or by the audience bashing agents in general because of what they perceived as poor treatment.

My interest is simple, in that I would like to meet suspense/thriller writers, heavy on the thriller, who would like to share experiences with agents
and publishers regarding thematic interests. Presently, the subsets of the
thriller genre I write in are limited, and I am trying to find agents who are CURRENTLY seeking (okay, interested in) a work with a medical/espionage theme. Over the past two months that I have been querying my novel, I received some glowing personal responses to my queries, synopsis material, early chapters, etc, but it seems no one is enamored with the theme, which involves a terrorist developing a biological weapon.

Thanks again, I am very grateful for your time. Rob B

Rob B
03-10-2007, 10:16 PM
Keith, I checked your website. Outstanding. And I appreciate your advice on the Hillerman conference. This is what I am trying to determine: is a particular conference worthwhile, and why? You are the second person who has responded in a positive manner regarding this conference. The conference's website lists two major houses that will be in attendance, and this makes it very enticing.

When you attended, were there any round-tables with other writers that enabled a discussion on industry trends or thematic issues?

Again, thanks. Rob B

Toothpaste
03-10-2007, 10:34 PM
There is also the Backpace Conference coming up in New York City end of May which will have many reputable industry professional in attendance.

KAP
03-12-2007, 07:34 AM
Keith, I checked your website. Outstanding. And I appreciate your advice on the Hillerman conference. This is what I am trying to determine: is a particular conference worthwhile, and why? You are the second person who has responded in a positive manner regarding this conference. The conference's website lists two major houses that will be in attendance, and this makes it very enticing.

When you attended, were there any round-tables with other writers that enabled a discussion on industry trends or thematic issues?

Again, thanks. Rob B

Hey, Rob. Thanks for looking at my site, and I'll pass on the compliments to my web designer.

I've not attended a Hillerman conference, so that link to the wordharvest site I posted earlier is most of what I can offer. I have listened to him speak, and he's a great presenter, very dedicated to helping other writers. I've received good input on the conference and workshops from fellow, local writers, but I didn't ask specifics.

In general, I feel the merits of a conference depend on what you need or expect from them. How vague is that? *smile* But there's a point where you attend conferences to learn craft and basics of how agents work, how editors work, what happens when an author sells a novel, what's the best way to query agents...

Then you attend conferences based on who's there, authors you'd like to meet, agents and editors you'd like to pitch to. And it's always great to connect with other serious writers, make friends you can stay in touch with, share insights and connections, maybe critique each other's work.

But do experience one if you can. Take full advantage. Mingle, attend as many sessions as you can, take advantage of all activities scheduled during the conference and the informal ones after hours, be bold but not obnoxious, have fun and realistic expectations.

Hope this helps a little.

Excelsior
03-12-2007, 07:38 AM
I've been to 3 conferences in the past year and each was very good. If you are in the Eastern Pennsylvania area, I would recommend:

Greater Lehigh Valley's Write Stuff (http://www.glvwg.org/conference/2007index.htm)

Philadelphia Writers' Conference (http://www.pwcwriters.org/)

Montgomery County Community College Writers Club's Conference (http://www.mc3.edu/sa/stact/clubs/writers/conference/index.html) (note: this is held in the fall and they still have last year's info up).

I've been to the GLVWG's conference a couple of times, too. Good stuff, but not exactly what I was hoping for. I mainly went to trawl for agents, though I did get some good tips from the panels.