I’ve been to three writing conferences in the past few years. They have all truly been fun, illuminating experiences. But some conferences have a huge price tag—most costing at least a couple hundred bucks. Is it worth it? Here are the pros and cons from my experiences, and what to expect.
At every conference I’ve been to, I’ve gotten requests for material from agents. The likelihood of having someone consider your work above the normal slush pile is much higher. I even had tentative offers after pitches (that were subsequently revoked after I sent my manuscript. Ha). I met a writer at a saloon once, who had just been published, and she said she found her agent at a conference.
There’s something nice about connecting with people in real life, especially other people in the writing world. I met Wesley Chu, SFF author of The Lives of Tao! He told me stories about recording “Writing Excuses” with Brandon Sanderson, and he illuminated some of the not-so-pretty-and-financially-truly-terrifying aspects of pursuing writing as a career.
That’s not to say that all connection into the industry is positive. The last conference I went to was hosted by Chuck Sambuchino. He was big on Writer’s Digest for editing and writing query letters. After a panel, I saw him wrapping up microphone chords, and I went to talk to him. I said I liked his speech, and asked if I could read my query letter to him for feedback while he wrapped up the chords. He pretty much told me to piss off. Haha. He was probably stressed, but I was surprised at his churlish nature (after I paid, like, $300 to go to his event). So conferences aren’t entirely magical… but still pretty magical… Minus Chuck Sambuchino.
Generally, it’s nice to be in a physical place, talking with industry professionals and other writers. I’m extroverted, so reaching out to other writers to hear about their stories is a treat for me. There are obviously a lot of introverts at conferences too—but the general atmosphere has always been positive, even if a little quiet.
The panels are fantastic. I appreciated them more when I was new to writing and hadn’t listened to a million podcasts, and educated myself about queries, pitches, and so forth. There are usually advanced seminars for people who aren’t new to the writing world. I’ve always left conferences feeling a little wiser. There are lectures on everything from converting novels to screenplays, to what to include in a memoir, to the business of writing. Conferences are like really condensed writing degrees.
BUT have I mentioned the HUMONGOUS price tag? For several hundred dollars you can buy brand-new copies of Publisher’s Marketplace, On Writing, Save the Cat!, and loads of other relevant writing books which have information just as useful as any conference lecture. For several hundred dollars, you can take online writing courses that give you templates for everything from character development to outlining. For less than several hundred dollars, you can pay an agent to edit your query letter for you.
But conferences give you human, real life connection.
I’m glad that I experienced writing conferences when I wrote my first manuscript. I learned a lot about publishing, and I’m happy for the people I met. I’m at the point now, where I would definitely pay money to pitch agents in person, but I would carefully weigh the agents beforehand to see if they represent my genre. If I wasn’t ready to pitch a book, or if there weren’t any relevant agents, I wouldn’t go.
So it depends on where you are in your writing journey, and what you’re hoping to glean from a conference: a one-on-one with an agent, an introduction into the publishing world, author networking… If you’re merely after information, I advise the less expensive route.