Can you give me a definitive opinion on writers conferences? I hear conflicting opinions from everyone: Go to a conference because you’ll learn so much; Conferences are a waste of time, stay home and write instead. Take sample manuscripts to give to agents or editors; only take queries. I have a chance to go to a conference next month, but I don’t know if it will be worth the time, effort and money.
Not all conferences are the same. Some are worth the effort to attend. Some are not. Here are some things to consider (not necessarily in order of importance):
Cost and Location: Can you afford it? You will not see any immediate return on this investment so make sure it fits your budget. Is it close to your home or at a location that you want to visit? Do you have friends or family nearby who might let you stay with them? Do you have other reasons for going to that location, like a family vacation?
Quality: Who is hosting the conference? Do you have confidence that this entity can produce a conference that is worth the time and effort to attend? How long have they been doing it? Do you know anyone who has attended in the past? If so, did they have a positive experience and are they going again?
Speakers: Who are the speakers? Have you heard of them? Are they people you want to hear? If they are authors, have you read and do you like their work? (If you hate their novel, you probably won’t like their workshop. Unfortunately, the converse does not always hold true. Some people write well, but are not good at public speaking.) If agents and editors will be there, are they ones that you would like to submit to.
Focus/Genre: Is the focus of the conference compatible with what you’re writing? It’s not really helpful for you to attend a sci-fi writers conference if you write children’s picture books.
Networking: In my opinion, networking is THE reason to go to writers conferences. Workshops may offer good information, but you can find the same info in a book somewhere. If the conference allows you to meet and interact with agents, editors and authors who you feel will help you publish your book OR they are people that you really, really want to meet, then go. Meet them. Trade business cards. If you connect with some other attendees on a personal level, they may be interested in forming a writers critique group.
What to Take: If you have a one-on-one scheduled with an agent or editor, bring what they’ve asked for—usually a query letter (for finished manuscripts only). Bring a few queries, in case you get an unexpected opportunity, but don’t just hand them out willy-nilly to every agent or editor there. We get bombarded with stuff at these conferences and you’ll make a better impression if you send me a customized query after the conference.
Time Commitment: An occasional conference can break up the writing routine, give you fresh inspiration, and rev up your motivation to write. But if you find you’re going to conference after conference rather than writing, you might want to skip some and actually write.