How Valuable is a Writer’s Conference?

Posted on Posted in Marketing, Publishing

They’re everywhere. Regional. State-wide. International. No matter how big the scale, you can find a writer’s conference just about anywhere you look at any time of the year. But will attending the conference and paying the fees hold any real value to you as a writer?

Yes. But like all things in the writing and publishing world, there’s far more to it than a simple yes or no answer. What is good for your writing friend may not be right for you.

There is no doubt that writing conferences have perks, which is the biggest draw to writers. Even if the perks of a particular conference aren’t right for you.

Going as a Book Seller

A caveat before I begin to break this down. This article is written with the assumption you are not going there as a published writer selling books at the Expo. If that’s the case, it’s always worth the time… as long as the fees for the book expo aren’t unreasonably high. If you are paying for a table at the event to sell books and sign them, consider the following before you pay the fee for the table:

  • What is the expected attendance, and what has it been in previous years?
  • Can they tell you on average how many books an author sells at the book expo?
  • Does the fee for the table outweigh potential gains? Or, would you expect to turn a nice enough profit to at least break even? If it’s the former, reconsider. If it’s the latter, sign up. Even if all you do is break even, you have expanded your audience and your network.

Consider the Venue

Before you make any decision about attending a conference, take a closer look at the venue and events themselves. Download or find the complete schedule, along with speakers, and consider the following:

  • Review the scheduled sessions and mark off the ones you actually think would benefit you at this stage of your writing. For example, if you are still in the worldbuilding stage and there are a lot of sessions about finding agents or editors, it may not be a good fit. However, if there are some sessions about drafting/planning/writing itself, it may be worthwhile.
  • Create a complete list of any of the events you would be interested in attending. Do they fill at least 2/3 of the conference time? If yes, it’s worth the investment. If no, you may want to reconsider.
  • Are there excellent networking opportunities for you? There will always be a set of good speakers or agents at a well-organized conference. Just because they are there doesn’t make them the right fit for you. If you write fantasy, make a list of all the fantasy authors or agents in attendance. The longer that list is, the better your networking chances are. You can’t put a price on creating a strong network of author/agent allies… as long as they share the same interests. If they don’t, your time and theirs will be wasted.
  • Consider the location. If the fees for the conference are high and you have to pay hefty fees for travel expenses, you need to consider the networking aspect of your analysis seriously. The farther you have to travel, the more opportunities the conference should provide.

If you have created the lists and see that it’s worthwhile, by all means, get registered. If you’re still on the fence, take it to the next step.

Are you ready to sell?

There are plenty of conferences out there which offer tips on the planning and writing process. These days, the majority of them also have a strong focus on marketing and publishing. If you have the book drafted and think you’re ready to sell (or almost ready at the time of registration), consider the following:

  • Will there be agents/editors in your genre? Most of the state-wide or national conferences have pitch sessions with agents. During these sessions, you have a few minutes to sit down with an agent and sell them the idea of your book. Keep in mind that no agent will sign you at a conference. They will consider your pitch and, if it seems like something they may be interested in, will ask you to submit to them. (If they do this, be sure to mention in the submission that they requested the information at the conference. It helps them remember who you are and where you met.) If there are agents in your genre, and you have a book ready or almost ready to sell, sign up for pitch sessions so you can get that one-on-one time.
  • Are there publishers who accept open submissions? (These are submissions they consider without agent representation.) If so, do you have to sign up for a pitch session, or are they just speakers? Be prepared to hit up any agents/editors you cannot directly pitch to in a private session. Just make sure you have a killer 30-second pitch.

Keep in Mind

Whenever you consider attending a writer’s conference, there are a few important things to bear in mind:

  1. You can never put a price tag on a great networking opportunity. Just don’t throw your savings at something that may not pay off. Trying to hit up A-list writers/agents/editors is less likely to prove fruitful than focusing on the B-list (or mid-level) authors/agents/editors. The A-listers are busy and less likely to make time for you. B-listers are looking for more chances to network, just like you.
  2. Don’t invest if you aren’t ready to sell at a conference centered around selling. It’s a waste of your time and money.
  3. Remember that attending a conference is about two things: education for where you are now (or will very soon be) in your writing career; networking with authors/agents/editors who share like interests.

If you think you are ready to start pitching at writing conferences, you will want to read these 2 great articles on pitching sessions:

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