So Jim McCarthy talked to you all last year about writers’ conferences, but with conference season in full swing it seems like a good time to come back to it!
I’ve been to two writers’ conferences so far this year (the Writers’ League of Texas conference in Austin and was at The Writers’ Institute in Madison), and it looks like that’ll probably it for me till 2009. It’s a light year for me, but between all the agents here we have attended or will attend nearly 20 conferences in 2008—that’s a lot of weekends away and extra reading material!
While we’re never hurting for new submissions to read, we’ve been pretty successful finding new clients at conferences. Off the top of my head, I can tell you our own Tom DeWolf, Richelle Mead, and Suzanne Selfors all first met people at the agency at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) conference. Just this year, Michael Bourret met Jill Alexander at The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference—and her book then sold to an editor she met at the same conference! And Jim McCarthy and I are both going out to editors soon with projects from writers we met at conferences.
Of course, the truth is, we don’t sign someone up from every conference we attend. There’s no magic number, no quota. If we love it and believe we can sell it, we’re taking it on. Likewise, if it’s not right for us—much as we really enjoy meeting writers face-to-face in a business that increasingly involves bonding with our computer screens—that face time isn’t going to change our minds. As always, what it comes down to is what’s on the page.
Knowing we may not find any new clients, we still find it worth it to go to conferences each year. For one, free travel is one of life’s great joys. We also enjoy the opportunity to meet with other agents and with editors—it’s truly strange how many people live a couple stops away from me on the train whom I’ve only ever spent time with while halfway across the country!
All that aside, though, we really appreciate the opportunity to share what we know about the business with authors who are eager for the information (hence this blog, really). An author who understands how things work in publishing is good for all the rest of us in the business. When we go to conferences, we sit on panels, do Q&As, answer general questions in pitch sessions and at luncheons, and attempt to help writers figure out just what it means when you take the work you’ve done for you and try to turn it into something others will read. And not only that, but we learn from what we hear, too. It can be really edifying to sit on a panel with a book reviewer or publicist and hear their take on the questions we know from the agents’ and editors’ sides.
And why should you go? Well, if you’re wondering how to get started, how things work, and what to do next, a writers’ conference just might be the help you need. If you have a completed novel or nonfiction proposal ready to shop, by all means take advantage of the pitch session opportunity that a writers’ conference provides. Don’t go expecting a ton of feedback or a detailed critique —it’s hard to tell much of anything from a pitch—but consider it an opportunity to capture our attention more easily than you might in the slush pile.
But more than that, go to learn. Go to attend workshops and panels. Go to meet agents, editors and other industry professionals (and learn that we’re not nearly as scary as you might think). Go to network with other writers in your area.
And don’t feel like you absolutely need to attend one. Plenty of authors are published each year who’ve never attended a conference, so while it can certainly be helpful, it’s not a must.
So to those of you who attended conferences for the first time this year, what did you think? Would you go back and would you encourage your fellow DGLM blog readers to try it out?