Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to Find the Perfect Writer's Conference

It seems like RWA Nationals just ended, and yet announcements for regional conferences are popping up everywhere. With so many choices, I had to stop and ask myself why I go to conferences, what I hoped to get out of them, and what makes one conference better than another.

I should probably start with a disclaimer and admit that I'm not a regular conference-goer. I've only been to two: RWA Nationals in Orlando and Emerald City Writer's Conference in Seattle. Both times I decided to go to the conference because I'd finaled in a contest, and both times the big thrill came from meeting online writer friends in person.

This year, I thought I would purposely choose a conference instead of merely tagging along wherever my chapter sisters took me. As a first step, I asked my fellow writers why they went to conferences. Here are some of their responses:
  • To make a personal connection with writers, agents, and editors
  • To hear what different publishers are looking for
  • To promote a novel
  • To discover the latest trends and industry news
  • To hear speakers or workshops that aren't available online
  • To learn new ways to write, organize, or self-promote
  • To be inspired by published authors
Before you pay your registration fee, consider all of these points. Who are the speakers, editors, and agents attending, and which workshops will be presented? Does the conference seem to draw people who are at the same stage in their careers as you are?

Equally important are the logistics. Is the conference near your home, or some place you've always dreamed of visiting? Will you know anyone there to keep you company and share expenses? Does it come highly recommended by people you trust?

Although I've only been to RWA conferences, I'm also intrigued by conferences for other genres, such as Thrillerfest, and conventions which focus on the reader, like RomCon.

Perhaps most tempting of all are conferences offered on cruises or in unique locations like the Matera Writer's Conference in Matera, Italy or the Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii.

With so many excellent choices, it's no surprise that I can't make up my mind. I would love to hear your conference recommendations.

What do you look for in choosing a conference? Is there one you return to year after year? Why? What makes it stand out above all the others?


Donna Cummings said...

I think the "right" conference can also depend on where you are in your writing life. When I went to my very first conference, I *wanted* to write, but I hadn't figured out how to get started, and the conference got me headed the right direction.

Then, as I progressed, I went to conferences to meet agents and editors. Now I feel like I would like to interact with friends and fellow writers, and hopefully one day, readers. :)

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Great post. I've only been to a handful of conferences, RWA Nationals and my local RWA chapter's conference and one put on by my publisher. I do want to do more conferences, and since I'm not going to National in 2011, I may very well go 'local.'

To me geography would also play a part in deciding where to go, as the further away would mean more that's another thing to consider when planning your conference schedule. The other imporant thing to me would be who the speakers and workshops were. There are just some things I could not care less about.

Elisa Beatty said...

I haven't been much of a conference-goer, either--just two RWA Nationals (D.C. and Orlando).

But I've heard others say regional conferences are actually best for networking, since numbers are smaller and you don't get so lost in the crowd.

Maybe this year I'll look into a local one.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thank you, Donna, Anna Kathryn, and Elisa. You bring up some very good points. Attending the nearest conference is a good choice if it has everything you're looking for. And different conferences are better for different stages in your career. Thanks for commenting!

Mona Risk said...

Clarissa, I love regional conferences. The FRW (Florida Romance Writers) is ideal. It offers a cruise, invites several editors and agents, is small enough to have everyone cozying. You can pitch to ALL the editors and agents, submit the first two pages to a panel og agents/editirs in the The Florida Idol. Sit with them at dinner, or at the bar. Last year I didn't prepare any pitch and yet I ended up pitching to two editors and two agents. I got my first sale thanks to the FRW 2007.

Martha W said...

This is a great topic. I have been to *one* conference and that was the Maine Writer's Retreat - which was fabulous.

Surprisingly enough, I went by myself. And I live in Michigan. lol. They had the Maine Ghost Hunters Society coming in for a class on their techniques and the many things that go into a ghost investigation. Very, very fun and very informative.

In a couple weeks, I'm headed to Central Ohio's conference on the first of October. That one I'm attending because a few people I know are going and the marketing class is right up my alley with an impending release fast approaching.

In short, both conferences offered a class that I'm interested in, with established authors I would love to meet, and they're both affordable.

Ah, wow. Did I ramble? LOL...

Great post, Clarissa!

Melissa Dawn Harte said...

Clarissa I haven't been to any yet but I am hoping to plan for a few in the near future. Hopefully, luck will be with me this year and I can go to Nationals for the first time.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

This probably sounds shallow, but I go to hug my friends because they are such a large part of my writing life. I've gone to seven RWA National conferences and always come home stoked and ready to write like the wind. I've learned a lot just by talking to other writers, being inspired by the multi-published authors, hearing the keynote speeches, and catching the enthusiasm. This year I pitched to an editor and then at a cocktail party another editor from an Epublishing house asked to hear about my book. I sent them my work as soon as I got home. It really is exciting to spend time with people that are like me and understand writers and writing.

Dawn Marie Hamilron said...

Interesting topic, Clarissa. I attend conferences to learn from workshops, to pitch, and to chat with other writers. I've attended the NJRW conference (held in October) a couple of times. Well run and very enjoyable.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thanks to everybody who commented for sharing info on all these wonderful conferences!

Jill James said...

I've been to RWA National in Reno, Dallas, and San Francisco. Couldn't pass up the last one becasue I was an hour away. This coming year I'm hoping to go to one put on by my publisher. Isn't there anything sweeter than saying my publisher? I want to go to National too, moneywise I'll have to decide on that one. I would like to hit a regional one this coming year as well.

Cai said...

I love the larger National Conferences, like RWA and RT - they're great for networking and fun for meeting new people. RWA is geared more toward writers and RT is equally geared toward writers and readers, so they both have interesting workshops & parties.

I've also attended my publisher's conference, RomantiCon. Last year was the first time they'd done it and I have to say that the management did an amazing job with the workshops, the hotel, the food and the entertainment! I'm going back there next month for the second one and can't wait!

It's a great opportunity to meet in a smaller atmosphere with readers and other writers for Ellora's Cave & Cerridwen Press.

Clarissa Southwick said...

I hadn't even thought about publishers' conferences, Cai. Thanks for commenting!

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Clarissa: I guess you could say I'm a conference junkie. I go to as many as I can. I live in Fla but have gone to Pike's Peak and Colorado Gold, and lots of them in the east. Went to RWA Nationals in Orlando. I had just split with an agent and was looking for another. Because of that conference, I'm now talking to an agent and also have a full at Mills and Boon. Needless to say, I'm a big, big proponent of conferences, for all the reasons you give above. The workshops are invaluable.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Thank you, Joyce. It's good to hear from someone with more conference experience.

Josie said...

I attended the Moonlight and Magnolias conference in Atlanta a few years ago and thought it was fantastic. The networking with other writers, agents, and editors is an invaluable resource. said...

I'm very late to post a comment because I just got around to reading my email after attending a wonderderful weekend conference here in Colorado hosted by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I love the larger conferences, like RWA, but sometimes there's nothing like a smaller conference where you get a better chance to meet editors and agents. I'm a big fan of Emerald Cities in the fall and the Colorado Romance Writers conference in the spring. Both bring in top notch agents and editors and the workshops are always inspiring. There's also something to be said for conferences which offer all genres, like the one I just attended. My dinner companions included writers working on horror, sci fi and historical romance and I got a chance to chat with Brenda Novak about my romantic suspense. I guess my bottom line is spending a weekend with other writers is always inspiring... and fun!