Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why you should start saving your pennies for a writer's conference

I know, writer's conferences are expensive. Not just the conference itself, but the transportation to get there, lodging, food and of course, the irresistable shopping expeditions on the side. But if you're a writer looking to renew and re-inspire your writing, if you're looking to hone your craft, if you're hoping to make contact with agents, editors or published writers who might act as references, the writer's conference is the place to be.
Last week, I had the honor of participating in two panels at the Backspace Writer's Conference in the Big Apple. During the three day conference, over twenty-five agents attended. That's a lot of agents in one place, and they were all looking to help authors develop stories the agents could sell!
There were writers--multi-published writers. Writers who have been in the business for decades, like Gayle Lynds . And writers who have garnered a boatload of professional praise, like Hank Phillippi Ryan. (The picture is of me and Gayle Lynds connecting at the book signing.)
And agents didn't just wander around looking superior with wine glasses in their hands (although wine glasses were never far from view!). They offered their valuable time in workshops where authors could present two pages of their manuscript for agents' critiques--all anonymously!
Those sessions were the stars of the show! Here's some of what authors learned:
* In what part of the opening did A.E.G.O. (Agents eyes glaze over). For some, it was after the first paragraph. Great! Those writers knew it was back to the keyboard. For others, after their two pages were read, an agent would scream, "Whose is that? Send me that manuscript, tomorrow!"
What a thrill for those authors!
More of what writers learned about querying an agent:
*Don't be cutesy, ever, in a query letter. No adorable fonts. No watermarks with your name in elegant script. No flowers around the border. This is a business letter. Keep it that way.
*Avoid telling agents your book is funny, interesting, amazing, suspenseful, soulful, powerful, chilling, bittersweet or sure to be the next best seller. Use exact descriptions to tell them about your story. Study how successful queries are written. (And there are enough resources available for several posts on that topic!)
*Don't overwrite. Don't try to impress with using obscure vocabulary words and over-abundant descriptions. Take out unnecessary character movements, dialogue and physical description. Grab your reader with a story that won't let go!
A conference can get a writer that valuable one-on-one time with an agent or an editor. An extra expense?Yes. Priceless? Absolutely!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rebbie,

I haven't attended conferences, but you make a strong case. For example, most of the important agents attend conferences and they are much more likely to consider representation if they've met you. Case in point, I do not have an agent and I would like to have one represent me. Are they important? Definitely, if writers are to have a chance to be considered by a major publisher, none of which look at unagented worked--unless maybe you meet the editor at a conference. You've got me convinced!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jacqueline,
Yes, agents are important for those writers who want to be considered by a major publisher. And even if you meet an editor while you're un-agented, it's been my experience that they say, "Sounds like a great concept. When you get an agent, tell him/her to send it my way." Not even an editor can override the publisher's guidelines for accepting a project.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been to a single conference where I thought "Darn. THAT was a waste of money," and I've been to at least 2 a year since I began writing. You're right, Rebbie--saving pennies works (and frequent flyer miles). I have been to a conference (to collect an award) that was going to be my last . . . I had decided writing wasn't for me. The gig was up. It was impossible to be published. A nice group of people in Florida changed my attitude on that. : )

Terry Odell said...

I met the editor who asked for my manuscript for Where Danger Calls at a conference--and we were chatting by the elevator--I didn't know who he was (which probably made things easier, since I didn't know I was really pitching).

I try to go to at least 3-5 a year. If you submit a proposal for a workshop or panel and it's accepted, you might have some of your expenses covered.

Anonymous said...

I haven't attended conferences but I love talking with other writers and hearing about how they are going.
Thanks for sharing this post.

Joyce Elson Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joyce Elson Moore said...

Rebbie: I so agree! Conferences are a good place to meet other authors and network. It's where you might get that coveted endorsement for your book cover, to say nothing of the agent/editor contacts. I go to conferences whenever I can: the Historical Novel Society conferences, RWA conferences, and general regional ones like Florida Writers conferences. Also, sometimes they have good contests to which only attendees can submit. I'm a conference junkie.

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