No doubt, conferences are of utmost importance if you are serious about becoming a successful author. However, they are not like so many vanilla sugar cookies, perfect for everyone. Conferences are expensive and you should research what each offers to make sure you get your money’s worth. Here are some great reasons to spend those dollars though.
It is one of the best places for learning the subtleties of the craft.
You may have ruled the creative writing classes in high school or college, but that doesn’t mean you are ready for publication. Most conferences and events have at least one track that focuses on important aspects of writing, including character building, scene setting, and essentials to a good (fill in the blank) novel. You’ll learn from great novelists who have made the tortuous journey to publication and are now reaching back to help others. Go to a few of these, take notes, and embrace the concepts into your work. Your writing is bound to improve.
You meet experts.
Interacting with agents, editors, and famous writers is wonderful, but a good conference often has more than that. Some feature PR experts, Internet gurus, police, FBI, CIA and lord knows what other professionals, all brought in to answer questions and educate the writing public. For example, I had the pleasure several times now of meeting and listening to John Gilstrap, noted author and explosive expert. His panels on how fire works around gasoline, what different bullets look like going through a flesh-like gel, the sound made by a gun with a silencer (yes they do make noise), and more left deep impressions on me. It was enough that I know how to write about these things in the future.
They keep you up to date on the industry.
Five years ago, very few if any people were talking about a “writer’s platform.” At last year’s ThrillerFest, they were the buzzwords going around. Suddenly everyone said you need a platform to be taken seriously by editors and agents. Three years ago, everyone was talking about the changing state of publishing and the effect ebooks have on the traditional route. They still are talking about this major shift in the book world but the conversation is changing. You can’t learn about the movements in the industry by sitting at home and looking at news clips.
Networking fast tracks you to being published.
I haven’t met an agent yet that says, “I get most of my clients from my slush pile.” They want to meet folks in person and see the author’s enthusiasm for their products. Some conferences give writers the opportunity to pitch their materials to an editor or agent in person, bypassing the slush pile. Will you sell your novel at the conference? No. But you’ll have better chance of them asking for a sample and taking your work seriously.
You can act like unabashed bibliophile and meet your heroes.
In an age where fewer people choose books over TV and avid readers are sometimes scorned, it’s wonderful to fall into a group that understands why you love a specific genre. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to thriller master Ken Follett give a speech about his process of writing. I learned a great deal and still share stories with people about what he said. At another time, I bubbled enthusiasm all over while meeting Sophie Littlefield, the author of the Bad Day for Pretty series, because I simply love the truly Southern voice in her books. I could go on but you get the idea. You probably love to write because you love to read. Meeting your author-heroes feels pretty damn cool.
Part 2: How to Choose the Best Conference for You.
A couple of conferences to consider:
ThrillerFest is one of the largest conferences for thriller, mystery, and drama works. Occurring in early July, offers a lot of extras, including a Master CraftFest, CraftFest, and PitchFest. However, prices go up at the end of February.
Writer’s Digest just put up information about their New York conference aimed at July 31 to August 2, 2015. They also offer a pitching-to-agents event called Pitch Slam. Early Bird registration ends March 9th.
Pikes Peak Writers Conference is April 24-26 with some cool sounding events and possible query letter and manuscript reviews. Prices go up on March 15th.
Legal note: I’m not endorsing or connected to these conferences or their associated groups. I have attended some and plan on going to others. I am simply getting the word out about them to those who are interested because half the battle is knowing when and where the conference is.