Writers’ Conferences

As the new year begins, I start to ponder what conferences I should go to this year, particularly since I have a new science fiction manuscript to start pitching. I’m a big believer in writers’ conferences for several reasons. They are great places to for learning skills and getting updates on the publication world. Also, everyday writing tends to be a solitary activity and attending one of these events allows me to swim in a welcoming, nourishing community of like-minded individuals. I always come home with contacts, ideas and a renewed energy for writing and marketing. Finally, I’ve had more success in pitching to literary agents during conference events than sending in query letters or tweeting during agent events. They come to the conferences looking for specific projects. If yours sounds like it matches, then they are highly likely to request more.

I’ve done some research on national, regional, and local conferences coming up in the next few months and want to share the info with you. The items below are not an end-all, be-all list but merely a starting platform. If you recommend one not listed here, please write to me and I’ll give it a shout out as well.

Note: The names are linked to websites for more information.

February

15-18: San Francisco Writers Conference. The website states that they have pre-and post-event master classes, 100+sessions. 20+ literary agents for speed dating, and 100+ attendees so it is a large conference. The price is $845, which is about right for a four-day event that includes multiple meals.

23-25: Genre-LA hosted by the West Coast Writers Conferences specifically focuses on sci-fi and fantasy work (among others). Looks well organized and it is not that expensive to attend. It includes 1-on-1 ProCritiques with agents and Editors. The only problem is that the information at the website still mostly lists the 2017 conference.

March

7-10: 2018 AWP Conference & Bookfair. This huge conference (12,000 attendees) is in Tampa, Florida. It is a true networking event for writers, teachers, editors and publishers. I’ve never been but it doesn’t strike me as a place for performing manuscript pitches. If you know otherwise, please let me know!

10-11: Chicago Writers Association Writers Conference features 16 guest speakers. This small, regional conference is dubbed “Let’s Just Write, An Uncommon Writers Conference” with the ticket price running around $300. The website does not list a lot of information.

22-25: New York Pitch Conference is not a conference in the traditional sense. It has an application process and keeps the attendance small. You meet with writing experts the first day and use your pitch to analyze your book. After that you get the chance to pitch to editors in the big NY houses. I’ve been to this event once and it was a nerve-wracking weekend. However, the information was great and I got two requests for my book from top NY houses. Unfortunately, I was still new to the business and the book wasn’t ready to be shopped around.

April

April 6-8: The Muse & The Marketplace is hosted by GrubStreet. They offer a Manuscript Market, which is a 20 minute critique session with an editor or agent, and Shop Talk Lunch for meeting professionals.

April 12-15: Pathways to Publication hosted by the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Writers’ Institute. They are featuring seven agents and a critiquing service. They also have an unusual offering for 30 writers who are willing to work with a coach for six months on a novel. This seems like an excellent opportunity for authors struggling with starting their book.

April 19-21: Las Vegas Writer’s Conference 2018 is hosted by the Henderson Writers Group. This regional conference offers little information (so far) at their website but the previous keynote speakers are impressive. This year they are offering a full day workshop with Jane Friedman.

April 27-29: Pikes Peak Writers Conference is hosted by a writer’s group of the same name. I went to this conference a few years ago. The people were warm and friendly. The sessions were extremely helpful and taught by real experts. It offers a prequel day, a query 1-on-1 critique session with literary agents and a contest. At the time I attended, the prequel day was aimed at research information for paranormal and urban fantasy writing. This year the focus is more on crime, space and the writing process.

National Conferences with Early Bird Prices

Thrillerfest, July 10-14, Advanced price ends Feb. 28, 2018

Writer’s Digest, August 10-12, Cheapest price ends Feb 6th and then they go up to the next cheapest level, which ends April 17th.

I’ll post more conferences as their time draws nearer. If you have one you want me to discuss, please contact me

Tales from the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference

No visit to NYC complete without seeing the lovely Lady

No visit to NYC complete without seeing the lovely Lady

I’m a big conference fan. Not only are they places where writers are respected (unlike neighbors or distant family members that might roll their eyes when you announce your profession), these gatherings serve as great opportunities to learn industry news and changing trends. Regional conferences are wonderful, but the national ones serve as the best occasions for hearing about news and developments in traditional publishing. I participated in Thriller Fest for several years and enjoyed every minute. However, this year I decided to check out the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York as a change of pace.

The Conference

In short, it was fun and frantic. The one down side, in my opinion, was the venue. Although lovely, some of the hotel’s conference rooms seemed small for so many people and were divided by massive pillars that blocked the views of the speakers and the large screen presentations. The elevators served as the weekend’s nightmares, always being slow, filled to capacity no matter which direction you were going, and frighteningly creaky when in motion.

The Pitch Slam

Another great offering of national conferences is that they focus on interactions between writers and industry leaders, such as well-published authors, publicists, agents, and editors. In fact, one agent pointed out that she gets about 38% of her clients through meeting them at conferences and only about 14% from the slush pile. Do the math. Your chances of getting representation are simply better at writers’ conferences because the agents can get to know you as a person.

In the case of the Writer’s Digest Conference, they featured four one-hour Pitch Slam events where hopeful scribers of fiction and nonfiction could throw story ideas at about sixty literary agents (and a few editors) in a speed-dating style frenzy. Since the number of participants in the room was limited, most people had a chance to see at least six or more professionals before time was up. The conference organizers helped by starting the weekend events off with Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the 2015 Guide to Literary Agents, giving us a pep talk and great advice about pitching. According to Chuck and several other experts, the elevator pitch is quickly becoming history. Its replacement is the idea that you engage the agent or editor in conversation and then give them your pitch, rather than throwing it in their faces as some explosive attempt to sell your book.

The agents at the conference were extremely friendly when faced with the hand-shaking, heavily-sweating hopefuls in front of them. I know this because of my dismal performance in front of my first pitching attempt.

To be clear, I’ve pitched at several events before. ThrillerFest runs a four-hour, mad dash across three large rooms. It is open to everyone paying for the event, which often leads to long lines in front of the most popular guests. However, having a few years of experience doesn’t stop the stomach from knotting up and the obsessive repeating of your pitch while waiting in line to see the next literary agent. You know this is your live-or-die moment. It’s not, but you feel that way anyway. You are desperate not to screw it up.

In my first attempt at the 2015 conference, I approached Ms. Kirsten Carlton of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency, ready to make conversation and launch into the best elevator speech that the world has ever seen (my opinion). I shook her hand, sat down, smiled, and began to talk. Some loud noise drew my attention away and “POOF!” my rehearsed speech disappeared from my brain in mid sentence. She stared at me, looking concerned, as I sputtered, tried to find my thoughts again, failed, and then banged my head against the table in frustration.

Yes, it was that bad.

She told me to take a deep breath and we began again. She listened to my pitch, we discussed its merits, and I went on my way to the next table with more calm and confidence. (Dear Ms. Carlton, I’m mentally sending you many blessings for being so kind and understanding.)

Future Blogs

I took a ton of notes and will be sharing them in the next few blog posts. However, nothing I say here replaces the real thing. As I mention some of the experts that I’ve met, check out their websites and blogs. Look for the books that they’ve created. The information I can provide is just the tip that they gave out at the too-short sessions.

Finally, if you are serious about writing and publishing (self or traditional style), attend a conference if possible. Be wise in choosing one that fits your genre and needs so you don’t waste money. However a little research on the Internet, through the writing-oriented magazines, or in many of the Writer’s Digests Guide books will provide a wealth of options to choose from. You may even have trouble limiting it to just one event a year.

And as ever, happy writing!

The hotel was very classy.

The hotel was very classy.