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

How to Choose the Best Conference for You

Conferences are often expensive, both in terms of fees and travel. Therefore, most people, particularly early in their careers, are limited to one large trip a year and maybe one or two small, regional events if they live close enough to a big city that hosts them. As a person who has attended a variety over the years, I can tell you that each type has its pros and cons. In order to choose one, you must have some idea why you are going in the first place.

First, consider where you are in your career. Are you at the beginning and want more “how to write” type advice? Then the smaller regional ones are great and affordable. Use them to hook up with local people in the business or find area writing groups. If the conference is in a fairly large city, such as the Houston Writers Guild Conference, then you may get an opportunity for meeting a handful of literary agents or editors. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) offers a number of smaller conferences across the country along with a major event in February. After attending a regional convention. you should come home fired up to hit the keyboard and burn through paper. They should leave you with a “yes I can!” attitude towards putting your work forward and getting it finished.

Do you feel like you know how to produce a good story? Do you have a manuscript ready and are developing an author platform? If so, then you may find small regional symposiums frustrating. After a while, the speakers are usually saying the same things. It’s time to move up to the larger conferences that include some manuscript review, experienced authors, and definitely interaction with editors and agents. At the midsized ones, the workshops often cover the subtleties about writing, such as developing strong characters or how to create winning query letters. The Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Chicago’s Love is Murder, and Midwest Writers Workshop  are goods examples. This point in your career is also a good time to make your first large conference as well since many offer craft style seminars. You should also pay attention to any advice about marketing yourself since agents want that in place before investing in your book. When you go home, you may have a “I really need to edit!” feeling but you’ll know how to fix your letter or manuscript to make it more presentable.

Finally, if you feel your manuscript is ready and you want the ability to really push it into agents’ or editors’ hands, then spend the money to go to a large, national conference. It’s time to meet the international experts and start networking, particularly if you have book out with a small press and are looking to move on to a bigger publishing house. The cons are the expense and the crowds. They can be overwhelming for some folks. This makes it harder to really slow down and talk to the professionals. The pros include meeting true top-of-the-line experts, participating in established pathways to pitch to agents, and receiving valuable information about marketing and life-after-publication. These conventions also provide valuable information on the state of the industry as well. The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and San Francisco Writers Conference are good examples. One word of advice is to research the seminars to make sure you will get your money’s worth. Consider going to a genre-specific conference if possible because the bang for your buck will be higher. I have attended ThrillerFest for three years because that is what my material is. Romance writers would not do as well here and have other, better conferences for their work.

As I hear about conferences and dates, I’ll post them at the bottom of my blogs. However, I hesitate to say any of them are better than others. For most, you get  what you put into them. If you go and just listen to the speakers, you will walk away more knowledgeable but not necessarily in a better position in your writing career. If you submit items, interact, join in discussions, and/or participate in speed-dating the agents, you’ll benefit much more.

More conference suggestions:

RT Booklovers Convention 2015 in May 12th-17th in Dallas, Texas. Focused on romance writing, it offers writer’s boot camps but seems largely focused on the love of books and meeting established authors. It may be a good place to sell your new book.

The Writers’ League of Texas 2015 Agents & Editors Conference June 26-28 in Austin. The name says it all and the Writers’ League is one of the biggest groups in Texas. Prices go up after April 5th.

New York Pitch Conference March 19-22 (four times a year) is extremely different from other conferences. If your manuscript is polished and ready, this may be for you. You spend one day developing an excellent pitch and receiving comments on your manuscript based off your pitch. Afterwards, you are put in a room with editors from some of the top publishing houses and pitch your idea. It is a rare opportunity to meet some of these industry leaders in person and avoid the slush pile.