I enjoyed reading through all the comments today by my loyal blog readers about their experiences at writing conferences. Kim’s tale of going to a writing conference in a small town in the middle of Australia was fascinating. You just never know when you’re going to meet somebody you’ll “click” with and gain a friend, a mentor, a writing buddy, or whatever.
Sean asked whether it’s worth going to a conference if you’re not yet writing at a good enough level. This is a good question, and deserves a sane and balanced answer from a sane and balanced person. When I find someone like that, I’ll see if they can give an answer. In the meantime, here’s mine:
There are several good reasons to go to a writing conference:
- To learn more about the publishing industry
- To learn more about the craft of writing
- To meet other writers and make friends to help you along the journey
- To get your work critiqued by an industry professional (editor, agent, or writer, but writers are often the best for this because they will critique your work, rather than just tell you whether it’s of interest to them as a business opportunity)
- To see editors and agents and learn that they are just regular people whom you can approach
- To begin building relationships with editors and agents
- To make appointments with agents who might be willing to represent you
- To make appointments with editors who might be interested in buying your work
For novice writers, #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are the most appropriate sorts of goals. For intermediate writers, #1 through 6 are quite appropriate. For advanced writers with a book that is ready to sell, #1 through 8 are all appropriate.
The problem comes when you try to jump the gun and go straight to #8 as a novice. This doesn’t work, any more than jumping straight to calculus as a high-school freshman. If you’re a freshman, work on algebra or geometry first, then move up to trignometry, then go to calculus. It’ll be a smooth and easy journey (if you have the talent for math) and the only disadvantage is that it takes a few years. But if you try to go straight to calculus, then it’ll take forever.
I actually began going to small conferences in 1989, 7 years before my first adventure to Mount Hermon. So I spent about 7 years going to a small regional conference in San Diego, which was a fine conference and radically moved me along the path toward success. But after a few years of that, I needed to move up to a bigger conference with more editors and agents. I never abandoned the San Diego conference, which was an excellent regional one-day conference which was inexpensive and always was well-run. I kept going to it along with the Mount Hermon conference.
But the fact is that a large conference is really necessary when you get to the stage where you’re ready to sell a book. Selling is a numbers game. The odds of selling to any given editor is small. You improve your odds by talking to more editors. You get those at a large conference. At a small conference, you often get excellent instruction in a nice and intimate setting and you get a great chance to build friendships.
So there is no one best strategy to choosing a conference that works for every writer. Many writers prefer to get their feet wet first at a small regional conference and then move up to a larger conference. Others jump right into a huge conference. A lot depends on your goals and expectations going into the conference, and on how well you know your own level as a writer.
This reminds me, I highly recommend Meredith Efken’s e-book on writing conferences, the Writer’s Conference Survival Guide, which is conveniently available here on my web site at an outrageously low cost. Meredith is my own freelance editor (she’s worked on all my books since RETRIBUTION) and is currently on the home stretch of writing the first draft of her own novel #4.
One last thing, Mary DeMuth posted a comment yesterday with a link to a YouTube video she made on “23 Reasons You Should Go To Mount Hermon.” It’s pretty good, and while I have never taken time from the conference to go to the beach or go swimming, the other 21 reasons are all part of my experience. (And I have been to the beach near Mount Hermon many times, because my high school was right on the beach of the Monterey Bay.)