Monday, January 17, 2011

Conference Reviews for Writers

These are my experiences with the writer/book conferences I've attended. Perhaps they'll be helpful to other writers.

SCBWI National Summer Conference (LA): Such fun. An amazing event with a lot happening. Great place to meet other writers and learn about the business. You can possibly meet face-to-face with agents/editors if you arrange for a paid critique, but sometimes you end up in the overflow with an author--which is helpful, but not likely to get your manuscript requested. Or you could hit the jackpot at an open-mic, but I didn't see many professionals attending the one I participated in.

If you attend the workshops you will often get a free pass to submit directly to the speaker afterwards, and I've heard stories of that working out to a writer's advantage. But, it would be really hard to approach/mingle with an agent or editor outside of scheduled events--even if you have the cajones--because they don't usually stick around. They tend to leave together and have special events for them alone that the average schmo can't attend. If they *are* around, they are usually surrounded by a small crowd.

I met some wonderful and welcoming authors there, though. I chatted for a long time with Sid Fleischman (obviously this was several years ago) which will always be a warm memory for me. I asked him to sign a book for my husband and he wrote: "I love your wife!" :D All this to say, I *Highly Recommend* the conference and would go every year if I could. It was the most fun of all of them, really, but I still felt it would be a tough place to make that personal contact with a professional that we all want.

ALA: This was great for the free books and bling, but, also, the people manning the booths? Editors! The people walking around talking to them? Agents! And librarians and authors and other outrageously cool people.

It's much less structured than an SCBWI conference and eager writers are fewer and farther between. So, if you're willing to put yourself out there and be friendly and sociable with perfect strangers--and NOT be obnoxious about the fact that you're a writer but wait for somebody to ASK you, then you WILL make those important contacts. Seriously. You have to be brave, though. Gush about the books you love. Ask questions. Let them know that you know how things work and you're not an idiot who is just trying to sell them something.

I had several editors request my book including my editor now--though he didn't remember it. This happened 5 years before he bought it (It took me 9 years to write my book--all 40,000 words--eesh!). It wasn't until he requested it again that I told him he'd requested it before at ALA. :) I figured that previous request had long ago expired so I wasn't going to bring it up--it was too pathetic. But it made it especially great to get a brand spanking new one. :)

Local SCBWI conferences: These are awesome. Small, cozy, fabulous, inexpensive. I would also highly recommend getting involved with your local chapter of SCBWI. Volunteer! For me, after several years of volunteering and trying to help breathe life into our local chapter, I started a new listserv and began moderating it. Our subsequent, amazing RAs asked me to continue doing so and then, eventually, I ended up being asked to join the INSCBWI Steering Committee. So now I get to help with events, go to most of the local conferences for free and even join the special guests for dinner, etc. It does mean I might miss some of the "show" because I'm off being helpful, but the paybacks are enormous. It took several years to start reaping the rewards, though, so do it just for "the love" if you do it at all.

I really think you get the most bang for your buck with local (and regional) SCBWI conferences--and I'm not just saying that because I sold my book as the direct result of one. Don't think just because they're small they're not effective.

Last but not least,

Big Sur Children's Writing Workshop: Beautiful location. Great agents--though limited to one agency. (Amendment: I've been informed by one-who-would-know that sometimes agents from other agencies attend as well. Cool beans!) Time to write and hike and think. Personal/professional feedback. Marvelous writers to befriend. And, the best part, for me, was that I got a request for my book and years later that agent still remembered it and asked a friend I attended with, who is repped by an agent with Andrea Brown, if I'd ever finished it because she'd still love to see it. When he told me that it made my day/week/month.

The bottom line is, attend any professional conferences you can manage to attend. Make friends, cherish the hard-won pats on the back and return them in kind. It's the connections that make this business tick and you never know where they might lead you.

There are plenty of other fabulous conferences out there and others will have experiences that support or contradict my own. I'd love to hear them.