|You better save big if|
you want to attend
- Day One -- Arrive at airport, find my lost luggage, track down shuttle to hotel, check into said hotel. Slightly disappointed because, considering the price I'm paying for the room, one would imagine some updated technology, such as Wi-Fi and a flat screen TV. Perhaps the inside of said hotel room shouldn't look like a Motel 6? The conference is being held in the same hotel and they pushed the idea of 'discounted' room rates.
- Day One, 2:00 P.M. -- Conference X begins. I learn how to choose sessions that are right for me, and since I don't write nonfiction, nor do I need to start a writing group, I skip the first session and don't attend one until 4:00 P.M., which involves pitching to agents and editors. Although I learn about the Elevator Pitch, the room is packed to suffocation. There has to be a fire code being broken, here, especially since I'm stuffed into the window sill in the back of the room. I can barely see the bobbing head of the guest speaker.
- Day One, 5:30 P.M. -- Evening Break. I'm starving, and since there is only a dessert reception at 8:00 P.M., I head back to my room and order in a $20 hamburger and water.
- Day One, 8:00 P.M. -- The evening's keynote speaker. He talks for about ten minutes and then tells the aspiring writers in the room to go to the bookstore next door where he'll be doing a book signing. Stunned silence falls on the room when he leaves the podium as we all think, "What the heck was that?" What the heck was that?
- Day Two -- I get my continental breakfast with all the other early-riser writers. I meet a few of them and chat while waiting for the morning session to start. At 8:00 A.M. it's Conference X's annual business meeting and I sit in. But what good is this doing me since I don't even live in the state? So I chat for a while with an aspiring YA writer.
- Day Two -- Agent dos and don'ts session. They basically knock down the self-published a notch or two and then proceed to regale the crowd with stories about the wildest queries and proposals they've received. Oh, and they let us know who pays for lunch when they get wined and dined by editors. That's about it.
- Day Two -- Agent and Editor Forums -- There are about thirty agents/editors in all and I learn what each one represents. Only one truly represents what I write, so I'm basically up a creek. Except for one, all editors inform the aspiring writers that they don't take on new writers unless represented by an agent. That's about 99.9% of the group. "Why are the editors here, then?" one guy boldly asks. No one on the panel has an answer to that one. Seriously, no one.
- Day Two, 2:30-6:00 P.M. -- Afternoon sessions. I pick one on the Romance genre (I don't write Romance, but nothing else looked overly helpful) where I learn every sub-genre of Romance and that Romance is hard to break into. Couldn't I have just Google-searched that one? During my session on screenwriting (which, in a roundabout way, informs all attendees that you have to live in California to even think about screenwriting), I have my agent meeting. I wait with about fifteen other hopefuls in what I call the 'Cattle Call' area. We are called in for our ten minute sessions. I sit in front of my agent who, from reading her bio earlier, has little to no interest in representing my genre. Her glassy eyes, frantic bounce to her knee, and unprovoked lack of interest annoys the heck out of me. After a couple of questions, I get, "Here's my email. Send me twenty pages." I'm ecstatic until I compare notes with other Conference X attendees. Every agent in there asks for twenty pages.
- Day Two, 7:00 P.M. -- Another keynote speaker. Another shameless plug for the roomful of aspiring writers to buy his book.
- Day Three -- After another continental breakfast, I head over to a session on effective historical research. Yeah, this is my kind of thing! It was interesting, but I only walked away having learned one new thing while a majority of the time the group spent arguing over the use of proper slang. Hmm . . . My second session deals with writing sex scenes. I could use a little help in that area. During this time I have my editor meeting, which ends up consisting of me and five other individuals all pitching in a roundtable-type format. Every one of us writes a different genre and our editor focuses primarily on Romance. It's a bust all around. Unlike with my agent, the editor never replied to my query.
- Day Three -- Afternoon sessions. I vaguely remember these because I couldn't stop thinking about those query letters I needed to write when I got back home. I know that one dealt with writing the perfect pitch. That's nice, since I've already met with my agent and editor.
- Day Three, 6:30 P.M. -- The awards ceremony. I'm pumped! The finalists get to eat first, there's wine at every table, we sit with the other finalists in our categories (although half of our table doesn't show), what could be better? I don't place in the top three. I straggle off to my hotel room and tearfully call my husband. After all, this was the whole reason why I came.
- Day Four -- I have a plane to catch, but decide to sit in on the winners' readings. Very enlightening. There is some good stuff out there. I'm still sulking a bit, but in all I'm enjoying the stories. By pure luck, I snag a few precious minutes with a departing agent. She quickly tells me to query her and she'll go from there. I catch my plane and fly home.
Just out of curiosity, I checked back at the prices for Conference X this year. If you pay day of, at the door for the three and a half days, it's almost $800. Last year, when I attended, it was reported that sixty people paid the premium day-of price. If the same holds true this time around, that's a whopping $48,000 that Conference X is bringing in on just one day. Kind of makes you think, doesn't it? Especially when over 300 aspiring writers attend this specific conference. On top of that, they collect annual membership fees, contest entry fees, class fees, etc. Why, in a world where so many people are scraping together money just to make mortgage payments, and in an industry that considers reading fees to be scams, are these high conference fees allowed?
Here's my advice:
- If you want to attend a conference, first, do your research. If your work is ready to pitch, and I mean really ready to pitch, then find an agent who will really work for you. If you get stuck with an agent/editor who doesn't even represent your genre (and soooo many conferences do this) then either back out of the conference or insist on who you have in mind. Anymore, I honestly believe the only thing I'm paying for when it comes to a conference is that meeting with an agent or editor. I've heard enough keynote spiels to last me a lifetime. So, you should ask yourself, "Do I really want to pay to meet that agent?"After all, what is the point of one-on-ones since most agents don't take you seriously until they see how you write your query? Some agents will actually say that to you straight up.
- If your state/community has a good writing organization, join it. The local conferences where I live feature the exact same speakers that speak on a monthly basis at my local writing meetings. There is no reason to pay an almost $200 price tag to listen to someone I've either heard speak or has nothing new to add to what I write. I pay my $60 membership fee and I'm good for the whole year. It's the gift that keeps on giving all year long!
- Many of these local writing groups offer specialized classes. They can be hit or miss depending on the class, but if you're really struggling with a roadblock in your writing, keep an eye out for one that would be helpful. I did, and it turned out great for the struggles in which I'd found myself.
- Be careful when it comes to joining a national writing group or one located in a different state. Although enticing, what good will it do you if you can never attend a meeting? If there is a local branch, like with RWA or SCWBI, then by all means, join. But please attend the meetings. Otherwise it's kind of like getting a membership to a big box store. After a while you stop shopping there because who needs twenty pounds of spaghetti? If they don't have what you need, then don't join. If you do, put your membership to good use.
- Have an active critique group to add to that writing group. I don't think I can stress this one more. No, I don't mean your sister, mother, husband, or attentive dog. You need to have writers, others like you actively writing and querying in the writing world. People who aren't so close to you that all they say is, "Nice story. I like it." Your group should be comfortable with what you write, open to suggestions, and easy to relate to. If you find yourself pulling teeth just to get your work read or to get a point across, then find another one.
- Know your genre inside and out. Only you know what kind of agent you're looking for. Don't be caught flapping in the breeze when it comes to a one-on-one with an agent or editor.
♥ Mary Mary
P.S. If you're interested in a different view concerning conferences, then be sure to read Sister Lorena's post next week!
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