August 4, 2010

Are Writers Conferences Worth It?

Dollar Sign

I’ve now recovered enough from the RWA National Conference to talk about my experience.  *takes deep breath*  Er, or not…

The word “overwhelming” was invented for experiences like this.  I can try to describe it, but I fear I’ll run out of words (a horrifying thought for a writer!).  It was fabulous to meet so many other dedicated writers.  It was inspiring to learn from so many well-developed workshops.  It was just plain fun to attend events like the Literacy Signing and Award Banquets.  And despite the gut-wrenching feeling of having the volunteer’s overly melodramatic reading of my query letter taint agents’ impression of my work, I still came away with positive lessons to apply to my queries.

It was—in a word (or two)—worth it.  It was worth the time and the money.

Instead of trying to tackle the big picture view of the conference (an impossible task), I’ll share some of my takeaways.

  • The time we spend on Twitter, assuming we’re having conversations with people and not just spouting random mundane tidbits that no one cares about, is also worth it.  I met so many people simply because I recognized their name from Twitter and introduced myself.  Every single one of them was happy to meet a fellow Twitter person, if only to justify their own time on it.
  • Being able to think like an agent or editor is key to our success.  It doesn’t matter how beautiful your writing is if there isn’t a market for your story.
  • The focus on high-concept and hooks is here to stay.  During the reading of query letters in front of agents, many would have requested the material after just the first line if it really grabbed them.  In fact, the paragraph of plot or character development can hurt our chances if they undermine the power of our hook line.
  • The best way to determine whether or not you’re “ready” for publication is to read debut authors.  They didn’t get a contract because of their name or following.  They earned their contract with their writing.  Period.

I’ll share some of my other thoughts/tips/epiphanies in future posts, but that’s what I have for you this time around.  Oh, and writers’ conferences are also a good place to rub elbows with well-known authors.

Picture of Lee Child and Jami Gold

Lee Child at a Romance Writers Conference? Sure, why not?

On the other hand, they wouldn’t be worth it (to me anyway) if you were going merely for the slim chance of pitching your work to an agent in the hallway.  (The elevators were too fast.)  They wouldn’t be worth it if the conference has a reputation for lame workshops.  (Those were some of the highlights here.)  And they wouldn’t be worth it if you weren’t going to put in the work to make things happen.  (Not only to apply what you learn, but also to force your introverted butt into tons of conversations with random strangers, etc.)

If you’ve attended writers’ conferences, what has your impression been?  Are they worth it to you?  Why or why not?

Comments — What do you think?

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Roni Griffin

Great recap! And it was terrific to meet you at the conference. I’m sorry about the overly dramatic reading that you received, but at least you were brave enough to put your stuff out there! More than most people can say.


Good job! Yep, you have to put yourself out there – no matter what. And hey, even if the agents didn’t ask you right then to submit, you can take what they talked about during the session – apply it – and then submit to them, right? 🙂

The conference was awesome! Great workshops, good people – and the energy? That’s what I liked the best. If I had anything to add – it would be: Get there the day it begins. The Wednesday night and Thursday morning were more relaxed – before all the workshops and events started.


Lynn Lamousin

Hi Jami, just now catching up on your blog. Great recap of the conference. I was there as a sponge — soaking up everything and with no real goal except to learn and meet other writers. And my no-agenda agenda ended up being exactly what I needed.

This is the first I’ve heard about the pitch letter workshop — sounds like quite an experience!


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