What I consider comfortable shoes for a conference, for Amy, who asks:
I have a quick question for you regarding writing conferences, specifically the [redacted]. As an industry insider, would you recommend this conference for a first time novelist who is searching for an agent?
I’ve read mixed reviews online and know that us first time writers can be a naive group. Any insight you have would be appreciated as I’d hate to spend $1,000+ on the conference and trip to NYC only to find out that it’s not really going to help my writing objectives.
The only conferences I can specifically recommend are ones that I have attended — like the national SCBWI conferences in February and August every year, the SCBWI Western Washington conference last April, or Writers Digest’s pre-BEA Pitch Slam.
Beyond those, and a few others I have personal experience with, I have heard of a few other great conferences I’d love to attend — the Maui Writers Conference and the Highlights Foundation Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua, among them — and the way I’ve heard about them is by reading the internet, and hearing what other people have to say about them!
You mention you’ve done this, to some degree, and found mixed reviews. If there’s not an overwhelming outpouring of love for a specific conference that you have your heart set on attending, try to read into the reviews — are they from the point of published authors who maybe found the conference’s emphasis on perfecting your craft too basic for them? Or are they the reverse — from the point of view of newbie writers like yourself who were overwhelmed by workshops on marketing and publicity, when they wanted to focus on writing? Many of the bigger conferences have multiple tracks for authors at different stages of their career, so you can make the conference be whatever you want it to be — two days on your craft, or two days on the business of being a writer.
If you’re still not finding enough information online about the conference you’re looking at, maybe you should check out other conferences. If you have to consider finances (and who doesn’t?), maybe seek out a local conference before trekking across state lines. Local conferences and/or workshops are a fantastic way to ease into the conference scene, without breaking the bank. You may also find yourself connecting with other writers who can provide more detailed information about the bigger conferences you’ve considered. Check out local chapters of the SCBWI or RWA, or ask at your local library to see if they know any writers groups nearby.
What you take away from a conference depends on what you bring to it — with a little research, you can be sure you’re bring the right attitude! (Or shoes.)