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Writers Should Attend Writing Conferences


Being a writer is more than sitting in your garret penning sonnets.  You’ve also got a lot of work to do before you get to sit behind a table at a bookstore and autograph your latest best seller for adoring fans.  One of the best ways to find out about writing is to go to writer’s conferences.

Mingling at Mixers

Writer’s conferences often start off with a cocktail party.  That’s a groaner for me.  I love people, but I hate having to go through the painful process of meeting them.  At a writer’s conference cocktail party there are three types of people: the alligators, the agents and the rest of us.  The alligators are on a mission.  They have a manuscript they want to get published and you better get out of their way.  If not, they will run over you!

Meeting the Agents 

Which brings us to the agents.  I really feel sorry for these guys.  They show up at conferences aware that several hundred people are just dying for the opportunity to pitch a book to them.   To facilitate the pitchers, the agents have on colored name tags which render them easy targets.   Unfortunately, the agents also realize that the chances of getting pitched a really great marketable book are slim to none.

Agents fall into two categories.  The greater majority of them huddle into tight cliques with their fellow agents and their own authors.  You’d need a shovel to dig your way to their side, but who can blame them for protecting themselves from alligators.  The other agents graciously make themselves available to anyone, but are usually surrounded by alligators busy elbowing one another to be next.  Though I’ve heard many stories of successful pitches at cocktail hours, I’ve never had the courage to dive in.  I have bumped into an agent in a drink line or at buffet table, but since I possess no alligator genes, the agent would have to knock me over the head with an appetizer and drag me into a corner to hear my pitch.

Meeting the Other Writers

Then there’s the rest of us.  “What do you write?” or “Are you pitching?” are the two most frequent questions we ask each other.  That usually leads to a discussion of queries, who replies and who doesn’t, what agent database we prefer and what blogs have good advice.  I enjoy these conversations, but my conscious is nagging at me all the while, because I paid so much money to be there and I don’t have the guts to stalk any of the agents.


The best thing about writer’s conferences is that even if you don’t make like an alligator at the cocktail party, you still get the opportunity to pitch your book to an agent.  Some conferences include the pitch in the price of admission and others charge for it separately.  Either way it’s well worth the investment.  You get ten uninterrupted minutes to tell the agent why your book is one they should take a look at.  So far, I’ve made two pitches and both agents wanted to see the manuscript.  It’s no guarantee of representation, but it does mean that my manuscript will go to the head of the line and not get lost in the slush pile.

Learning Opportunities

Even if most attendees are primarily there to pitch, the real meat of the conference is the classes and general sessions.  Try to research the presenters and their subject matter as much as you can before you go, but you’ll still be surprised – both pleasantly and unpleasantly.  You’ll pay an extra fee to attend a luncheon or keynote address only to be bored to tears.  Then you’ll go to the wrong classroom and end up gaining the most important nugget of information from the whole conference.  I’ve experienced both.

If I’d let myself, I’d just go wallow in the wonderful craft classes.  No harm in that, but if you are going to pitch, you should go to the classes taught by the folks you’re going to pitch to.  It will give you an idea of their personality or preferences, which can improve your appointment with them.  There are also classes on things like self-publishing, brand building, social networking and other peripheral information.  Taste a little of all of it to get the best experience.

If you are thinking about writing or you’re looking for a writer’s conference to attend, please allow me to recommend the DFW Writers Conference, usually referred to as DFWcon.  I’m sure there are other great conference out there, but of those I’ve attended, DFWcon is the best overall experience I’ve had.  If you’re a writer, what’s your favorite conference?

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