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ATTENDING A CONFERENCE 2020 – WHAT TO DO?

April 7, 2020

Normally, this would be the part six of my pitching to an agent or publisher series. I’m dun didded with that part and am into actually attending a conference where you physically hand them the product you worked so diligently to perfect. However, as I say below, there’s a lot more to a conference than just pitching to an agent or publisher.
Unfortunately, this is 2020, and the plague has changed, at least for the first half of the year, how conferences are attended. In the case of the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, the physical one at the Tuscany Hotel and Casino was cancelled in favor of a virtual conference, which from my understanding, was a resounding success.
I chose not to attend this year, the first time I’ve skipped a conference since 2005. It had nothing to do with either the potential quality of the conference or the organizers. I just simply did not want to sit in front of a computer all day when I already sit in front of a computer all day. It’s not the same as a physical presence. That being said, the rest of this article, pertains to going to a physical conference, which will resume once the plague is over. Wherever you live, you’re bound to have one available somewhere. Take advantage of it.

A LOT TO DO

There’s a lot more to do than just pitch to agents and publishers at writer’s conferences. Though that may be the primary goal for most, especially after forking out some big bucks, one would expect something substantial in return, like a contract, or at least a foot in the door. However, being published from the get-go isn’t necessarily the goal of everyone attending, nor should it have to be for you, especially if it’s your first one.
From the economic side, with what a conference costs nowadays, what is the payoff? Besides the obvious, what about learning more about the craft? Expanding your horizons? Networking? Let’s not forget that the majority of these conferences are dedicated to these other aspects. After all, they’re called conferences, not pitch sessions. With that in mind, many attendees approach a conference as a learning tool.
Since I already had manuscripts ready, my focus was on agents for the first one I attended. I paid little heed to the good stuff so I could get face time with so and so. That lasted about thirty minutes into the first conference in 2005. I not only found great pleasure in helping as a member of the staff, but I had some serious quality time with author James Rollins, one of my favorite writers. Then, when I had free time, I attended a class here and there and discovered I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Turns out there were some knowledgeable people there and many of the sessions helped me become a better writer.
At each and every conference I’ve attended, even though I’ve been part of the staff, I’ve always found time to attend classes, chat with all of the agents, publishers or authors and had a great time. You, as an attendee, should be able to study the agenda and will likely have a difficult time juggling the classes to be able to attend everything you want so you don’t miss everything.
One year, a friend and I wrote a screenplay. Two screenplay experts came that year and I attended two very different classes on screenplays. I learned some valuable info on how to improve our draft. Another year, after I’d become the local expert on point of view (which I’ve talked about here), we had an author talk about that (James Rollins again). I learned his side of things and we agreed on our approaches.
One year was the web site year. I knew my first book was coming at the end of that year, so I needed to start a web site. However, I didn’t have a clue how to do it. There were several classes on web sites and I attended them all. Because of those classes, I finally got off my butt and now, three hundred plus articles later, you’re reading this.
When I attend the meals, I like to sit at a different table each time. It’s really great to talk to a variety of people and hear what they’re up to. I’ve learned so much from other aspiring writers. We’re not alone in this passion! It’s always interesting to have a heart-to-heart with agents and publishers and get the latest juicy gossip and snide innuendo (sorry, my language for gossip and trends) from the world of publishing. I’ve learned so much about the inner workings of the publishing industry from just listening to them (This is another reason I decided not to attend the virtual conference). Nowadays, I have a favorite table I usually station myself at because I’m always early. It never fails that different people sit there each time, so I end up with a different crowd regardless and get to keep my favorite seat.

SUMMARY

Attending a writer’s conference is not just about getting a book deal. It’s about learning the craft of writing. It’s clearly a tough investment. I think it’s a lot better than spending a fortune on a garage full of poorly done books that nobody will read. Learn to do things right before you ever attempt to invest in something like that. Do it right the first time!
Happy writing!

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