Waste of Time or Valuable Experience
I’m involved in a large online group of writers and someone said, “I want to address something, and I hope conference goers don't get mad, but I went to a grand total of one conference in my life and it was a grand waste of time.”
A number of people chimed into the conversation and I was one of them. Since many readers of my blog about the Writing Life are not on this particular forum, I thought I’d post my response:
For many years, I've been going to writers conferences and I've seen the extremes in different types of participants. Some people are conference junkies. They attend every year just to hang out with other writers and never grow in their abilities and skills nor have the ministry from their writing. Some of these people return year after year with exactly the same project--yes as an editor, I remember having read it. Others will never attend a conference or blow it off because of the expense and time or other expectations. I believe the bulk of us have a reality some place between these two extremes.
Ironically in the last few days, I've been listening to bestselling novelist T. Davis Bunn teach a continuing class about fiction from a writer's conference. On his tape, Davis mentioned that for many years he avoided conferences because he figured his writing had to be perfect before he could go to the conference and meet an editor.
I’ve watched many writers gear up and come to these conferences with the idea of selling something--particularly the first-time conference attenders. After a short amount of time at the conference, most of these first-timers learn they came for a completely different reason (unique to their writing life and experience). Some of them did come to sell a magazine article or pitch a book idea. Many of them came to learn how to pitch their magazine or book ideas. These people return home with new enthusiasm for their craft and better pitches.
As an editor, I've read literally thousands of conference submissions. I will be fortunate if I find one or maybe two projects during an entire conference. And the other submissions that I read? They aren't appropriate for my publisher or they aren't appropriate for any publisher. Often the writer needs to return to his manuscript and put additional effort into it.
It's true you don't have to attend a conference to sell a magazine article or a book project--but from my experience you can collect such great information and insight at a conference it will shorten your learning curve (maybe years shorter). I believe in the magic that happens at conferences and you can see I will be speaking at several conferences this year. I've got a lot of information about conferences and some specific information about some conferences. All conferences are not equal and you will have different experiences at each one.
Often what happens for the individual depends on their conference choice, their attitude and their preparation. The other factor about whether a conference is a waste or valuable experience depends on those unique moments at a conference. I understand these conferences are an investment in terms of time and money and energy but from my experience, it has paid for itself many times over.