Many of my writer-type friends are packing their bags and making a pilgrimage to NYC this weekend. Why? It's the annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference!
Sadly, I'm not attending since I was just in New York, but I am envious of the people that will be there and especially of the Tenners who get to meet up at the conference.
I thought I'd take this opportunity to share my two cents on writers' conferences. I'm an SCBWI member, but I haven't yet attended one of their meetings (LA 2010, baby!).
When writers are starting out on the road to finding an agent, publisher, building a career it can be overwhelming. The climb to the top is less daunting if you have helpers to show you the best route. The internet is an invaluable resource (if used responsibly), but reading web page after web page just isn't the same as chatting with a flesh and blood fellow writer who understands the passion and pain involved in this process.
Conferences are a great place to meet other writers, agents, and editors. I'd vehemently argue that the first of that group are the most important at conferences. Many conferences have agent and/or editor pitch sessions. It is these sessions, and the dream of possibly landing an agent or editor at a conference, that lures many writers in.
That's more than understandable, and it's a big part of why I attended my first conference (San Francisco Writers) last year.
What I learned, however, is that while the pitch session was a great experience (and did get me a partial manuscript request) - the most valuable parts of the conference were these:
1) Great sessions on revision. I learned so much about moving the draft of a manuscript from good to exceptional. The panels by authors/editors/agents on what makes a great manuscript really had an impact on my writing.
2) Meeting other writers. My amazing crit partner Lisa (Three-Book Deal) Desrochers and I met at SF Writers, and that relationship is definitely the best thing that happened in the three-day weekend. Finding the right crit group is such an important step in the writing life.
Conferences are worth your while because they will A) make you a better writer B)tap you into a network of writer friends that will help you with A.
Do not attend conferences only for the sake of pitching agents because you'll be too nervous to really absorb the other great things that are happening in the sessions. Pitches are great practice at condensing your work into its essential hook (i.e. they can help you query better), but don't head to a conference thinking you're guaranteed to land an agent/editor if you do so.
Caveat: I do consider myself indebted to SF in gaining an agent, but again it's because of reason A. Agent Charlie pulled my query out of the slush pile and requested a full ms. That full ms I'd just revised after I'd learned so much at the conference, and my book was much, much better because of the revisions I'd made.
So to everyone in NYC this weekend, have a great time and I'll be thinking of you! Hope to be at another conference with you soon!