How To Choose a Writer’s Conference, Part I

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This weekend, I’m attending the Grub St. Muse & the Marketplace conference in Boston. It will be my first time at this particular conference, and I’m eager to check it out and see what it’s like. I’ll have a full report on Monday.

One of the best ways to gain motivation and inspiration for your work can be to attend a writer’s conference. But with the plethora of conferences out there, how do you determine the best one for you? It can be tempting to just go to the one closest to you, or the one with the biggest “name” faculty, but there are a number of things to consider if you want to make the time and money you spend worthwhile.

First, there are several types of conferences:
Craft conferences, in which you attend seminars or panels on developing aspect of the writer’s craft
Workshops, where you submit work and have it critiqued by faculty and other students
Pitch conferences, where your primary reason for being there is to pitch your work to agents and editors

Some conferences are a combination of two or three types. It’s important to know what is offered at the conference you choose to attend.

Also, you need to know whether it’s a conference geared toward literary writing, or a specific type of writing (poetry, nonfiction, screenplays, writing for children, etc.) or a specific genre (science fiction, mystery, romance, thriller, etc.).

The main question you need to ask is Why do you want to attend? Of course, many writers attend conferences for the sense of community, or to get inspiration, or to network with fellow writers, agents, or editors. But it pays to get specific about your goals in attending, which may depend on where you are in your writing career:

• Do you want to learn more about developing your craft?
• Do you want to get critique on your work in progress?
• Do you want to generate new work?
• Do you want to pitch your project to agents and editors?
• Do you want to get updates on the publishing world and the marketplace?
• Do you want more of a retreat, that involves some writing but also traveling, sightseeing, relaxing, and so on?

Other questions to consider:

• Are you writing for personal reasons, or for publication?
• Are you a relative beginner or a seasoned writer? Some conferences require an application, and some are open; some have different levels of seminars geared toward writers at different stages of their careers. Look at past conference schedules, if possible, to make sure what’s offered is going to be relevant to you.
• The size of the conference – are you happy being in a herd, and attending large panels or seminars? Or do you want a smaller, more personalized experience? Are there opportunities to socialize outside of formal presentations? Are there opportunities to meet with agents and editors outside of formal pitch sessions (these often cost extra)?
• The faculty – are they teachers? Writers? Editors? Agents?
• Where will the conference be held? Close to home? An exotic locale? Online?
• Time commitment – how long is the conference? Is there preparation needed beforehand (i.e. do you have to prepare manuscripts for workshop, or do you have to have a pitch ready)?
• Of course, cost is a factor for most of us. Is there one flat conference fee? Do things like pitching, manuscript critique, or other events cost extra? Are any meals included? If you have to travel to the conference, you’ll have to factor in transportation and accommodation as well.

It pays to be clear on these questions, and to do your homework on the conference that is right for you at this time. I’ll continue with a series of articles on this, because I think being thoughtful about the conferences you attend is important. Next time, I’ll talk about how to get the most out of a conference, even if you’re an introvert who would rather be home reading a book.

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