Writing Conferences and Good Karma Tuesday

As promised, today is Day One in the workblog series on Writing Conferences. But since it’s Good Karma Tuesday, the first thing I want to do is award some prizes!

Good Karma Tuesday winner: Aurora St James
Reciprocal Pimp award: Vicki Lane

Speaking of Good Karma, check out my pal Carrie’s blog. She’s giving away free books in honor of today’s release of Diana Peterfreund’s Under The Rose. Go win!

(As you know, the Good Karma Tuesday prize goes to a random reader who commented on a post during the previous week. The Reciprocal pimp award is a non-random totally subjective honor bestowed upon someone who has graced me with link love during the previous week. Vicki’s blog links to this site, as well as the Manuscript Mavens blog. Go Vicki!)

Aurora and Vicki: Send me your addresses and I will send your prizes when I get back to the States next week!

Writing Conferences

First of all, lets back up a second and talk about professional writing organizations. I am a member of Romance Writers of America as well as Mystery Writers of America. Within those two national organizations, I am a member of several smaller chapters. Some are regional (such as the MWA Florida Chapter and the Tampa Area Romance Authors, and some of them are topical, such as the Kiss of Death mystery/suspense chapter and the Beau Monde Regency England chapter for writers of historicals.

Depending on where you live and what you write, other groups that may interest you include:
* Professional Writers Association of Canada
* Horror Writers Association
* Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
* American Screenwriters Association
* The Authors Guild
* More United States organizations: [General] [Romance]* More Canadian organizations: [General] [Romance]* Romance Writing Chapters: [General] [RWA-Approved Special-Interest Chapters]

Some of the advantages to joining a professional writing organization are:
* camaraderie
* research email loops
* personal email loops
* inspiration
* networking
* access to members-only web sites
* workshops, speakers & newsletters
* new friends
and of course:
* conferences (and discounted rates!)

So. If you’re like me (which I’m not saying you are, but let’s face it–that’s my frame of reference) the primary concern when it comes to attending writing conferences is ROI. (Return on Investment)

You plan to spend your time, effort, and money, and you want to get something of value in return. Before we deal with the former, let’s talk about the latter.

The first thing to ask yourself is what you desire (and reasonably expect) to get out of a conference. For some, it’s a chance to pitch a story to an agent or editor. For some, it’s networking with other writers and those in the publishing industry. For some, it’s attending workshops and learning more about the craft of writing. For some, it’s about promoing the newest release in the Goody Room and getting their name/face/cover out there for the world to see. For some, it’s about walking on stage and accepting a writing award, or getting away from the spouse and kids to be amongst people who “get” what it means to be a writer, or meeting critique partners or plot buddies face to face, or going home at the end of the conference with a suitcase full of books.

Even if you answered “all (most) of the above”, try to determine your primary goal. The number one thing that makes it worth the time, effort, and money.

For example, the first conference I went to, I was all about the craft. I did have two agent appointments (who requested partials of my first manuscript but luckily for all of us, passed on the story) but I spent every waking moment in various workshops and didn’t network with anyone except my roommate (if that counts).

(Speaking of roommates, a big shout-out to USA Today best-seller and RITA award winner Karen Rose, a talented romantic suspense writer and my very first conference roomie. Go buy her books!)

I left that first conference with my head spinning, exorcist-style. It’s so unutterably exhausting to have your brain “on” from 8 am to midnight several days in a row. (But I learned TONS.)

Most RWA National conference workshops are taped, so my plan there was to attend all of them that weren’t taped, and then buy the CDs. And then I discovered publisher parties and book signings… More on that later this week.

Lately, my primary goal has been pitching. I flew to San Jose, CA last year for the Prepare to Pitch conference and came home with something like 8-10 requests. Totally worth the plane ticket, for a goal of “find agent”. I’ve also road tripped to two in-state conferences in the past few months, also with a “find agent” goal. Those conference only offered one agent appointment, but were well worth the drive time.

So. Step one is to research professional organizations and see which, if any, mesh with your goals as a writer. Step two is to check out their conferences: when they are, where they are, who will be there, what they offer, how much they cost, how long they last. Step three is to decide what meeting those goals is worth to you, and choose a conference accordingly.

Don’t attend a conference just to attend a conference–pick one that meets your needs. If you’re targeting a particular agent or publishing house, pay attention to the workshop presenters and the people offering pitch appointments. If you’re hoping to learn more about craft, read the workshop descriptions and presenter bios online before you sign up. If you are on a limited budget (and remember–if you are pursuing a professional career, chances are good that dues/fees will be tax deductible!) or have a limited number of consecutive days you can be absent from home while still keeping your job/spouse/sanity, pay attention to that as well.

Once you choose a conference, the next phase of fun begins… More on this tomorrow!

YOUR TURN: Are you a member of any professional writing organizations? What conferences (if any) have you attended? What were/are your primary goals when it comes to attending writing conferences?


  1. December/Stacia - Reply

    I’m a member of RWA but have never attended a conference. I’ve never attended any kind of writing workshop or conference, in fact, which is pretty bad of me but it costs $ and I’m a stay-home Mom of two so that’s in short supply.

    The closest I came was a panel at DragonCon one year that Sherilyn Kenyon and Betty Ballantine were on. It was pretty interesting.

  2. B.E. Sanderson - Reply

    I’m a financially-challenged hermit. Like Stacia, there’s the money factor to consider plus the stay-at-home thing and who’s going to wrangle the teen-girl while I’m away. And then there’s the hermit factor. After years of shmoozing and being a sales person and big cities, I crawled away into my hole in the middle of nowhere to write. I’m happy here, but there aren’t a lot of conferences in BFE. I heard there’s a mystery conference in Denver next year that I might crawl out for, though. Could be my first.

    Maybe after reading this week’s blog, Erica, I’ll jump into attending. =o)

  3. Jessica Burkhart - Reply

    Great post, Erica. I’m a member of RWA but haven’t attended a conference. I plan to join SCBWI and The Authors Guild, but have yet to do so.

  4. ERiCA - Reply

    Stacia: The DragonCon panel sounds fun! I heard Sherrilyn Kenyon speak at a conference in Miami a couple months ago and she was great.

    B.E.: LOL–you crack me up. If I hear of a conference coming to BFE, I’ll let you know. =)

    Jessica: Hi! I’m not a member of those two groups so if you do join, I’d love to know how they compare with RWA (which I recommend to people even if they’re not romance writers, just because there’s so many great loops and contacts and opportunities)

  5. Bill Clark - Reply

    After my first mainstream book was published, I joined the Authors’ Guild in a moment of egotistical weakness. I’m sure it’s a fine organization, but I’m also sure I personally didn’t get my 90 bucks’ worth. But maybe that says more about me than them…

    Everyone should head over to Diana Peterfreund’s blog, “Diana’s Diversions”, for her launch-day party. Her affianced, one Sailor Boy by name, will be judging haikus and limericks in a contest for an autographed copy of “Under the Rose” – which should go nicely with our autographed ARC’s, right, Erica? 😉

    Herewith Bill’s entry:

    Mss. found in an empty gin bottle:

    There once was a young lass named “Boo”,
    Who used to hang out with her crew
    Of Diggers and other friends,
    Including Barbarians,
    The latter of whom asked, “Boo who?”

  6. Mary - Reply

    Thanks for pointing out the dues/fees would be tax deductible. That may be the nudge I need to join an organization. Will have to do some research now. =)

    I’ve never been to a conference, but I already have plans to go to a local Sci-Fi/Fantasy Symposium next year. It’s free. I like free.

  7. ERiCA - Reply

    Bill: Interesting you say that re: Authors’ Guild! I felt that way about MWA. A fine organization, but I just didn’t get that much out of it. If they offer the gazillion flavors of email loops and industry information that RWA does, I missed it. But last I heard, when Janet Evanovich became prez of MWA she said she’d like overhaul/update the works and pattern it after RWA, which she mentioned as an example of an organization that gets it right. My MWA membership lapses this month… I should go check real quick and see if any changes have been implemented yet!

    RE: Diana’s book Here’s a link to the autographed book silly poetry contest. Good luck to all!

  8. ERiCA - Reply

    I’ve never been to a conference, but I already have plans to go to a local Sci-Fi/Fantasy Symposium next year. It’s free. I like free.

    I like free, too! What’s the name of the symposium? Where is it? Do you have a link? I’m definitely intrigued, as my last two books could be considered fantasy… (Tooth Fairy, anyone? *g)

  9. Heather - Reply

    I’ve been to a one-day conference, Philly Writes, put on by the Valley Forge RWA chapter. I got a lot out of it, and based on that experience I decided to join RWA. I sent in my application yesterday, as a matter of fact.

    One thing I didn’t do was agent appointments, for a few reasons. One, I’m a chicken. Two, I don’t have a completed manuscript, and I want to wait until I have something to offer before testing the agent waters. And three, the agents taking appointments weren’t on my short list.

    So here are my questions to Erica (and anyone else who has an opinion on this): Is being so selective a blown opportunity, or a smart decision? Is the actual agent accepting the appointment important, or is it the pitching process?

  10. ERiCA - Reply

    Hi Heather!

    I’ll go into this in detail in tomorrow’s post, but I don’t want to leave you hanging. The short answer is, being selective is a good thing. A smart writer completes her manuscript and researches her target agents before pitching/querying. Sounds like you’re right on track! The “chicken” factor will come into play until you’ve done it at least once, so at some point you’ll have to put yourself out there… =)

  11. ERiCA - Reply

    Bill: I see your poetry and I raise you mine…

    There once was a girl named Diana
    Who instead of playing piana
    Cranked out some prose
    Called Under The Rose
    So go buy it as fast as you can! (Uh)

  12. Vicki - Reply

    I’m a member of RWA and this will be my first conference. So excited.

    I do plan on attending workshops (not the ones that are taped or that we can have at TARA), networking, and hopefully pitching. 🙂

    Okay it’s really hard for me to pick one. I want to network with people, learn even more craft and like I said above hopefully pitch. I don’t have an appointment but I am working the editor/agent appointments and have been told that more often than not the volunteers are asked to pitch.

    I’m working on it now and probably will be up until the day I arrive in Dallas.

    I can’t wait for tomorrows blog. 🙂

  13. T.J. Killian - Reply

    I am a long standing member of SFWA – been to many conferences, gotten something from some of them, and absolutely nothing from others.

    Much of what I know today comes from years of experience. I don’t sit there and go, I need to write like Mr. X, Miss Y, and Madame Z. I write the story the way I want to write a story. Color me old school.

    As to RWA, I haven’t seen much of a need to join it. Other than I’m giving them $90 of my money – and even being as published as I and the tax right-off it provides – it boils down to – will I get anything out of it? At this point, it isn’t likely.

    Remember knowledge is only as good as it is applied. Taking everything as manna from the Gods and words from Heaven won’t help you until you have faith in yourself as a writer.

    I don’t have an open blog spot on my blog for the next week – but I’ll cover more on this there.


  14. Darcy Burke - Reply

    There’s a great article about pitching in this month’s RWR. Dallas will be my first opporunity to pitch so I’m looking at it more as a learning experience than anything else. Contary to what the article in RWR says, I will NOT be reading off notecards.

    Great post as usual, E!!

  15. Bill Clark - Reply

    Erica, darn you to heck!! Here I’ve been patting myself on the back for my sure-to-win limerick, and then you had to run circles around everyone else with one hand tied behind your back. ‘Taint fair!

    I fold. (Grumble, grumble, stomp, stomp, and other sore-loser noises.)

    *Bill throws his poetry cards on the table in disgust and looks around for another profession*

  16. ERiCA - Reply

    (Note to everyone who is not Bill–for the following limerick to make sense, read the comment trail on Diana’s post today)

    Without further ado:

    There once was a man named Bill Clark
    Who wrote poetry just for a lark
    A fanboy was he
    Who so loved to squee
    Miss Erica could not help but snark

  17. Bill Clark - Reply

    And for those of us who *are* Bill, do you have any rusty knives handy so we can cut our own throats and end the misery? Geez, Erica, talent like yours should be outlawed. It’s just not fair to the rest of us! 🙁

  18. ERiCA - Reply

    LOL. If I don’t hit the jackpot with Nether-Netherland, maybe I’ll self-pub a book of snarky poetry. =)

  19. Bill Clark - Reply

    And I’ll even buy a copy, as long as you keep me out of it. 😉

  20. lacey kaye - Reply

    Here’s where the party’s at! Great post. And fwiw, I met Erica at National last year (na na na) just after she’d decided to become a Maven but before we’d swapped work.

    Which is probably why I liked her 🙂

  21. Aura - Reply

    Yay! I won! Thanks Erica. 🙂

    I’ve been a member of RWA for almost 3 years now and have learned so much from them. Between the local and online chapters and the 2 national conferences I’ve gone to, it’s been truly information overload. But what kind of writer would I be without the help? I believe that you can never stop learning, in any profession, as it constantly changes and grows. I think it’s good to have a focus for conferences though. And for the RWA National conference in Dallas this year, I think my focus is going to be continued professional development and publisher spotlights to find out what they’re looking for right now. Oh, and did I mention the suitcase load of free books?

  22. MerylF - Reply

    Um…no, no and no. I’m kind of in the middle of nowhere here, and there’s not a lot of SF/F organisations in Oz, so…I struggle on alone. Thank god for teh intaweb 😉

  23. Julie S - Reply

    I’ve been a member of RWA, and my local RWA chapter – Central Florida Romance Writers – for almost two years and I’ve more than seen a return on my investment in terms of learning, meeting new people and overall inspiration.

    I’m going to NATIONALS for the first time this year and I’m ridiculously excited. I’m pitching, but I’m really going to immerse myself in the ambiance. And attend a few classes. Of course 🙂

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Erica Ridley