If you’re a writer and you’re trying to decide whether to go to a regional or national conference, then my advice is to go. Granted, my experiences are limited to conferences related to the romance genre, but I think some things are going to translate no matter what genre is represented. Whether it’s a national or regional conference, there are going to be pros and cons—and I feel in most cases, the pros will outweigh the other.
What conferences can give you:
1. Networking with other writers at various stages in their careers. A conference is one of the best places to meet a critique partner or mentor. It’s also a place to be with like-minded individuals. I cherish those few days a year where I can walk up to virtually anyone and have something in common with him/her.
2. The opportunity to pitch to editors and/or agents. Some of us have a hard time translating our enthusiasm for a project into the written word. Sometimes talking about our stories leads to an infectious excitement that makes others want to hear more. If you’re one of those people, then a conference is the perfect place to get your story to an industry professional. This doesn’t have to be at a formal pitch session, but at a luncheon or at the bar. NEVER, under ANY circumstances, follow an editor or agent into a restroom to pitch. It won’t end well. In that same vein, I’ve met editors and agents when I didn’t have a book to pitch, and we ended up talking about the stories anyway. They often suggest I query them when the story’s ready, which means I have something specific to put on the query letter in that “why I chose to send this to you” section.
3. The chance to hone your craft, get inspired, or learn something new about the changes in our industry. Workshops are part of conferences. You can take sessions with bestselling authors, eager to teach you what they know. Learn about different topics, such as branding yourself, audiobooks, or even how a seasoned pantser can learn to embrace the joys of plotting (I’m a plotser, myself, so I see the good in both). Characterization, dialogue, setting up Goal-Motivation-Conflict in scenes, how to format your book for self-publishing, how to find time to write, what to look for in a book cover…these are all areas I’ve had the pleasure of learning at various conferences. If there’s an area you need to improve, workshops are the place to do it.
4. Meeting readers. There is usually a book signing that takes place at the conferences I’ve attended, and those are usually open to the public. Some conferences rely heavily on authors attending (e.g., Romance Writers of America’s Annual Conference), but are also open for readers and fans to attend (e.g., The Romantic Times Convention). Some, like Authors After Dark , are more geared toward the readers/fans, with only a relative handful of writers attending as “authors”.
So far, I’ve mentioned some general reasons to go to a writer conference, but there are some cons to the national ones. The biggest negative is that they are sometimes cost-prohibitive. Not everyone has $450+ to shell out for registration alone. Then there is the food, hotel, travel, and other expenses to consider. Another reason someone might avoid a national conference is that, with upwards of 2,000 people crammed into a hotel, it can get overwhelming. This is where regional conferences have something over nationals. Regional conferences often have everything I mentioned above, but for a lower price.
My own chapter’s conference (Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight & Magnolias Conference) just concluded this weekend, and it cost roughly half of the RWA annual conference. We had NYT Bestselling keynote and craft speakers (both Penguin authors!) and a USA Today bestselling author as our chapter’s featured speaker. We had workshops. We had editors and agents to take pitches. We had an awards ceremony and fed the attendees nearly every meal (it helps to have food included in registration costs to save extraneous expenses). Basically, everything you can get at Nationals, but with only ten percent of the attendees, leading to easier networking.
Bottom line: Whether you choose a national or regional conference, I highly recommend attending, just know what you’re going for, and choose accordingly.
About Noelle Pierce
By day, Noelle Pierce is a freelance digital artist and psychology professor. By night, she…sleeps. And occasionally dreams of long ago worlds of high society and scandalous secrets. Or modern day worlds with a touch of paranormal and a whole lotta heat. No matter what, though, the happily ever after reigns supreme.You can find her at www.noellepierce.com, on Facebook , on Twitter , or at Book Country