"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How Valuable are Writer’s Conferences These Days?

This post is not intended as a rebuttal to the recent Blue Sage post on the subject of attending writer conferences. I had actually written this, intending it to be my May post, several days before that blog appeared. My remarks may be a cause for consternation for some readers of this post, but those who remember Red Skelton’s “mean wittle kid” character will also remember that he “calls ‘em the way he sees ‘em.”

It is often touted that writers’ conferences are a “must do” for authors. I question whether the expense of attending a conference these days is worth it, unless you rationalize it as a nice three or four day vacation. Fuel prices being what they are, if one lives more than a day’s drive away; traveling to and from a conference by auto, or any form of public transportation, whether it be bus, train, or airplane, can be rather expensive. Couple this with the other related expenses connected to these conferences; i.e., registration, room fees, extra activities, etc., and the cost can push up against the $2,000 mark.

I’m aware that meeting with an agent or editor face to face can be nice, but in light of the so-called diminished readership among the world populace as a whole, and the attitude of some agents and editors these days, is it worth spending $2000 for a ten to fifteen-minute interview where (according to the “helpful hints” on one conference website) you have only about ten seconds to capture an agent’s or editor’s interest? If you fail the ten-second test, the other fourteen minutes and fifty seconds of the interview are moot. On the other hand, a well thought-out and concise query letter might nail you an agent for forty-four cents—or if it’s an email query, the cost may be not more than a few minutes of your time.

Some will say: “Yes, but what about the workshops these conferences provide, and the camaraderie of meeting with other writers?” There is something to be said for that, I agree. I have to admit I really enjoyed my forty-five minute visit with Don Coldsmith at a conference I attended some years back, but that conference was only an hour’s drive away from home. One can develop camaraderie with other writers on Facebook and Twitter or email.

As for the workshops, what I came away with from most of these was a bunch of “you need tos,” or “you should dos,” but nothing about “how to do it,” except in some cases, buy the book the presenter had written on his topic. And in most cases those books contained many of the same should dos and need to dos presented at the conference, but, still, no how tos. However, there are any number of good correspondence courses on writing that will offer much more information than you’ll get from a one-hour conference workshop for a whole lot less than two thousand bucks, and they include the “how to do its”.

So, fellow writers, don’t beat up on yourselves for not making an effort to attend that “great writers’ conference” in Timbuktu, or whatever other exotic location it’s offered. I can attest that there are still some editors willing to take the time to read a snail mail or an email query. Persistence is the key. Keep the faith, and to play on Hemingway’s words, “go home and write,” I’m gonna put the money to better use and “stay” home and write. Keep in mind, also, there is an old phrase uttered by farmers that is as old as the dirt they till: “Next year will be better.”

--Bill Corbett

Bill lives in Tucson, Arizona. He is a two-time Associated Press award-winning columnist and writes fiction under the name Will Edwinson. His national award-winning book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or by asking for it at your favorite bookstore. Check his web site and blog at www.willedwinson.com. Bill also writes free-lance for IDAHO magazine.


  1. It's interesting to have both the pros and cons of writer's conferences with yours and Carol's posts. I have been to many conferences. Some I walked away with new friends, editor contacts, tons of good information, and valuable networking, plus feeling invigorated to go home and write, write write. Other conferences were a complete waste of time and money and I left feeling more like trashing the computer than writing.

    I think one has to take a good look at the workshops and presentations, as well as the publishers and agents who will be attending. Ask yourself if there is a specific reason you need to go that specific conference. If there's nothing there that can truly and honestly help you with your career at that point in time, then you should wait until another conference comes along that better suits your needs. I got my first book contract by sending a query letter, not attending a conference. So it can go both ways.

    --Linda Sandifer

  2. I agree with Linda, it is interesting to have both pros and cons on attending conferences. The many ones I went to were great. They helped me get published. I needed them on two levels, for my writing and my sanity. I lived for every meeting and writing get-a-way I could get. The "group" was and is my family. Some of the faces have changed, but our goals are the same.

    Now I don't go to the conferences. Besides a money issue, I would only be going to find an agent.