Ah, if Janna says jump, we jump. What is it about that girl?
So here are my thoughts on writers' conferences, as far as they go. Please keep in mind that this is based on my very limited experience, so feel entirely free to correct me or expand on what I've said.
If you are well-informed on the publishing industry and how it works, if you read the blogs of editors and agents, frequent online writers' forums that include experienced professionals, read books on writing and participate in some form of critique groups, chances are you won't get a whole lot out of the scheduled workshops, or at least not most of them. Aspiring writers are the bread and butter of these conferences, and much of it caters to them and is therefore at a pretty basic level. But not all of it. I found Jeff Gerke's continuing workshop for novelists to be thought-provoking. I bought his book The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction and will probably buy his interactive DVD The Writer's Foundation. I found the exercises he had us do in the workshop (which were taken from the DVD) quite useful.
Actually meeting an editor was also useful, if only to hear the near-surprise in her voice when she said that I had an interesting premise. She also gave me the distinct impression that it was not right for her publishing house, despite her favourable impression. Oh well. There are other publishing houses.
The main value of most conferences is the opportunity to network, both with fellow writers and with industry professionals. To get the most out of a conference in that regard, you need to choose a conference at which the participating professionals are ones who are most likely to be interested in and knowledgeable about the kind of book you are writing. And you probably need to go for the duration of the conference. The one-day, in-and-out kind of thing that I did is really not the best way to go about this. I did manage to make some connections, but I think it would have worked much better if I'd had more time to develop them.
So there you go. Any wisdom to add?
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