Last week while I was traveling, someone in the writing world posted a question on Facebook asking, “If you could only go to ONE writers’ conference, which one would it be?” I was too busy and had minimal time online to answer, but I did read some of the responses, and I found that they rankled a little.
Many of the responses listed the “biggest” Christian conference of all, ACFW, which I have attended three times. Others, who like me write speculative fiction, mentioned Realm Makers, which I have also attended three times, and which has become pretty big and just about as expensive as ACFW. I doubt that I will ever attend either one of these again.
Here’s why these responses rankled: if I were a novice writer fresh out of college, with a depressingly large student debt and a desire to grow as a writer, and I read those responses, I would have looked up those big conferences, would have seen how much they cost (plus staying in a luxury hotel AND transportation), and I would have despaired, knowing that such experiences were completely out of my reach.
In writing circles, people are always saying that if you REALLY want to go to a certain conference, you will find a way to make it happen. I’m sorry, but this is not true. There are any number of reasons why you might have no hope at all of getting together $1000 or more for a weekend of writing classes. Telling people it is possible when it’s not just makes them feel like failures for not being able to do it.
However, my point is that all hope is not lost. The big conferences are not the only game in town. If you have limited means, then your best bet is to look close to home. Look for smaller conferences and conferences that are relatively new. There are so many advantages to this approach:
—Smaller conferences are likely to be much more affordable. Instead of $500, you may pay $150 or less for a weekend of classes, and you will still probably get to learn from some top tier bestselling authors.
—You won’t have high transportation or lodging costs. You may be able to commute from home, or stay with a friend like I did last weekend.
—You will meet other writers from your local area and learn about writers’ groups and other resources available to you locally.
Now, it’s true that these smaller conferences will not have the wide array of publishers and agents in attendance that the big conferences have. However, over the years I have realized that many, if not most, successful authors found their agents the old-fashioned way—by querying and letting their work speak for itself. This means you can go to a conference without being under pressure to pitch your work, and can choose which agents/publishers to query at home and at your leisure.
Because of our reduced circumstances, I had assumed that I would not be able to go to any conferences at all this year. Then in December, I found out about the LoneStar.Ink writers’ conference in Dallas, a brand-new conference debuting this year. By registering before the “early-bird” deadline, I ended up paying only $115 for two full days of classes—and that amount included two “add-on” expenses of a pitch session with a publisher and a two-hour master class.
They kept expenses low by holding the conference in the Dallas public library instead of a luxury hotel. The faculty was excellent. I took classes from David Farland (one of my favorites) and J. Scott Savage (a new favorite). Only one of the classes I took left me feeling less than satisfied, but even that one was fun because the presenter was hilarious. I will totally try to go again next year.
So what I guess I’m trying to say is that the best conference for YOU to go to, is the one you can afford. Don’t feel cheated if you can’t make it to a big name conference. I have been to several smaller, local conferences now, and I have become a huge fan. In my experience, you get a LOT more value for your hard-earned money.
PS: My pitch session resulted in a request for the full manuscript. Not expecting much, but reminding myself that each rejection is a step on the way to acceptance. One of the presenters at last weekend’s conference was rejected more than 400 times before receiving an acceptance!
Also, I test-drove one of the new “lap boards” I made and it worked beautifully! I am a convert to small-format notes.