In Part I of this article, I advised authors-in-the-making to ask themselves two questions before deciding whether to pony up the price of attending a writers conference. If you have done it, I urge you to before going further. You’ll better digest what I tell you today.
Q. 1) – What do you expect/want from a writers conference? Different writers will have different answers. Let me address some of the most common.
For the basic conference price, however, you should expect some basic feedback from the instructor during your classes. Perhaps s/he will give you all an exercise and have you take turns reading what you came up with. Perhaps it will be an assignment to bring in the next day. Maybe it will be a chance to read part of something you’ve already written. Instructors vary wildly in how they structure their classes.
You’ll get additional tips on writing and selling at special lectures and panels. So many your head will start to ache.
To top that off, you’ll be able to get both tips and feedback from fellow writers. Maybe it will be over lunch or maybe at late night get-togethers where you take turns reading your works in progress.
Q. 2) Where are you on the path of your own writing career?
The more actual writing experience you have under your belt, the more you’ll get out of a writers conference. Don’t go in cold and expect to come out ready to sit down and pen your first novel.
At minimum, you should have taken a class or two, or written a couple of short stories or whatever it is you long to write. If you have your sights set on writing a book, have at least fifty pages of it under your belt. More is better. You may end up throwing those pages away. I threw my entire first novel away. The second one got me an agent, who didn’t think it was ready. The third one, she sold to the first publisher who saw it. It came out in hardcover and sold foreign rights as well.
You’ll also fare better if you’ve had experience taking criticism, bad as well as good. Your family and friends may love what you’ve written because they love you. You’re going to be dealing with strangers here. Some will be tactful. Others won’t be.
Occasionally, someone comes along who hasn’t written much but will be content to feel like a writer and immerse themselves in talk about writing. That’s fine. Just know what you expect, and where you are in being able to understand what you hear. Then make your decision to attend – or delay attending – a writers conference.
To those who have attended such an event: Please share your thoughts about what you wish you’d known or done ahead of time, and what you got out of your experience.
M. Ruth Myers, whose novels include the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, has taught at week-long, weekend, and three-day writers conferences from coast to coast.