Conference, or CON-ference?

Ten warning signs you’re walking into a scam.

You’ve written your book. You’ve written two, or maybe four, ten. Amazing! You’ve subjected it to well-meaning spouses who go overboard criticizing it because they don’t want to be unhelpfully nice. You’ve sent it to A Team crit group (you know, the “literary” guys), as well as B Team crit group (your sci-fi steampunk friends who know that no one can ever understand the depths of how complex they are). The number of times you’ve rewritten/revised is now in the double digits. Just like an Angry Little Anakin at the end of that-movie-that-isn’t, you’ve sliced the *%#) out of some little darlings.

All of them, in fact. And you’re not sorry.

Killing darlings is so passe.

It’s time to take your hard work out into the world. Where do you go? Query letters aren’t getting you any further than a tepid “not for me,” and you don’t live next to any agents, and no agents come into any of the local bars. (I know you’ve struck up conversations looking for them. I have, too. Where do these people go to have a good time???)

Maybe you should go to a conference or writing event!

Great idea! There a lot of amazing events happening all over the country. One event close to me is Southern Kentucky Book Fest. This is technically a signing event, but there are free panels and even better, a chance to shop for physical books and meet the authors who have published them, both traditionally and, well, you know….

There are few more….

But what about conferences that are…not so great? Here’s ten easy questions you need to ask yourself before clicking the paypal button and giving someone your hard earned money (either from your part-time job or, god forbid, your precious Indie author royalties!)

1. Does this conference SEEM exorbitantly priced?

A one day conference with no provided lunch and no big names to draw you in is not worth 200+ dollars. Don’t be nice. You don’t have to be. Review the itinerary. Are the lectures/panel topics light on content about your craft? Are the talk titles jingoistic and redundant permutations of “Gee, it’s gosh darn hard to break into the uber competitive world of publishing!” Yeah, got that, Einstein, WITHOUT paying 200+ dollars.

In fact, reader, I just told you that in a FREE blog post. Don’t give your money to some ass-hat who’s trying to latch onto a vulnerable demographic (desperate writers)!

The other point to this is, the conference you attend must be salient to you. Are you writing a memoir? Don’t attend a conference dominated by supernatural YA adventure people. Write supernatural YA adventures? Don’t spend your time and money at a conference dominated by memoir writers/agents/publishers. A five minute Google search on the special guests/attendees will tell you if this event is worth your time/money.

Again, don’t be nice. Be professional. Don’t give people your time or money who do not deserve it.

2. Hmmm…..there don’t seem to be any real writers on the presenter/panel list…what’s up with that?

Yes, yes, I know. You write every day. You’re a real writer, too (shut up, yes, you are). That means you deserve to attend events that feature other writers who could help you make connections, network, refer you to agents or editors, or at the very least share their experience in the industry. If there aren’t any writers featured, then it’s not really a writing conference, is it? I mean, my definition of a writing conference is NOT being talked at for six hours by someone who wrote a How-to get published manual for the company making bank from the event.

And it shouldn’t be yours, either.

3. Are the agents excited to be there?

Trust me, this industry is like, the Wikipedia page entry for the word “Subjective.” If you’re reading this, you’ve probably queried and pitched before, so you’ve probably been made acutely (shocker, adverb!) aware of that fact. You’re probably also aware that agents tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. If they’re stoked to be at a conference, oh trust me, you will hear about it on their website/Twitter/Tumber FB whatever social media. So go look. Is it a Twitter storm of hearts and exclamation marks, or a single Tweet that smells polite? What the agents write about these events will indicate to you whether the event is worth attending. And remember, they are being paid. You are paying. Whoa, the difference.

4. Good events are in nice locations.

And with the magic of Google maps, you can tell. Is it in a public library or academic center in the nice part of town, or a skeezy hotel even the Steampunkers would turn their event planning noses up at? Google the location before you make your donation.

5. Is this conference pushing paid pitches?

Oh, honey. Let me stop you right there. Notice I didn’t say “Is there an option to do a paid pitch session?” I said, “Are these ^%$*ers pushing pitch sessions like the agents are really exclusive cattle?”

I tried this, once. Never again. You know, I’m a creative, open minded artist. I’ll try anything to help accelerate my craft. Once. There are some legit events that schedule paid pitches as one component of their programming, but on the whole, I mean, are you trying to find an agent or a hooker?

I know, you’re shocked and reeling that I would say such a thing. #whatever

Look, the bottom line is this:

You and your agent are two people (who may or may not have already met) who will someday enter into a lifelong, financially-driven partnership where you both work together to bring something amazing into the world. Yes, I am drawing an analogy to marriage and babies, BUT. You can pay for pitches and speed date like like the literary version of Tindr if you want, but you really will do better to meet your agent organically.

hey little writer...
Hey, little writer. I got an agent in this van wants to hear your pitch…

6. Is this the “first annual” anything?

This is an industry where no one wants to take a chance on you and potentially waste time and money. You’re a professional, and you should be Just. As. Choosy. Go next year when these people have worked their &%*$ out. You’re a professional writer. Your time is too valuable to waste on a first time anything. Stay home and write.

7. The writer roast (Also known as the first chapter critique hour)

These can be a part of legitimate conferences, just like the paid pitches, BUT HERE’S THE WARNING SIGN: If the roast is the predominant feature of the day, then this event must be pulling up pretty damn short on actual content. Consider that. Also, if the panel is made up exclusively of agents, editors and publishing execs, beware. Yeah, sure, these people can spend two hours of your life telling you how your manuscript really pushes their buttons, but ultimately if you wanna get better at writing, do what Jen Sincero (whose book You are a Badass I completely recommend) says. Get a mentor. A writer mentor.

it just didn't....jpg
“It just didn’t  grab me.”

8. Noob lectures are for Noobs… and usually the content can be found for FREE on the, you know, INTERNET.

Listen, this is not amateur hour, and you’re not an amateur. Don’t pay for amateur advice. You’re attending conferences to pitch, connect and accelerate your career. If the brochure in your email includes talk titles like “10 things you need to know before attending conferences” RUN. You’ve read that article already. For Free. On the INTERNET.

Other suspect titles? Anything that starts with phrases like “Things you should know before…” Any talk title that assumes you didn’t run a cursory Google search on any of the following: query letters, pitching to agents, how to write a synopsis, or ANYTHING with a title like “Write like the pros”.

Go read On Writing, Zen in the Art of Writing, take some goddamned notes and practice daily.

DON’T give your money to people who are going to waste your day spouting phrases like “kill your darlings,” “avoid prologues” and other craft jargon phrases that were cute thirty years ago and downright sexy when said by Steven King. Unless you’re attending a talk by Steven King, in which case….

Well done. You’ve spent your money well.

9. Who’s running this show, anyway???

Look up who the coordinators are, who’s actually behind the event. Find their website, FB whatever. If they give you that skeevy sheister feeling on the internet, chances are you’re gonna have that nasty feeling when you show up to their event in person.

Finally, you really just have to ask yourself one, really important question.

10. Does this conference make you feel like someone’s dangling the prospect of an agent in front you like an expensive, unattainable carrot?

Are the paid pitches the dominant feature of the day? Are the paid pitches layered over all the lecture and discussion times? Listen, it’s good experience to pitch to agents, and again, you can pay to pitch if you need to, if you feel you need that motivation to push through the introversion and approach an agent face to face.

Obligatory TMBG reference

But things are not always just what you make of them, sometimes you really don’t have anything to learn and sometimes people really are out to rob you. Make your travel plans to attend conferences, but make sure you pack your towel and a little pessimism along with your pitch.

If you’re looking to trad publish, my advice to you is take your money and hire a professional reader/editor to really polish your first fifty pages or so and help you nail that query letter.

If you’re looking to indie pub, take your money, hire a professional reader/editor to really polish your whole manuscript and hire a cover designer (I used Covered Creatively for Time to Burn). Also, buy some books/ follow some blogs on marketing. (More on that later.)

The Saturn with moons from space showing all they beauty. Extremely detailed image, including elements furnished by NASA. Other orientations and planets available.

ML McIntosh is a literary sci-fi author based in Louisville, KY. Her books include Thin Places and  Repair Me Well, AKA urban fantasy for smart people, and the ridiculous time traveling, space vampire drama Time to Burn.

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