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The Exclusivity of Conferences

In the continued talk about making publishing more inclusive, there is one area that is often forgotten. Writer’s conferences.

Expensive and cost prohibitive for many, conferences, even if they’re local, are just not available to everyone. Most of them cost upwards of $300. I don’t know about you, but that is a big chunk of change.

This post was started when I attempted to answer a seemingly simple question from a reader, “What do you think of charging steep fees at conferences for dedicated time with an agent? Isn’t that dangerously close to the maligned practice of ‘bad’ agents charging for reading queries?”

The more I dug into my thoughts on that question, the more I realized I didn’t have one blog post, but an entire week’s worth. I wanted to start with the overall cost of conferences.

20 years ago, when BookEnds started, there wasn’t a whole lot of Internet. I mean, we had email, but it was still so new that we were taking snail mail submissions. We had a website, but, well, it was pretty basic. What we didn’t have was social media or much in the world of blogs. This meant that if authors really wanted to learn about publishing they had to find a way to attend a conference. Still a difficult thing for many.

Changing Times

Thank goodness times have changed. Now I think of conferences as a bonus networking opportunity for authors, but not the one and only way to learn the business.

I’m going to say something here you won’t hear me say often. Thank goodness for Twitter.

It’s because of social media like Twitter and Facebook that we can now connect with each other without leaving our desks. You don’t need to go to a conference to have heard of an agent, or to learn what an agent is. You don’t need conferences to understand query letters or network with other authors.

While I do still wish all authors could have an opportunity to attend a conference, I want those who can’t to know that you’re just fine without them.

There are a lot of great things to be said about conferences. Meeting people face-to-face is just one of them, but I know a lot of authors who have attained success without ever attending one.

The Future

There is no doubt that the high cost of attending a conference leaves many out, but there is a lot conference volunteers could do to include more people.

YouTube has been a wonderful resource for BookEnds. For years we’ve reached people through the blog and Twitter, but with YouTube we’ve been able to reach even more. I think of how wonderful it would be if conferences would film some of their speakers and share with those who weren’t able to attend.

Heck, if the YouTube channel grew enough you could even make some money off those videos.

Scholarships. I do know some conferences that offer scholarships and I hope that more will do so moving forward. Maybe it’s possible to ask attendees to contribute to a fund to add more attendees.

I’m sure other conferences have ideas or have tried other things. I know with all things reguarding a more inclusive world there aren’t easy answers, but I hope taking some small steps will help get us to the change we desire.

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7 comments

  1. I’ve attended a few conferences, and for me being around other writers in a collegial atmosphere was a real shot in the arm. And while it is true that success’ abound on the internet, for me there’s nothing like face-to-face meetings with people. There’s a certain connection-synergy that can only happen this way.

    As for the value of a conference money wise, I think it’s what you put into it as an author, not so much what you are EXPECTING to get out of it. If agents or publishers are there, they are coming because they are looking for new voices, IMHO. Because I have to believe they are plenty busy – and what ever they receive dollar wise is probably just covering their expenses and time away from work.

    If an author is thinking of going to a conference, they should be asking themselves why they are going, what they want to learn and if they are willing to put themselves out there to make the conference a success for them. You get out of it what you put into it. Sadly, from what I’ve seen in the few conferences I’ve been to that had agents and publishers there, is that a lot of people aren’t prepared to market themselves properly. They just slap something together and sit back and expect it sell itself. That will not work!

    My philosophy is: Polish my work as much as possible and if my piece isn’t the right fit, okay – but if I do a good job preparing myself and being personable and MEMORABLE to any agent I might pitch to, then I have made a good contact that just might refer me to another agent they know that might be interested in what I’ve written.

  2. Eagerly attending my first Writer’s conference in June. Approaching it like church – the attitude I bring walking into it is linked to what I hope to take away from it.

  3. An author friend and I were just discussing this topic. Is it more beneficial to try to go to a conference where there are agents and publishers and try to get “discovered” for lack of a better term or should that money be spent attending reader conventions and trying to connect with your audience? Both are so expensive, especially if they aren’t in your city and you have to get a hotel and flight. In the end, we didn’t come up with any answers. There seem to be pros and cons to both. Cost is definitely a deterrent, especially if you have limited vacation days and funds and can’t do both.

    It’s sad because I believe we need voices from every demographic, and I may be wrong, but it seems the high prices would exclude a great many people that have wonderful stories to tell. On a personal note, I wish more publishers and agents would show up at random or smaller reader conventions or signings and maybe not tell people who they are and discover authors that way. Who are readers excited about reading or meeting? And who knows? Maybe they do.

    As a new author, it’s hard to know where to invest your time and money. I know I have been dissuaded from doing signings by more experienced authors (mentors) because they claim people only show up to see one specific author (especially if it’s a popular one) and don’t branch out to discover others. Because of that, I opted to attend my first reader convention this July because there are activities where authors can connect with readers.
    Promotion for it started last October and gained me some new readers which, I just discovered, led to a nomination for Best Contemporary Romance author. It was a huge surprise because I didn’t think they knew who I was yet. Not only does that motivate (and validate) me as a writer, but it can also be used as a marketing tool in the future.

    Would that have happened if I attended a writer convention? Who knows? I assume getting an agent would motivate and validate me too. It’s all a learning process and unfortunately, one that is dictated by finances.

  4. The idea that writing conferences are outside to reach of most high school students is why the CCA Writers’ Conference was started in 2012. Now in its 9th year, this San Diego area conference welcomes 220+ students annually from all over the San Diego region. The conference is totally FREE and even includes a free lunch.
    Long time speaker Greg van Eekhout said, “San Diego is going to have more than its fair share of published authors because of this conference.”

  5. These days I find my conference is as much about networking and socialising then it is about anything else. This year is the first time ever I am going to be at conference but not attending. I am presenting a workshop which is the primary reason I am going, but I also still want the networking and socialising, but without the cost. The time away will be used well as I fully intend to spend time in my hotel room writing =)

    I want to attend a US conference so the pennies saved can go into that fund.

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