So You Want To Commit Novel: Conferences

The topic of writer conferences as a learning tool and a marketing tool comes up in almost every conversation about publishing.  When are they worth the expense of attendance?

Here are a few of my observances about conferences and their use to unpublished authors.

Every genre of writing seems to have their own conferences.  My writing career began in Romance Writers of America. I found my first critique group and my agent through them.  One of the advantages of RWA is they allow unpublished authors into their membership, unlike Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America Horror Writers of American, and Mystery Writers of America. Unpublished mystery writers have Sisters in Crime.

RWA sponsors numerous writing competitions.  Each regional conference tends to have a synopsis and first chapter contest.  Preliminary entries are judged by members of the chapter.  Finalists are judged by published authors and editors.  There’s that magic word, Editor.  If you can get through the early rounds your entry will be read by an editor.  This is a good way to attract attention to you and your work, especially if the editor attends the conference and a five minute pitch session is part of the prize of becoming a finalist.  An editor may request the complete manuscript based on the contest entry and their interview.  Be prepared to send them something within a month of the conference.

The national RWA conference hosts The Golden Heart Contest.    You have to submit a completed manuscript along with your synopsis and chapter.  The manuscript as a whole is not judged, but it has to be complete (even if only a rough draft) in order to qualify.  Finalists and winners are almost guaranteed a contract before the end of the conference.  The competition is fierce.

The Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions, including the World convention, or Cons in the vernacular, are more likely to offer workshops than competitions.  Again you submit a synopsis and first chapter or short story.  There is a page limit and sometimes a small fee to cover copying and mailing costs.  Each workshop will have 1-3 authors and 2-3 professionals.  Everyone reads all the entries.  When you gather at the con, expect a Clarion style critique.  Each person has a time limit, usually 5-7 minutes.  Each person gives comments on the same manuscript without interruptions. The author does not speak until the end unless asked a direct question.  Marked up manuscripts are returned to the author at the end.

Workshops can get through an amazing amount of material in a short period of time with this method.

Small press editors frequent these workshops.  They are on the lookout for new talent.  But if your aim is to make contact with an editor for a large publishing house, look for them in the bar or at the end of a panel discussion.  Politely ask if you can have a few moments of their time or offer to buy them a drink or a cup of coffee.  If editors attend a con they are looking for new talent too.  Some will set up a small reception area in their room or off the green room for these short interviews.

Most cons offer a writing track of panel discussions that can be valuable to the learning author and help you scope out the published authors and editors present.

I have never attended a Sisters in Crime conference so I can only guess their procedures are similar.

And then there are the cross genre regional writing organizations.  Some, but not all, of these consider “genre” fiction to be the bastard step-child no one wants to admit exists.  Their focus is literary.  And their noses are raised so high they might drown in a heavy rain.

However, their conferences offer pitch sessions to editors, agents, and producers as part of the registration fee.  These five minute sessions are highly prized and signup sheets fill early.  I have attended a number of Willamette Writers Conferences held in Portland, Oregon in early August.  Each year, without fail, at least one person has a screen play optioned, has their manuscript requested by and editor and eventually published, or they meet the agent they will sign with.  Thirty years of such success is hard to beat.

You’ve probably guessed by now that any of these opportunities to meet with an editor, producer, or agent are geared toward experienced writers who have finished a project.  If you are just beginning you probably should content yourself with attending panels, workshops, or classes.  Unless you are introduced to an editor at a party, wait to seek them out.  But once introduced, you have an opening for your cover letter when you are ready.

Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of Book View Café and blogs here regularly on Thursdays, the same day her cozy mystery “Lacing Up For Murder” by Irene Radford is serialized on the front page rotation.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC

Or her personal web page


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.

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