Let's talk about conferences.
Attending conferences and conventions, whether they be writing, publishing, genre specific, or somewhere in between, can be one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer and for your writing career. You learn, you grow, you inspire and you get inspired. Experts are there to guide and teach you, agents and editor are there to listen with rapt attention while you pitch, and publishers and booksellers are there to give you free stuff and try to earn your business. Best of all, conventions are one of the best places to recharge your writting batteries, so that when you head home, you are ready to plot, write, revise, edit, and polish until your fingers fall off!
Unfortunately, for as great as conferences are, there is one major downside...
$ $ $ $ $
$ $ $ $ $
Most major conferences and conventions cost upwards of $400 just to attend, not to mention your travel to said conference and your lodging while there. It can be incredibly expensive, making it out of the question for many writers. I have attended RWA National conference two years in a row now, and I can tell you that, while amazing, it was not cheap.
(And by the way, for those of you out there saying, "Once I sell my book,I will have plenty of money for conferences!", cuz... you won't. Trust me, I thought that too.)
However, to those of you who are still considering attending a conference (and I recommend that you do), I have a few tips that might make the dream a bit more attainable.
1. Stay local - Most of the larger conferences move locations every year, and if you can find one near to home, all you have to do is pay the registration fee. Or if there is one not in your own city but near enough to drive, then you save the cost of a flight.
2. Bigger isn't always better - When looking for a conference to attend, you may immediately gravitate towards the Writers Digest Convention, RWA Nationals, RT, or one of the other big dogs. Sure, big is great, but every year there are dozens of smaller conventions put on by local organizations, or even local chapters of larger organizations like RWA. For example, the Chicago chapter of RWA holds a conference each year. It is always in Chicago, they always have big name authors and publishing experts in attendance, and registration is less than half the price of the national convention. Plus, since many of the different chapters sponsor conventions every year, you are far more likely to find one that is local to you. RWA posts a list of all upcoming conferences, both large and small on it's website, and no you do not need to be a RWA member to attend.
3. Think outside the genre - "Sure there is a RWA conference near me, but I don't write romance." Just because a conference has a theme or is sponsored by a specific group, doesn't mean you won't get anything out of it. RWA may stand for Romance Writers of America, but the conference focuses on writing as a whole. This years RWA conference had workshops on plot, structure, query writing, synopses, dialog, as well as specialized topics like writing thriller, medical, YA, and historical.
4. Choose wisely - No matter which size or style of conference you attend, make sure it is the best choice for you and your writing. Ask yourself, "Is there a reason I am choosing this conference," as they are not all created equal. Make sure you do your research. Do you want a conference focused on writing and honing the craft like Writer's Digest, or would you prefer something for both writers and readers with the serious writer-focused panels as well as fun parties and fan events like the RT Convention? (Personally, I recommend RT for the first timer. It is informative and educational while also being loads of fun!)
I hope this helped some of you, or at least got you thinking, and hope to see some of you on the conference trail next year!