Writing Conferences: Why go?

The PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) annual conference is almost here again. The first year I attended the conference I mostly fumbled about in an overwhelmed stupor (probably with my mouth hanging open most of the time). There were so many agents, editors and other publishing guru’s present, and I could barely fathom how many writers had come out of the woodwork in my region. That many crazy people all gathered in one place can be a shock to the system. (We are all crazy, right? It isn’t just me? I mean, they even have mugs making fun of us. We have arrived.)

What really amazed me were all the opportunities to learn, to network, and to put my writing in front of other people, whether for a peer critique of my pitch or for the attempted wooing of an agent/publisher. By the time it was over, I understood that I wasn’t ready and neither was the book I was pitching, but it opened my eyes to many things I had been missing. There's a whole world of author networking opportunities out there, both in person and via social media. Unexpectedly, while I was attending that first conference, some of the discussions also opened the door for a new book idea to sneak up and bludgeon me over the head (but that’s a different blog post).

By year two, I was ready (or at least much more so than before). I had a new book (see above) ready to pitch to agents. I was prepared to start talking, not just to the people I was pitching to, but to other attendees and anyone else who would let me chat them up. This led to some fantastic conversations with people in the book world and at least one great new friend.

I also knew going in how much information I could glean from attending the right sessions. As authors, we should always be looking to learn more about our industry and, more importantly, about improving our craft (you can never be too good at what you do). Many presenters are wellsprings of information. Be willing to ask questions (preferably questions that benefit everyone in the session). Gather the information. Compile it. Find the gems that will serve you best.

This year will be different for me. My agent will be there, so I’ll get to meet her in person, which is very cool. I’m looking forward to this new experience without the stress of pitching where I can really focus on networking and soaking up knowledge.

Conferences can be expensive, but they are an investment in your writing career regardless of what route you plan to take to publishing. Meeting agents and editors in person can also get you past the dreaded slush pile if that's your chosen path. If you can swing it, take advantage of the opportunities and give yourself a little boost. In my honest opinion, it's worth it.

Have you attended any conferences? Why or why not? What are some of the things that made it worthwhile (or not) for you?