Weekend Dialogue: What do you think of conferences?

I had to go to part of the annual conference put on by the Writer's League of Texas today. Blooming Tree had a small exhibit we were manning so local authors could learn about our press. I should have been helping out longer, but my cat is sick and I ended up having to leave after only an hour and a half to take her to the vet. As far as I could tell, there wasn't much point in our having been there. No matter what we said, none of the authors seemed to believe that we were a traditional press that offered royalties and advances and not some sort of self-printing gimmick. It was depressing and tiresome.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've been to some tremendous conferences. The very first SCBWI one that I ever attended held in Roanoke, VA, did a fantastic job. The two editors who spoke at it were friendly, helpful people, and I'm not just saying that because I drove them around for the weekend and they not only inspired me to become an editor but also gave me pertinent advice on how to go about doing it. They also gave informative speeches at the actual conference and had useful advice and relevant answers to people's questions. I came away inspired.

On the other hand, the Writer's League of Texas conference that I spoke at last year was the most disorganized thing I ever saw. When I went to check in, I introduced myself as one of the editor's speaking at the conference. After a frenzied moment of looking for my material, the girl found it in a second pile. She then assured me that I wasn't "a real editor, just a speaker." It was a gratifying moment that made me feel I had come far in my writing career. They had asked me to talk about how to get a children's book published. I opened the program to discover I was giving a speech titled "The Dos and Donts of Children's Book Publishing." I admit that the two are similiar but not quite the same. I went home that night and reworked my speech and handouts. The next day, they moved my section to a different room without telling anyone, except apparently me and anyone who specifically asked. This did not include the person introducing me (one of my authors) who only strode in fifteen minutes with a small gaggle of people who had been waiting with her in the other room. I hadn't even known someone was suppossed to introduce me, so I didn't even realize anything was remiss before she stormed in. Hopefully, this year's conference had been better organized, I wasn't there long enough to be able to tell.

So my question is: What do you think of conferences? What have your experiences been like? If you could have any topic covered or see any speaker at your dream conference, what would it be? Use the comment link below to post. There are no right or wrong answers. I'd just like to know what others think.


Gaijin Mama said...

I've been to a few conferences - the now defunct Charleston Writers' Conference, Breadloaf, and the (also defunct) Ploughshares Writers' Conference and I enjoyed every single one of them. For me, the best part was meeting other writers, some of whom I am still in frequent contact with after nearly ten years. It's also rather heady to meet and chat with famous writers that I admire. If I could, I would go to the SCBWI summer conference in L.A. and I would sign up for the workshop on graphic novels, the one on multicultural fiction, and the one on how Lee & Low does business. I, for one, adore small presses.

Anonymous said...

Of the conferences I've been to, what makes it the most worthwhile for me are when the speakers talk about things that I feel will help me grow as an author and improve my writing skills. Don't get me wrong. I am very interested in knowing who the guest speakers are, what press they work for, or what material they represent. Just not the entire speech worth. One thing that made the LA SCBWI Conference look so appealing was how many workshops were on the agenda.
All in all, I love conferences. I think they are a great way to meet people and a great way to stay inspired and focused.

The Buried Editor said...

Definitely one of the best things about conferences is the networking possiblities. The main reason I go is to meet new authors (and occasionally other speakers/agents) and see what everyone is producing these days. I even don't mind being pitched at during appropriate times -- like during a session or a designated time or at lunch or something. Most people always seem to be writing picture books though . . .

Anonymous said...

A frusterating trend I'm noticing at some conferences is agents who are from small exclusive houses speak and say, "We are open to new writers and submissions." But the reality is the agencies are very exclusive and not really open to new writers.

The best conferences are when editors and agents speak who are from small houses (like Blooming Tree Press, or Children's Brains Are Yummy), new agents building a list, or editors who are from closed houses but are open to looking at work from writers attending the conference. These editors and agents are truly open to new writers and create a win/win for all.