Monday, November 2, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Cons

by Barbara Early

Writing conferences and conventions, that is. 

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, you may have attended one, or at least thought about it. Here’s how they do (or don’t) pay off.

I attended Bouchercon last month, a big mystery convention. I had a great chance to catch up with my writer friends, learn the latest news and/or gossip, and engage with readers. Overall, it was worth going (not that a whole lot of my books were sold in the convention bookstore) because the more often you go to these things, the more recognizable you are in the community. It’s about networking.

Can you go wrong? Um, yeah.

Here’s some convention don’ts. First, conventions are are primarily fan events for readers to meet their favorite authors. Some agents and editors might be there to meet with their current clients or host group events, but they typically do not schedule appointments with aspiring writers. At any given convention, however, a few aspiring or self-published writers are there stalking people. Yeah, I even had people pitch their books to me, not that I, as a writer, can do anything for you. (Good luck on your project, but I was just looking for coffee. Since I hadn’t had any yet, I don’t even remember anything about your book. Which might be a good thing. It takes away the temptation to ridicule you by name.)

Queries don’t work, they say. They have to get out to the cons to sell their book. Sorry. I got my agent on a cold query. So if you hit the right agent at the right time--if you give them a well-written project they think they can sell--it is possible. Not easy, but possible.

Now, writers conferences, on the other hand, are specifically set up for aspiring writers. You can attend workshops on craft, hear inspiring speakers, and many conferences provide opportunities to pitch to agents or editors (only not in the bathroom, please.)

The big don’t for aspiring writers is to spend all their time and money going to conventions and conferences, and then spend their time talking about writing. While not writing. Finish a book. Then write another one. Writing conferences are great. Before I was published, I’d try to get to at least one a year. But nothing improves your writing more than…writing.

So my best advice on how to get the most bang for the buck…

If you’re a published writer and expenses allow, consider a convention. They are tax-deductable, but I still try to minimize the cost by sharing travel and lodging with another trusted writer. I prefer conferences within driving distances--unless it’s being held someplace I really wanted to go.

If you’re an aspiring writer, a writers’ conference may be your best bet. Google the instructors’ qualifications ahead of time and check to see if any of the agents or editors taking pitches are actually looking for the kind of thing your write.

If you’re a fan, you rock. I love the fact that there are readers who sink their vacation money into hanging around with writers. Look at which conventions your favorite authors are attending and just have fun with it!

Question: Any additional advice or questions on conventions and conferences? Which have you attended?


  1. Great post, Barb. Very helpful distinctions!

    I've never attended a writing convention, but they sound fun. As for conferences, I've been to ACFW and RWA and learned/networked/enjoyed fellowship at both.

    1. I could really be a conference junkie if I could justify the expense. But yes, even if just to reignite the enthusiasm, they're great experiences.

  2. I've never attended a convention before either, and yet I'd heard of other aspiring authors going which puzzled me. Thanks for clearing it up.

    I'd love to attend one as an author with a body of published work. :)


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