Sunday, February 21, 2010
Deciding on Contests and Conferences
It's the time of year when writers are entering contests and registering for conferences. Contests and conferences can be good ways to improve your craft, to network and to gain recognition. They can also be a huge money pit and time suck. The key is to make your decisions thoughtfully. When entering contests ask yourself, what is it I hope to gain from this contest? If you hope to win a contest, (which in most cases is like buying a lotto ticket-no matter how good your entry is) then what is it you hope to get out of winning? Look at the end prize. Is $50 and a gift certificate plus bragging rights worth the time, money and postage of entering? Or do finalists get in front of your dream agent or ideal editor? People have been known to sell from finaling because an editor requested a full and then bought the book. But, be sure the editor who may read your work if you final is actually an editor who can buy your work.
What if all you want it a critique? Contests are good for this, but remember, judging is subjective and judges have been known to be wrong. A friend had a published judge tell her her mystery would make a good series romance. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All she could do was ignore this advice. Instead she sent the story into a mystery agent who sold it to a mystery publisher. Lesson learned: just because a judge is published doesn't mean what they say about the work is accurate. (This works both ways--they might tell you the work is perfect while everyone else mentions things that need strengthening. Don't be tempted to dismiss all the rest and cling to the published author's words. It might make you feel better but it won't help you get published.)
Conferences are the same way. There are many, many conferences a writer can attend. You need to look at them thoughtfully. Ask yourself, what is it I hope to get out of this conference? If you hope to learn about craft--pick a conference with a reputation for good craft workshops. If you hope to meet editors and agents, skip the big national conferences. Instead investigate the smaller regional conferences. Pick the ones with editors or agents you want to see. Trust me, you'll get more face time at a local conference than one with over 1,000 attendees. Maybe you want to network with your friends and other writers from across the country- then a big national conferences may be best. Or maybe you want to be able to write off a weekend at a nice sunny location. Pick a conference in Florida in the middle of winter.
The key to conferences and contests to to know what you want to get out of the experience. Know your budget. Pick the ones that are going to help your work.