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.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I second your thoughts that they can be huge money pits & time sucks! Always be selective when choosing...

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi L. Diane, thanks for stopping by.


Jessica said...

This is great advice Nancy. I went to a large conference and absolutely loved meeting blogger friends, but for craft/agent/editor stuff I think I'll stick to smaller ones from now on. Good advice on the contests too.
I had a pubbed judge say secrets don't sell well in inspirational romance. I was scratching my head for a while, and then when I went to the conference I went to a class taught by a veteran Christian author who said in her class that secrets were wonderful. Talk about relief. LOL

So great post! These are things that need to be done with care and thought, for sure. :-)

Elaine Hopper said...

I wish I could afford to attend a lot of conferences but I can't so I have to be very choosy. For now, I go to one conference a year, maybe only once every other year. It's Lori Foster's event in Cincinnati. It's fairly small so I don't get lost int he crowd, yet a lot of agents and editors attend. Best of all, Cincinnati is home so I combine going to the conference with going home to see my family and friends. And since I go to the same one, I've made writing friends I also look forward to getting together with there.

Later, when I can afford more time off work and more plane tickets, I'll attend more but will still probably keep this one as well. I am going to also attend the online conference by RITB (Romance in the Backseat) in March 2010. That's doable, too, and not too expensive.

Years ago WRW had a conference in French Lick, Indiana. It was super small, but extremely fun. It was also close enough to home so I could tack on a visit. I definitely agree to go for the smaller conferences. I felt lost and more alone in the crowd at RT if that makes sense.

Marilyn Brant said...

You make so many good points, Nancy. I'm feeling the need to be more selective now than ever--esp. when it comes to spending the needed energy on an event (like a conference), in addition to the time and money. All the thinking that goes into this extraneous stuff really distracts me from my writing focus.

The snow is starting to fall again...stay warm!!

Linda Kage said...

Man, I wish I would've read this post two years ago. I went through a contest-entering stage, hoping to get noticed by a publisher and also hoping to get an unbiased critique.

I actually did get an editor's attention, but it didn't go anywhere. And the advice somewhat helped, but I never sold a book from entering a contest.

I'll definitely enter with more caution from here on out! Thanks.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica, crazy, isn't it? but all we know is what we have experience with and that shows in the advice we give.
Hi Elaine, the Cincinnati conference sound wonderful. I used to go to RWA national every year, but it got too expensive for the return. Now I enjoy the Chicago North Spring Fling.
Hi Marilyn, thanks for stopping by. I think one of the hardest things to learn is to weed out the distractions and ensure you have the writing time you need. :)
Hi Linda, how is the new baby? I once entered a contest because they judged the synopsis and I wanted feedback from published authors. Boy did I get it. They loved the chapters but hated the synopsis.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Good points, Nancy. It may take a while to do the research on a conference or contest, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you are feeling better and yes, it is worth the research. That way you don't waste your time and money.


Joanne Elliott said...

Great advice! I wouldn't have thought about some of those things.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Joanne, thanks for stopping by. Hope my blog helped. Cheers~

sanjeet said...

So great post! These are things that need to be done with care and thought, for sure. :
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