Why go to conferences? They're expensive, after all, and unless you're a big enough name to be a featured speaker, you're going to have to pay for transportation, lodging, meals, and registration fees. But there's a lot to be gained as well.
What should you look for?
What's the target audience of the conference? I lean toward romance conferences, because that's where my books fall, but I also attended SleuthFest, a mystery conference for years, because my books all have mystery themes. Left Coast Crime is a relatively small, regional conference, and since I couldn't get back to Florida for SleuthFest, I decided to try this one. The fact that it's driveable helped a lot. (I admit that when I signed up to attend, there was the distant hope that I'd be joining the ranks of mystery writers, but that didn't happen). But even though my books fall into the romance genre, I still consider them mysteries.
Is the conference geared toward readers or authors? Reader conferences tend to be geared toward 'fun' and they're a way to meet readers as well as authors. Publishers might showcase their authors, there are games, meet-and-greets, and a lot of social events. Author conferences are geared toward the professional side. Agents and editors often accept pitches, so you can try to move up a rung on the ladder toward publications. Sessions cover professional and craft topics, so you can learn more about all the aspects of writing.
How big is the conference? Are you going to be a small fish in a huge pond? Large conferences might be overwhelming, but this might be your chance to meet a LOT of industry professionals. Smaller conferences won't have as many agents and editors, but there's less competition for slots, and you might feel less like an outsider if you're new.What will you get out of the conference?
Right now, I'm going to Left Coast Crime, and to RomCon, which is a smaller reader's conference in Denver. (And I'd love to meet some of you there—have you noticed there's a $20 off coupon at Terry's Place—in the sidebar, and in the "Deals and Steals" page.) I've also submitted proposals for workshops at two other regional romance conferences. With budgetary considerations first and foremost these days, I'm targeting conferences where I can present a workshop, and in most cases, get some of my expenses deferred.
The smaller mystery conferences use a slightly different model—at least the one's I'm familiar with. Instead of accepting proposals for workshops, they use the panel system. Authors attending are seated on panels and they'll discuss a specific topic. For LCC, I'll be doing a panel on Sex and Romance in Mysteries with two other authors. However, until the moderator gets back to us with her questions, I don't really know what I'm going to talk about.
Giving workshops and speaking on panels gives you exposure. I've got bookmarks, I'm making chapter booklets, and I'll pack a few cartons of books for the signing. It's a marketing opportunity (that dreaded M word again.) But most of all, at a conference, you have a chance to interact with real, live people—something out of the ordinary daily routine for most writers.
So, you've decided to go to a conference. I'll be back with what I've learned about how to prepare, and what to do when you get there in another post.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society