Writers Conferences: Plan Ahead to Get the Most Out Of Your Networking Dollars

nycview Writers Conferences: Plan Ahead to Get the Most Out Of Your Networking Dollars

There’s nothing like being amongst your fellow writers to get you energized about your work — whether it be writing or selling. Luckily, I’ve got my buddies at the New School’s MFA program to motivate me. But sometimes you just need that extra kick in the pants (MFA or not).

That’s why writer’s conferences are like a quick fix of creative adrenaline. A concentrated take on the craft and business of writing, they can really get the creative juices flowing, and get you right into the thick of things, whether or not you’re a natural-born networker, like our own Dhonielle.

But there is a right time to go — and not every conference is a great fit for everyone. That’s why, when you’re budgeting your networking dollars, it’s a smart idea to take a really close look at what your options are. Especially given that, these days, you could probably find a writers’ conference in your area any given weekend. But which are worth the investment? And when should you go?

It all depends on you and where you are with your writing. A few of us here at Teen Writers Bloc, for example, are gearing up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in New York City this month. But others among us — like me — know that, as much as we’d like to go, we’re nowhere near ready. Which is why I’ll be saving my conference dollars for the summer.

What writers conference will give you the most bang for your buck? Only you can decide. But since it’s a new year (and hopefully, new budget!), we’ve rounded up a few of the best bets for your perusal — and we’ve tried to stick to conferences that would be fruitful for teen and middle grade writers. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Writers Digest Conference
New York, New York; January 21 – 23
Cost: $495 for the full conference, $345 for Saturday only
With lots of big picture overview, including keynotes on the where publishing is headed, marketing in the digital age, social media strategy, apps for writers and even a Kindle publishing workshop, this conference, sponsored by industry magazine Writer’s Digest, is taking writers’ straight into the future of the book business. There’s also an intensive two-hour pitch slam, a sort of speed dating with agents, including YA champions Brandi Bowles (Foundry), Jennifer DiChiara, Molly Jaffa (Folio), Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Lit), Suzie Townsend (FinePrint) and Joanna Volpe (Nancy Coffey Lit).

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators
New York, New York; January 28 – 31
Cost: $375 for members, $415 for non-members
Highlights: The SCBWI annual winter conference is the scene and be seen event for children’s book writers. This year, teen favorites like Lois Lowry, Sara Zarr and R.L. Stine are amongst the keynote speakers, and there are plenty of big agent and editor names on the panels on craft and marketing, too. But conference vet Dhonielle says the best part of doing the SCBWI events is meeting like-minded writers. She’s found critique group members — and life-long friends — at these events. If you can’t make this one, SCBWI has mini-events across the country — and another biggie in L.A. this summer.

San Diego State University Writers’ Conference
San Diego, Ca.; January 28 – 30
Cost: $399; one-on-one consult appointments are $50 each
If you’re working it on the West coast (or trying to get out of the snow here on the East Coast), then you can’t beat the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference at the end of January. The event seems chock full of opportunities for teen fiction writers, including meet-n-greets with editors from Tor Teen for fantasy, and editors looking for YA at St. Martin’s, Grove/Atlantic, and Simon/Pulse, amongst others. Plus, there will be panels on revising your middle grade or teen novel, the “white-hot” YA category, and even making the transition to writing for screen and television.

Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop
New York, New York; March 17 – 20
Cost: $595 before March 1, $695 after
This quarterly, application-only conference, held in New York City every spring, summer, fall and winter, is focused on getting writers in strong shape to sell their novels, offering novel deconstruction and analysis from agents and editors from major houses (including ICM YA champion Tina Wexler). Writers refine their works via panels and intimate workshop groups, then have the opportunity to pitch up to four industry professionals, including editors from Grand Central, Random House, Broadway Books and others.

PennWriters Career & Craft Conference
Pittsburgh, Pa; May 13 – 15
Cost: $275 for three days; $194 for one
No, it’s not New York City. But that’s why PennWriters was able to score commercial fiction biggie — and Pennsylvania native — Jennifer Weiner as their keynote speaker this year. So don’t let the location fool you. The PennWriters’ line-up is chock full of publishing heavyweights, like agents Janet Reid and Jenny Bent (who are teaching useful workshops on social networking and contracts, respectively), Sleepless and Fairy Tale author Cyn Balog, who’ll be teaching workshops on YA and hooking the reader, HarperCollins Children’s senior VP and editorial director Barbara Lalicki (who edits Beverly Cleary) and iconic fantasy writer Jonathan Maberry, who’ll be showing you how to put chills and thrills into your own work.

Backspace Writers Conference
New York, NY; May 26 – 28
Cost: Early Bird registration is $450 (two full days), $550 after Feb. 1
The conference spin-off of the stellar online writers’ community BKSP.org, this three-day event is super-focused on making connections with agents, with panels on querying, crafting stellar opening pages, and what agents are looking for. So if that’s the stage you’re approaching, it might just be the perfect way to network yourself into a deal. Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry is the keynote this year, and given the NYC location, the publishing industry insiders will no doubt turn up in spades.

Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-On-One Plus Conference
Piscataway, New Jersey; October 15, 2011
Cost: $195 for the one-day event, including breakfast and lunch
This application-only event pairs a small number of skilled writers one-on-one with a children’s writing professional — agent, editor, or writer. The plus? Each writer and mentor pair gets to network with several others at round-table discussions about writing, editing and publishing — a great, low-pressure way to network, and it’s very likely you’ll come out of the event with long-term relationships.

What writer’s conferences will you be attending this year? What are your best tips for getting the most bang for your buck at these networking events?

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