Having just returned from the SCBWI winter conference in NY, I started pondering what the best format for an annual writer’s conference should be. Then it occurred to me that there may not be a “best.” Partly because the attendees are always at different stages in their careers:
- thinking about becoming an author
- starting a first book
- crying out to the gods as they battle with a saggy middle
- in the middle of revisions with a finished book
- querying agents/editors with a polished book
- agents/editors are requesting (yay!)
- first sale!
- a legend in the business
There might be some other stages, but this covers a goodly portion. The thing is, each of these authors/writers require something different from a conference. For the first several stages, workshops on craft (plotting, characterization, beginnings, middles, and ends, turning points, dark moments, using compelling language, cutting out the fat, etc) are ideal. The hands-on type are especially useful, where the writers can walk out with something they created during a workshop. They also need inspiration from published authors, whether the old hands or the ones celebrating their first sale.
As we get into the group with a truly polished manuscript, workshops on query letters would be great, as well as that all important opportunity to meet agents/editors and get an invitation to submit. The chance to find out what editor is looking for what is invaluable for someone with a manuscript ready to go. The craft workshops are probably still valuable for those in this category.
Those craft workshops might also be useful for those who have made a first sale. From experience, writing one salable book and getting a contract for it does not mean the writer knows everything there is to know about writing. Some tips on how to continually improve are welcome. After all, you have to sell that second and subsequent books.
For multi-published authors, a view into trends is somewhat useful, although we all know we shouldn’t write to trends. Workshops on the business side of things–contracts, tax issues, avoiding burnout, etc.–are more welcome than how to write a compelling character. It’s not so much that a multi-published author knows everything, but that the most commonly presented material in craft workshops these folks have already heard again and again. In fact, they could present those workshops.
As to the legends, they would be giving those inspiring keynotes. They might not want to wade into the masses every day of the conference (too exhausting), but sometimes it’s really nice to just be with people who understand you, so I would think that would be a draw for the legendary authors amongst us.
The organization that I think does the best job of presenting a well-rounded conference, one that covers the most stages of a writer’s career, is Romance Writers of America. They do a real whizbang job of it. It’s fairly expensive, especially if you’re not a member, and some of the workshops will be romance-specific. But there are plenty that are generic enough any genre could get value from them.
So, what do you think? What would your ideal conference be like?