Pros, cons, and tips for attending a small writer’s conference

Fountain

Hispanic Cultural Center by Glen Van Etten.

A few years ago, I went to the 8th Annual National Latino Writers’ Conference, held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque NM. It was a wonderful experience, and one I’d love to do again. It gave me an opportunity to meet other writers, celebrate my heritage, and learn about publishing.

As far as writing conferences go, this one was pretty small. There were both advantages and disadvantages to attending a smaller event like this one.

A few of the advantages were…

  • A moment in the spotlight. Every single writer got five minutes to read their work aloud to the other conference goers. The agents and publishers in attendance were there as well. When I got the opportunity to pitch to a publisher, she requested my manuscript largely because she liked the reading I had done.
  • A focus on the Latino experience. The conference brought together some wonderful Latino authors, publishers, and agents. I learned a lot, not just about writing and publishing, but about being a minority in the industry.
  • Making friends. In a smaller setting, it’s easier to meet the other authors attending the conference and make friends. I met some amazing people there, and the panels and classes were small enough that I also got to know the published authors teaching us, who had a lot of wisdom to share.
Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos by Glen Van Etten.

However, there is one major disadvantage to a small conference like this one…

One of the most anticipated parts of a writers’ conference is meeting agents and publishers and being able to pitch to them. However, at a smaller event, fewer agents and publishers attend, which means you may not be able to meet with someone who represents your genre. The agent I met with only represented screenplays, which I don’t write. However, she was the woman who represented the screenplay for the movie Real Women Have Curves, so even though she wasn’t interested in my pitch, she was fascinating to talk to.

It’s still worth attending a conference like this for the experience, and what you’ll learn. I’ve also got a few tips to help make it worth your while.

  • Be ready to read aloud. If you go to a conference like this, do make sure you have something to read aloud. If possible, have two or three excerpts to read, one that fits in a two minute slot, one that fits in five minutes, and it may even be worthwhile to have a seven minute reading. And practice your reading aloud beforehand, more than once.
  • Have a pitch ready. Although it’s possible you won’t find an agent interested in your genre, it’s also possible you will, and you want to have a pitch ready just in case. I was lucky enough to connect with a publisher who requested my manuscript. Ultimately, it wasn’t quite right for her, but I was glad I had a pitch ready at the time!
  • Ask people about their writing. If you’re shy like me, it can be difficult to walk into a room full of people you don’t know and start to make friends. However, writers have one weakness. Ask them about their work, and you’ll never lack for conversation. And most people are writing about fascinating stuff.
  • Engage with the experience. Engage in whatever your seminar or panel is about. I had a poetry seminar where we went outside and stood in the courtyard of the Hispanic Cultural Center and wrote a collaborative poem. It was so much fun! Embrace the experience and be open to learning from all the authors there, both those that give you practical advice and those that dive into something creative.
  • Visit family. If possible, stay with your grandma. My grandmother lives very close to the Hispanic Cultural Center and I stayed with her. You may not be able to do this exactly, but you can reach out to those members of your family that support your creative endeavors, if you’re lucky enough to have them. That can make all the difference in the world.

Hopefully someday the Cultural Center will hold another writer’s’ conference. In the meantime, I love to visit the Center for their beautiful art gallery, and if you’re ever in Albuquerque, I’d highly recommend stopping by. Or stop in and visit my grandma, who is an artist and always an inspiration to me.

I’d love to hear about your experience with conferences big and small. Leave me a note in the comments and tell me about it!


Featured photo by By Mike Tungate (Albuquerque West Mesa) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “Pros, cons, and tips for attending a small writer’s conference

  1. nawaring says:

    Good stuff – I have found that no matter where I am speaking or in a group of any kind, I need to be ready to read. First time I was not prepared and fumbled through one of my books looking for something. Maybe my next read will find that elusive agent. Nice post

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