21 Sep

Choosing the Right Conference

Posted in Community, Conferences, DIY MFA

‘Tis the season for conferences and other writerly events but sometimes choosing the right event can leave us flapping our feathers.

Of course, we can always take the easy route and follow the flock, but what good does that do us as writers?

In the end, we must choose the right kind of conference to suit our needs, so that we can commune with other birds of a feather.

And that brings me to the core of this post.  Just as there are many species of geese, there are many different types of conferences, but in my experience–having attended several–there are three basic types: Wild Goose Chase, Good for the Gander, and Mother Goose.

The Wild Goose Chase (AKA the Publishing Conference) is all about getting published.  Speakers are mostly industry professionals–agents and editors–who share insights on how to write a pitch, what should/shouldn’t go in your query and the overall publishing process.  These publishing-focused conferences are very useful for writers who know little about the actual publishing process, but it can become repetitive over time.  After all, you can only hear the “how to get published” talk so many times before you just have to go out and write the darn book.  Also, I find that going to this type of conference too early on in the writing process can discourage some writers.  Instead, I would recommend holding off on a publishing conference until you’re feeling pretty good about your draft or are ready to start the query process.  At that point, then, the more information you get about the business, the better.

The Good for the Gander (AKA Craft-focused Retreats) is great fun and is especially useful if your writing is in need of some serious shaking up.  These conferences usually include a mix of publishing talks from industry professionals and inspirational talks by published authors but the core focus is on the craft itself.  Often these types of conferences involve reading writing samples from fellow writers and discussing them in a workshop setting.

The Mother Goose (AKA Inspirational Conferences) is all about inspiring the writer within.  Sure, there will be some opportunity to hear industry leaders talk about the biz but the main focus is often on inspiring writers to keep… writing (duh).  These are the warm ‘n fuzzy conferences where you leave inspired to run home, boot up the computer and start the fingers flying across the keys.

If you’re looking into a conference, how do you know which species it is?  Look at the schedule of events.  Who are the speakers?  Is it mostly authors with a publishing panel or two thrown in for good measure?  Then it’s probably a Mother Goose.  Or are the majority of the talks all about publishing?  If yes, then you’re heading for a Wild Goose Chase.  And is there a workshop component?  If so, you’re most likely going to a conference that’s Good for the Gander.

Ultimately, there’s no one type of conference that’s better than another, but when you invest the time, money and effort to attend a conference, you’ll be best served if you go to a conference that suits your needs.  If you are at the point where you need to start informing yourself about publishing, a publishing-focused conference is for you.  If instead, you want to connect with other writers and rekindle that love of writing, an inspirational conference is probably more your vibe.  And finally, if you want to get new perspectives on your work, a workshop-retreat is your best bet. 

What type of conference do you think would suit you best at this point in your writing?


Comments on this post

  1. salarsenッ says:

    A confidence building conference. LOL. Chatting with other writers and sharing our work and experiences. ";-)

    1. C.E. says:

      No idea. Conferences are like alien planets right now to me. No clue where to start looking! But will find it when I do start. Great post!

      1. Yat-Yee says:

        I've been to conferences of the Wild Goose Chase and the Good For The Gander types, and have heard inspirational words at both. I have to admit I enjoyed the second type better. And actually it was at one of those that I met an editor who ended up reading a couple of versions of my ms, and I am working on another revision for her. No promises, but an excellent experience nevertheless.

        1. Natasha says:

          I like your delineation of the types of writers' conferences. I would love a craft-focused retreat — most useful for me right now. Finding the best fit is not necessarily easy, though. I'd like to find a retreat/conference that's a creative/intellectual stretch for me, but not so much of a stretch that I feel like I'm in completely alien territory.

          I'm not finding it that easy to even learn about writers' conferences, especially in the boondocks, i.e., outside of NYC. Would love some hints on how/where to find such — oh, yeah, and inexpensive, too.

          I really appreciate online communities and opportunities such as this and am grateful for them!

          1. Kerryn Angell says:

            I know it's the inspirational The Mother Goose conference that I need at the moment.

            I've spent a bit of time researching conferences in the UK and found some great resources at Writers News and Literary Festivals.

            1. gabi says:

              Natasha – Another way to find conferences near you is to check out local/regional branches of writing associations. I know SCBWI has an extensive network of local branches and I'm guessing that other genre-based national associations (for example: RWA, SFWA, etc.) may have similar networks.

              And of course, there's WriteOnCon which is a free web-based conference so you can visit it no matter where you're located!

              1. Dave Symonds says:

                I've never been to a workshop, they sound like a lot of fun.

                The one good thing about Publishing Conferences is that the industry professionals usually give out their email addresses or ways to submit as a bonus for attending the conference. This is nice because more often then not, their publishing house won't normally accept unsolicited MS.

                1. Shannon O'Donnell says:

                  I absolutely love the way you did this post! So creative!! It's a dream of mine to make it to a writer's conference within the next year or two. 🙂

                  1. just-cassie.com says:

                    what a great way to differentiate the kinds of conferences! We don't have a lot on offer here in NZ, but I will have to checking out WriteOnCon now

                    1. Wannabe Writer says:

                      Good for the Gander! I'm barely starting out and I have a lot to learn about writing in general.

                      Are there conferences were they tie you to a chair and don't let you get up until you finish a chapter? I might need one of those too!

                      1. gabi says:

                        Dave makes a good point. At many publishing-focused conferences the industry professionals will give out special contact info so you can query them and get a leg-up out of the slush pile. That is definitely a great opportunity, and well worth the effort if your ms is ready.

                        One thing to keep in mind, a lot of times they give you only a short window right after the conference in which you can send your work so it's good to have your ms ready to go. That is, of course, assuming that your conference goal is to make a publishing contact. If your goals are to soak up info, meet other writers or be inspired, then it's less important for your ms to be done and ready to send out.

                        1. Najela says:

                          I think I need the Mother Goose thing. Next year, I want to go to more Wild Goose Chases and Good for the Gander conferences. That's my plan at the moment.

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