economy’s low, gas prices are high, and a killer writer’s conference you’re dying to attend is right around the corner. What’s a cheap writer to do?
Before you write off conferences completely, sharpen your pencil and take a few notes. With a little planning beforehand and a few tricks of the trade, even a writer on a budget can find a way to get her buck’s worth from conferences. Even that killer conference you’re dying to attend.
Numbers don’t lie. Those weeklong conferences on the breezy beaches of Hawaii or in the scenic foothills of upstate New York are probably out of the question for the budget-challenged. But, what about the weekend conferences, or the two-day conferences? Those may be more affordable than you think.
Most of the short conferences include two days of workshops or classes, lunches, and a lovely dinner. Sometimes, it will also include that delicious cocktail hour known as “The Evening Social” or what we writers call “My Big Chance to Corner an Agent and/or Publisher.”
Accommodations and meals at the venue may be offered as a package deal for the out-of-towners. But, why, oh why, does that conference have to be in Manhattan where the room rates are more costly than the conference itself?
There’s no law that says one must stay at the same venue where the conference is being held. Use one of those travel websites to find cheaper rates on a room in the area then use public transit to get to your wonderful conference. And in the case of New York, consider New Jersey where the unofficial slogan is, “Hey, we’re cheaper than New York and just a train ride away!”
“Use one of those travel websites to find cheaper rates on a room in the area then use public transit…”
But, maybe you simply can’t justify the cost of an expensive car trip or flight for a two-day conference. Check out the conferences in your own area (or neighboring states). If you’re within reasonable driving distance, you can even opt to attend the conference only. Many conferences allow registration for the workshops or sessions, forgoing the extracurricular activities.
I attended a conference an hour and a half from home and dashed from one session to another. I felt like I was on a speed date merry-go-round with the various writers, agents, and publishers, but during lunch and breaks, I had ample time to network with other writers and chat up the presenters. I skipped the dinner, speeches, and awarding of prizes, and saved a few more dollars. Besides, why stick around if you didn’t submit a manuscript? Uh-oh. You did submit a manuscript? That brings us to the next point.
I’m sure there’s a writer out there somewhere who was offered a contract right on the spot at that manuscript evaluation. Maybe your sister-in-law’s aunt’s cousin knew a writer who was discovered that way. But, let’s be honest for a minute. What are your chances, really?
If you’re sending in that hard-earned fifty dollars (or more) for a manuscript evaluation because you think you’re the next Big Thing and will be offered a contract by Mr. Big-time Agent, then put the checkbook back in the drawer. If, on the other hand, you really, truly want an honest evaluation of your work, you might still want to put your checkbook away. Because ten to fifteen minutes goes by in a flash when you’re super excited and talking to an actual agent or publisher who might even (gasp!) offer you a contract.
Before you can say, “Thank you very much,” you’re out the door and wondering what just happened. Spend the manuscript evaluation money if your heart is set on it, and your manuscript is so polished it hurts your eyes to look at it. But keep those expectations real and your pen poised to write down every word spoken. And don’t interrupt or argue with the critique. Time, after all, is money when you’re sitting across from Mr. Big-time Agent or Publisher.
“When financial resources are limited…do a little research before plunking down the registration fee…”
Remember camp when you had to have a buddy and grab her hand every time the whistle blew? If you can find a writer buddy and persuade her to join you at a conference, you can double your coverage.
Several members from my writer’s group decided to attend the same day-long conference and inadvertently capitalized on the buddy system. As it happened, we discussed the full page of concurrently-running sessions on the long drive over and realized that we had separate interests. So, while I found out about children’s book publishing, my fellow writers discovered how to land a magazine assignment, and the ins and outs of copyright laws.
All day long, we sat in sessions, rarely bumping into each other again until the ride home. We spent the entire time comparing notes from our sessions. It’s true that we didn’t get all the information, but we are writers, so I think we managed to share the important points and tips.
For a two-day conference, a friend and I attended on different days. She preferred the leisurely pace of the workshop sessions while I sprinted to a half-dozen mini-sessions. At our next meeting, we swapped notes. Literally. It’s wonderful when conference presenters give handouts!
So, take a friend and take notes at your next conference. And you might even want to take a whistle. (Those conferences can get pretty crazy!)
When financial resources are limited, it behooves the cheap writer to do a little research before plunking down the registration fee for a conference. The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators sponsor conferences; the Mystery Writers of America hold conferences, too. But if you’re a romance writer, neither of those genre conferences are quite the right fit. Lucky for you, the Romance Writers of America also give conferences.
That’s not to say that as a writer, you won’t get something out of any conference you attend. To get the most bang for your buck, look for a conference that caters to your specialty. You’ll meet other like-minded writing souls who are on the same journey, and that alone will mean insider tips from those who’ve already “been there and done that.”
You’ll also meet the agents and publishers who are on top of industry trends in your field, and that’s information worth its weight in gold. So, choose wisely, Grasshopper. As any cheap writer will tell you, “The road to regret is doubly uncomfortable when you’re kicking yourself the whole way home.”
“Nothing makes a cheap writer’s heart sing like a freebie.”
Nothing makes a cheap writer’s heart sing like a freebie. And if you ever find a writer’s conference that’s free, sign up immediately! I don’t care if it’s a conference for alternative stream-of-consciousness flash fiction. It’s free!
Once, I dragged a writer buddy to a free conference being held on a local college campus. We sat in a cavernous room and listened to several young, very earnest gentlemen go on and on and on about their very avant-garde, university student-marketed publications. Other than the one actual college student in the room, no one had a clue what these editors were looking for.
I was tempted to leave—and several people did. But, then I would have missed the next panel of speakers who led a lively and informative discussion about building a writer website. And later that afternoon, a very funny writer gave a workshop about comedy. I’ve seen that same writer’s name many times since then, leading workshops at prestigious conferences. But, I got the benefit of his experience, in a cozy little room of ten or so writers, for free!
“Oh,” you’re saying, “I don’t make enough money to worry about taxes.” But maybe you do. If you’re earning income from writing, then you can deduct writing expenses. And that includes anything that helps you become a better writer. Ka-ching! Add up those conference expenses and write them on the dotted line. In fact, I’ve often wondered why I’ve never seen a session at a writer’s conference called “Taxes and the Writer: What You Can Deduct.” I’ll bet there would be standing room only if an accountant ever presented that workshop!
So, now you have a few more tools in that handy writer’s toolbox, tools that may get you to that killer conference sooner than you thought possible. Or at least to workshops or sessions just as valuable. And who knows? When your novel hits the bestseller list, someone might see your jacket flap and say, “Hey, I sat next to that cheapskate at a writer’s conference!”
Cathy C. Hall is a freelance writer and humor columnist from the metro Atlanta area. Her columns have appeared in several regional magazines as well as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Her humorous essays are included in A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers, Chicken Soup for the Tea Lover's Soul, and Silver Boomers. And she loves to attend writer's conferences—but only if they're a good deal!