Rill RillToday's Tune:
A very common question in the writing world: do you have to attend writing conferences/conventions/seminars in order to get an "in" to the publishing business? To meet/acquire an agent or editor?
Here's the short answer: no, you don't.
Here's the much longer answer.
Writing programs of any sort are a great place to absorb a lot of knowledge about writing and the publishing industry. I've learned a great deal from attending them. They're also a top-notch place to meet other writers at various stages in their careers, which I feel is important for aspiring writers. Not only do we get to bond with people on our same level, we can glean knowledge from people who've walked the path before us. Nobody really "gets" writing like other writers do.
The actual craft of writing can be learned just about anywhere. We can teach ourselves, we can take courses, we can practice practice practice. But insider industry knowledge is a little harder to come by. Not MUCH harder these days, since so many agents and editors and other publishing pros make themselves available on blogs and social media. Still, there are things you can pick up at conferences that can be very insightful and handy. It's a little more close-knit, and there are some topics people discuss there that aren't always made available to the wider public. So, that's a bonus.
And, of course, conferences are excellent places to get actual face time with industry insiders. You can have meetings with editors and agents, go to their sessions, or even catch them while they're having a drink at the bar. Careful with that last one. You want to be friendly and make a connection. You don't want to annoy the crap out of them. Impressions stick, good or bad.
All that said, as for whether you MUST attend these conferences to get your foot in the door? The answer's still no.
I've attended several writing programs and conferences since I decided to pursue writing professionally, and I really enjoyed them and thought they were helpful and fun. That said, when I decided to start querying, it didn't really matter. I mean, I applied everything I'd learned to my querying process, but as for having an "in?" Nah.
Out of the agents I queried, there were only two that I was already vaguely "in" with. One had read my published short story and asked me to query her with my MS when it was ready, and one had critiqued the first three chapters of my MS when it was a wee baby draft. Of those two agents, one offered, one didn't. I had three other offers, all from agents who I'd never actually met or spoken with in my life before their offer. I ended up going with Michelle, who I had never had any interaction with before I queried her.
What I'm saying is this: the conferences I attended may have given me a little extra publishing business knowledge, but they aren't what got me an agent in the end. There are many, many different paths people can take on the road to publication. Writing programs can certainly help you on that path, but they're not the only way.
Do you have any writing conference experiences to share? Did you make any professional contacts or meet your agent/editor at one?