In 2014, I attended my first and thus far only, SCBWI conference in LA. I was a new SCBWI member, and genuinely thought I’d get good feedback – especially since I signed up for a manuscript critique – on my MS. That’s why I went and, I learned, it was the absolute wrong reason to go.
The question of whether to go to a conference is one with which many beginning writers grapple. I still do, whenever I get the regional SCBWI conference announcements. I think, maybe I should go, and network, and actually talk to some adults…and then I think of how much writing I still have to do. Edits I need to make. I groan, and buckle down and get working.
Recently, a critique group member advocated online conferences, with WriteOnCon being the one that most children’s writers attend. I paid for it ($15) and listened to the presentations this year. I visited the boards, read the critiques of others’ query letters and pitches, etc. It was instructional, and I won two romance novels in a drawing. It paid for itself. But at the end of the day, it took away from my writing time. I groaned, buckled down, and got back to writing and rewriting and editing.
At the SCBWI conference so many years ago, I got a glowing “first 10 pages of a MS review” from an editor at a publishing house. An agent was also interested after a "pitch session." I puzzled over the positive comments, because I knew the “insides” of my story still needed major plotting work, and what I was really looking for, was help doing that. I wasn't looking for praise. I needed help with the writing process.
That’s when it hit me – that’s not the purpose of a conference. You go to a conference after you’ve done everything you humanly, possibly can do to make your story the best it can be, and you're ready to get someone interested in buying it – not helping you rewrite it, or write it the first time well. There’s so, so much you need to do, you can do, to write a compelling story, before you go to a conference.
So was the conference worth it? I don’t have a definitive answer for that question. Not yet. Unquestionably, I went for the wrong reason. None of this means it won’t pan out many years in the future, but I think, for now, focusing on the act of writing – practicing the craft every day – is far more important than going to conferences.