The Emerald Coast Conference was a first for me. It was intimate, right on the beach, and I met one of my favorite authors, James W. Hall. In his keynote talk, Hall told about how he got his start with the Thorn novels. He hadn't intended for Thorn to be a series after he wrote and sold the first one. In fact, he was 150 pages into his second novel when his agent told him he'd make a lot more money if he continued with Thorn as his protagonist. He tried to tell the agent that his new work wasn't about Thorn and he wasn't interested in making more money. Can you believe it? Hall told us that to show how naive he was as a young writer. Of course, the agent convinced him it would be foolish to leave money on the table when all he had to do was change the name of his lead character.
Considering how successful he's been with that series, I'd say he made a good decision.
Conferences can play a valuable role for authors of all stripes. When you're just starting out, they are a way to learn from more experienced writers through the craft workshops. They're also a great networking venue, and a way to meet and pitch to agents and editors. Many writers have found their agents at a writers conference. As published authors, conferences offer exposure and book sales, although these tend to be limited unless your name is on the bestseller list.
One excellent conference I'm involved with is the UNF Writers Conference August 5 - 7. UNF, the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, has partnered with FWA to present this conference for the past three years. It is unique in several ways. The first day, Friday, August 5, offers a full day of exceptional workshops ranging from writing the query letter to writing dialogue, from converting your book to a screenplay to writing the YA novel. Saturday and Sunday offers a slate of comprehensive critique workshops in most genres, including general fiction, general non-fiction, screenwriting, and children's books. This year we've added poetry, romance, science fiction/fantasy, and a workshop for teen writers.
But that's not all. The conference ends on Sunday with a four-hour workshop on ePublishing. You'll hear from people who have insider knowledge on cover art, marketing, formatting, etc. It's an amazing value for the registration fee, plus there's the Pitch Book—an opportunity to have your logline included in a compilation to be sent to agents, editors and film producers.