Attending writers' conferences can be a great way to learn about the publishing industry, network with colleagues and professionals, and meet new friends. Be careful, though. All writers' conferences are not created equal. Many are sponsored by established organizations and have highly qualified faculty--successful agents, working editors, commercially published authors. Others...not so much.
On my desk this morning: an announcement of the Third Annual San Antonio Round Table Writers Conference, sponsored by NF Publishing. There'll be workshops, panels, consultations with the faculty, readings, social occasions--the usual panoply of events you'd expect at a writers' conference. Dates: November 8-11, 2007. Cost for the full four days: $299 before March 10th, $369 thereafter (accommodations and meals not included). The conference hotel, the Crowne Plaza San Antonio Airport, seems to be offering a reasonable group rate.
Is this a conference worth paying for? Let's look first at the sponsor, NF Publishing. Founded by Nicole Moens, a.k.a. Nickie Fleming, a PublishAmerica author (uh oh), the company offers a variety of paid adjunct services (such as a self-publishing package for $700) in addition to "conventional" publishing (uh oh again) and boasts a staff that appears to be almost entirely devoid of professional publishing, editing, or writing experience (uh oh yet again). As for distribution, NF offers less than your average POD self-publishing service, with books orderable only through Baker & Taylor.
There is also this omninous phrase, on the Company Profile page: "We are not a vanity or self-publishing organization but you, the author retain full control of the content, design and layout." To date, Writer Beware hasn't gotten any reports of fees associated with NF Publishing--but in our experience, it's usually only vanity publishers that feel the need to deny being vanity publishers. We can't help wondering whether there's a cost attached to some aspect of publishing with NF (we especially wonder about the company's Writer's Consultants, nearly all of whom also appear to be NF authors) or whether authors are encouraged to buy their own books, a la PublishAmerica.
So what about the conference itself? Let's take a look at the faculty:
- Stacey Kohan, NF staff member and author of Five To Go
- Linda Daly, author of Sea Of Lies, which can't be found on Amazon, though I did find two other novels by her, Virtuous Dove and Rebel Dove
- Merlin Fraser, NF staff member and author of Inner Space
- Peter Leeds, author of Understanding Penny Stocks
- Toney Cowell
- Janelle Marks, author of Spades
Of the six authors above, four are current or forthcoming NF authors and/or staff members (Stacey Kohan, Merlin Fraser, Peter Leeds, and Janelle Marks); one is a PublishAmerica author, with another book forthcoming from a micropress about which Writer Beware has gotten questions (Linda Daly); and one I can't find any information on at all, except in association with the conference (Toney Cowell). To put it mildly, this is not a professional lineup. Not to mention, it's a bit incestuous to put on a conference and staff it entirely with your own people (although probably quite cost-effective, since you can presumably avoid paying honorariums).
The conference program does promise author-agent speed dating, so there may be additional faculty in the form of literary agents. But I wonder how likely it is that established agents will be interested in attending--especially if they are invited in the same way as one well-known agent of my acquaintance, who was urged to "Come share your unique voice and your passion for writing with us!" as a paying guest.
All this for just $299--or, if you don't get it together before March 10th, $369. If even 50 people sign up, that's a nice chunk of change for NF.
NF isn't the only dubious publisher that boosts its income by putting on conferences featuring its own staff and/or authors. PublishAmerica (on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publisher List) hosted a self-staffed writers' convention in 2003 (apparently, once was enough). Archebooks (also a Thumbs Down honoree) conducts an annual Professional Novelist Workshop run by publisher Robert Gelinas, which it actively encourages its authors to attend. Now-defunct publisher Gardenia Press hosted a yearly FirstNovelFest, and heavily pressured its authors to participate. And of course there was the notorious Melanie Mills, literary agent of a thousand aliases, who put on not one, but two, fake writers' conferences, and absconded with the proceeds.
The moral of this tale: don't take writers' conferences at face value. Always research the sponsor to assure yourself that it's a professional organization or established writers' group. Always research the faculty to make sure they're as professional as the conference claims they are--and to uncover any undisclosed connections or hidden conflicts of interest. Be wary of conferences that don't provide detailed faculty lists and bios, as well as a full description of conference activities and schedules--or, worse, don't mention these things at all. And if any pressure is associated with attendance, especially if it's coming from your own publisher or agent...beware.