Your mileage may vary, but personally, I found the San Francisco Writers Conference to be an unbelievably useful and fun way to spend the weekend.
Some of the highlights:
The volunteer coordinator, Linda Lee, did an absolutely fabulous job. You can see the bios of all the volunteers on her site. The conference organizers, Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen-Pomada Agency, really ran a classy conference and kept the atmosphere perfect for learning, sharing, and networking.
I missed some of the keynote sessions, but every breakout session I attended (with one exception) was informative and entertaining and worth every minute. (The one exception was moderately informative, but the speakers were not the best.) Here were my favorite sessions, all of which are available in mp3 and CD for a fee:
- Making a Star Shine, with author May Vanderbilt, agent Nathan Bransford, and editor Christine Pride of Broadway/Random House. These three were entertaining, candid, and very informative. The dynamic between them made for a really fun session. At the end of it, my first thought was that it would be great fun to go out for a drink with the three of them. Plus, they all know their stuff.
- How Independent Booksellers Can Make a Book a Bestseller, with NCIBA's Hut Landon and Bookshop West Portal owner Neal Sofman. They didn't really talk how independent booksellers can turn your book into a best seller, but they did throw a whole lot of light onto the type of promotion and effort it takes to get your book onto an independent's shelves. Short version: A lot.
- Pitchcraft, with Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. Katharine wrote a book called "Making the Perfect Pitch," and although I mostly already knew what she was saying, she had a terrific presentation style and filled her talk with quotes and witticisms that made the hour truly entertaining as well as informative.
- Making The Grade in Middle Grade Fiction, with author Douglas Rees and agent Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada Agency. Rees was amusing and charming, and McLean clearly articulated a lot of useful information about the children's book market. The topic rambled well outside "middle grade" from picture books through YA and beyond. McLean finished off with trends in the market.
- Do Kids Read Anymore? with Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency, Andrea Brown of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Paul S. Levine of Paul S. Levine Literary Agency. None of the speakers knew the title of the presentation when they sat down, and it was the final session of the conference. So it became an open Q & A, which suited the audience just fine because these three really knew their s**t. Great advice on all topics from graphic novels to film rights to working with agents.
- Speed Dating With Agents, with a cast of thousands. I managed to sit with all four agents I wanted to speak with, and each expressed enthusiasm for my book and agreed not to change their address if I decided to send them pages. I used what I learned from Katharine Sands to hone my pitch, and I learned more on the fly as I spoke with these agents. Worth the extra $50 to attend this? I would say an unqualified "yes" at this point. It's only worth it if you have a completed project ready to send out, though, and the biggest benefit is getting some face time so you're no longer a faceless name. Plus, the agents get to ask a couple of questions and have to fill three minutes with you, so they're also getting a sense of whether you're someone they can work with.
The worst part about the conference was that it ended. The buzz in the hotel lobby was electrifying even an hour after the final keynote concluded, and many people still milled around yapping away. Now, unfortunately, I have to go to work on Monday and spend the whole week earning money instead of working on my book and sending out queries.