I may be writing this post to promote the Southern California Writers' Conference, but if you can't get to Irvine this September and feel the need for a conference, here's a list of what to look for in a good one.
*I suppose I should insert the caveat that this is my opinion and your mileage may vary, but I believe with all my heart that this is why I keep coming back to this particular conference (I have been to others, but they didn't make me want to return).
1. How organized is it? A good conference should have its workshop schedule and leaders available ahead of time for you to look over. How do you know you want to attend if you don't know what they're teaching? There should be an email address if you have concerns. Your check-in should be easy. It should look like they've not only done this before, they've constantly learned to do it better.
2. How are the rooms organized? This might not be obvious, but I like a room with several tables and chairs, instead of just rows of chairs. I've come to learn, which means I'll be taking notes. It's so much easier to write at a table than to squeeze into a row of chairs (they're always too close together) and balance my notebook/tablet on my lap.
3. Who is teaching? No, I'm not talking about the guest speakers or anyone's fame. The workshop leaders need to have some experience at what they're telling you. Query tips should be taught by someone who is or has been a publisher, an agent, an editor. In other words, someone who has read queries and decided to accept or reject a manuscript. Authors teaching craft should have written books and gotten some reviews. Not all glowing, but at least no reviews saying they suck at grammar and spelling.
4. Who are their guest speakers? Here's where I'm probably going to surprise you: yes, I love to hear a famous author speak. I actually had lunch with Dean Koontz once, and his speech was delightful, warm, funny. It was also of no value to me as a "new" author. The world where he first found his agent and publisher does not exist anymore. I need to hear from new authors, authors that have just found their path within the last 10-15 years, or the more established authors who have re-invented themselves for the 21st century.
5. How welcome do you feel? Writers are a fairly introverted species, but the best ones are good people, if shy. You should be able to go into a room, sit down at a table and meet someone new. Lunch should only be a lonely experience if you want it that way. Otherwise, you should be able to see someone else with a badge and ask if you can join them--or invite them to join you. BTW, one way I see SCWC as creating this inclusive environment is that their workshop leaders, guest speakers, and conference directors are completely accessible. Did you really enjoy that workshop leader's talk? Ask if you can join them for lunch. Have a drink at the bar in the evening. Who doesn't need more friends?
6. How do you feel by the end of the conference? If you feel motivated, supported, encouraged, excited, antsy to get to work, you've found your tribe. If you feel like maybe writing is a dream for someone else, this was not the conference for you, and you need to go have a big glass of wine and call your Friend Who Loves and Supports You to talk you off the ledge.
There's still time to get the discount to the Southern California Writers' Conference, and there are still spots left on the StoryCore Track, designed to help you take your pretty good story to OMG-Must-Read level. Go sign up. Now! http://writersconference.com/la/