I’ve been going to two different conferences the last couple of years: Willamette Writers in Portland, Oregon and the Hawaii Writers Conference, formerly in Maui and now in Honolulu. Because my “track” has been non-fiction memoir writing, I’m going to speak from my personal perspective about the value of both these conferences.
While the Willamette Writers Conference is a conference covers screenwriting, fiction/non-fiction, the strongest aspect of the conference seems to be the screenwriting workshops and sessions. Under the leadership of Screenwriter Cynthia Whitcomb, WW has brought in some top names in the industry. I think WW has done a better job with the caliber of agents and producers they’ve brought in from Hollywood than the Hawaii Writers Conference. However, the non-fiction track was limiting and not as helpful to professional writers who make a living from their work. I found the legal consultant session extremely helpful though. Overall the agents I talked with were a mixed bag too and given how many women are working on memoir, I would have wanted more memoir sessions. The non-fiction track isn’t as strong as I would have liked it to be this year. Yet it’s my understanding WW has a good record of authors getting their books published through the conference contacts. Certainly as a smaller conference, there is more chance for interaction between gatekeepers and writers.
The Hawaii conference has brought in Michael Arndt (screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine), I didn’t see many film agents and producers listed. I’d recommend the WW conference for screenwriters and filmmakers over the Hawaii Conference.
Overall, the Hawaii Writers Conference (formerly the Maui Writers Conference) held the strongest non-fiction/fiction publishing track at any conference I’ve attended. The list of presenters was impressive this year. I found the sessions really fit together well. You could stay in one room for the next session that followed through with the literary track. The sessions flowed well into each other and built on each other, so that at the beginning of the day you could learn about query letters and proposals and by the end of the day you’d be well versed in publishing contracts and rights issues.
And it is Hawaii after all. Though I preferred the Maui location because there was more interactivity and (come on, it was Maui!), I found agents, editors and publishers even in the Honolulu setting were friendly and didn’t mind you approaching them. Still everyone was welcoming and positive. Even in my consults, agents and editors walked out the door with me to give me their final words of wisdom.
(Another observation: I’d say roughly two-thirds of writers conference attendees are women. And yet as echoed by my interview with Debra Gwartney, a good of writers published are men.)
Next up some advice to make the most use of your conference experience. Remember writers, these conferences including the travel are deductible, so save all your receipts!