Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why do Conferences Cost So Much?

I’ve been asked this question quite a bit lately -- partly because summer is the season for writing conferences and partly because I used to be the Executive Director of the Writers’ League of Texas which puts on the biggest agents conference in central Texas (perhaps in the southwest).

I resigned as E.D. in 2005 and WLT’s Agents conference, like most conferences, has been going up in registration cost. And people wonder why.

The basic reason is that it’s expensive to put on a conference. WLT’s conference brings in a lot of agents and editors. I believe I counted 19 this year. I have no idea of the current arrangements, but when I was E.D., we did not pay the agents and editors anything. But we did cover the air flight or travel expenses. And the hotel. And their lunch on Saturday, and dinner Friday and Saturday nights. Speakers usually weren’t paid, exceptions being a big name who came in from far away. Each year, WLT’s conference gets bigger, with more speakers, more attendees. That means WLT has to pay for bigger rooms or more rooms for the workshops, a larger room for the Saturday lunch with more waitstaff to serve and clean up. More coffee, juice and pastries for the two mornings and more cookies and drinks for the afternoon break for attendees. More agents mean more attendees equals a bigger room to hold pitch sessions. Bigger conference means more volunteers, who don’t get paid, but may be comped for lunch. Exciting conference with more agents mean more of the Board members expect to have dinner with the agents on Friday evening and to come to the conference, comped. More people, bigger evening receptions with more food, more bar staff and wait persons to be paid, bigger room.

The list goes on and on. Plus WLT, like any organization putting on a conference, aims to make a profit. But wait, you say. WLT is a non-profit. They’re not supposed to make a profit. Au contraire. They are. They have to in order to support all the other programs they do year round, pay staff and operating bills, provide scholarships, etc.

And that’s why conferences cost so much.

But there’s a way to reap some of the benefits of a conference without even going and without paying anything. I’ll talk about that next week.
TweetIt from HubSpot


  1. The expense can certainly put one off of attending conferences. One way to curb expenses is to look for local conferences. The Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops is a good way to find ones local to your area:
    Find one close and you at least can save the cost of a hotel room.

  2. Makes sense to me. And also understandable that conferences are becoming jeopardized by the failing economy - lots of folks have to cut the budget where they can these days and even though conferences are great and attending them is helpful to careers, the rising costs of registration (which are legit, as you've explained very well here) make justifying the expense to many of the potential attendees hard to do.

    Looking forward to your follow up post on this.

    The Old Silly

  3. The natural way to get around all of this is to volunteer. You're on the inside, with even better access than attendees. And, yes, I'll be volunteering this weekend at the WLT conference!

    Joe O'Connell

    Winner, North Texas Book Award
    Finalist, Violet Crown Book Award

  4. Very informative post, as usual, Helen. I’d be interested in reading a series of posts about how the average, little guy writer, with maybe one book published, but more either finished or in his head (This fictional person may be sounding familiar) could prepare for and benefit from a conference.

    To me, conferences have always seemed like huge, confusing, conglomerations of people, all competing to push their individual interests and agendas. I assumed I would spend a lot of money and not reap any benefits. Is that true? Can this situation be remedy? Can you share how that might be done? Not to give you more work, just askin’…

    Best Regards, Galen.
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  5. Because it's in driving distance, I've attended the Florida Writer's Conference several times and feel like I got my money's worth. I'd love to attend conferences around the country but the cost of the trip plus the conference itself doesn't make it fiscally practical.


  6. Looking forward to next week's post, that's for sure!

    Where conference prices tend to really skyrocket is if one decides to have a booth or display. A book festival might be feasible for this, but usually not a writer's conference. (For some odd reason, writers don't buy books!)

    L. Diane Wolfe

  7. Y'all are so right. If you're trying to keep expenses down, go local - if you find a conference that has what you're looking for - and volunteer. By volunteering you're on the inside and you can get discounts on registration or even be able to do things without registering at all. But you will have to work and put in time helping out.

    Jon, Shaw is a great source. You can search by month or location or time.

    Galen, that's a good idea. Maybe next week can be a "conference" week.

    I've not been to the Florida conference, but I've heard of it.

    Way to go, Joe! If you'd like to talk about your experience at the conference, I'd be happy to give Straight From Hel over to you for a day.

    Marvin, I have a feeling that you would be a hoot at a conference. I see you taking over and running the show.

  8. Great info in the blog and the comments. I was part of the Greater Dallas Writer's Association and we co-sponsored the Craft of Writing Conference for about 20 years. I always volunteered in some capacity and took advantage of discounts on fees. Sometimes even got to attend free.

  9. I'm attending the WLT event this weekend, because it is within a day's drive for me.

    As a participant, I quickly realized things keep adding up for the trip (registration, lunch, etc.). Since it's my first one, I'm ignoring the adding up to a degree. I'm looking forward to learning, mingling and pitching.

  10. Have fun Stacy. And do take advantage of everything you can do and every person (writer, agent, WLT staff, other volunteers) you can meet. (Yeah, I could re-write that sentence so it didn't sound like I'm advising you to take advantage of people, but...)

  11. I've never gone to a "live" writer's conference other than BayCon for this very fact. However, I am a big fan of online conferences, like the Muse conference in October. No travel hassle, being away from family, lack of sleep from unfamiliar surroundings (and late hours!), it's better for the environment, and the cost is FREE. I've learned a lot for very little money/effort. Perfect for my needs.


  12. When we plan our annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference here in Minnesota, speaker fees take up the most of our budget, followed by venue fees. It is very expensive to put on a conference, so we're always looking to cut costs when possible. It's tricky most of the time.

  13. I've heard of the Muse conference, Lisa. It sounds like a good one - and you can't beat free.

    Hi Christina. It's good to hear from others who work to put on conferences. It's hard to believe all the costs until you start working on the budget of one.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...