Thursday, February 10, 2011

Data-mining the SF Writers Conference schedule

A tentative schedule of sessions to be given at the 2011 San Francisco Writer's Conference was published last week. The conference is next week -- 18-20 Feb -- at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, and it's sold out ... though there's always next year.

(Word to the determined: I was able to attend last year even though the conference was sold out by the time I decided I absolutely had to go. I got on the waiting list, and there was a cancellation that yielded me a place.)

A few facts about SFWC. The conference website lists 21 editors, 25 agents, and nearly 50 authors who will present or hunt for fresh, content-extruding meat (that's us, the writers). Guesstimating from last year, there are three or four hundred writers who pay to get in, many of whom are looking for an agent or some other way to get traction on work that's either finished or in progress.

Translation: there are plenty of networking opportunities here.

The promotional materials promise "over 50" sessions; my count from the just-posted schedule is 75. Stepping back from that list of 75 sessions, I was curious about the big picture about what's on offer at a major writer's conference known for its focus on the business of publishing. Pursuing that big picture view, here's how I sliced & diced, in order by the number of sessions in each of my categories:

  • 15 - Fiction (adult or general)
  • 15 - Promotion (platform building, etc.)
  • 13 - The industry: how it works & how to work it
  • 9 - Craft and practice of writing
  • 7 - Books for kids and young adults
  • 7 - Non-fiction
  • 4 - Self-publishing & E-books
  • 5 - Miscellaneous

Others might count some of the sessions differently than I did, and some would come up with different categories. My idiosyncrasies include a decision not to break out the two sessions touching on memoir (I put one in Fiction, one in Non-fiction); or the three on poetry (one in Promotion, two in Miscellaneous).

But hey, this is my blog. Your job is to complain in the comments.

Another way to slice and dice is with a word cloud (cf. image, thanks to Wordle). I did a bit of editing on the input end to de-emphasize meals and frequent recurrence of "a.m." and "p.m." ... but otherwise the word cloud is a view uninflected by my categorizations. Words that occur more frequently in the SFWC's session schedule are larger in the word cloud.

I signed up for this year's SFWC in Fall, and got the idea from initial publicity that there was going to be a heavy tilt toward the herd of elephants camped out in publishing's living room. What herd? E-books, the changing landscape of self-publishing options, and What That All Means to writers as publishers shed editors, huge bookstore chains declare bankruptcy, and the highly-consolidated New York based industry wonders what's next.

I'm kind of surprised -- and a bit disappointed -- to see only four sessions that touch on these topics directly. As you can see from my first-pass spread, above, none of those four made it onto my dance card yet ... but before the conference kicks off I'll pare back on Promotion and Craft sessions to get some skinny on where Those Who Know think books and publishing are heading in the 21st century.

Attending the conference should provide plenty of benefits beyond the sessions. I'll get to hang out with some members of my on-line writers/critique group, into which I was invited at last year's SFWC. I'll be looking to network with writers who might want to join our group (look for more about that next week). And I hope to speak with agents and editors who might be interested in my novel manuscript.

I'd love to hear from this post's readers: what have you gotten out of writers' conferences you attended, and how has that matched up with what you hoped for?


  1. By far the best thing I've gotten out of conferences has been meeting other writers. I've learned some about the industry, but not much you couldn't glean from the web. Conferences themselves are fun, if thought of as another form of vacation. I've learned not to expect that much, but that that's not necessarily a bad thing. If I ever do end up with an agent, it's more likely to come from a conference... or through one of my writing friends... than from cold sending a manuscript. Writing conferences are like casinos masquerading as universities: they promise education and hope for the future, but offer a fun time, if you're lucky some drinks, and gambling.

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