This past weekend I attended the Crested Butte Writing Conference which advertises itself as “An Experience like No Other.” More than one of the guest speakers agreed that this was true. One of my friends, and fellow attendees, was a finalist in their writing competition, The Sandy.* I suggested to her that this was a much more laid back conference than others she might have attended. There is no banquet, and although a list of the contest winners was included in the program, and each was featured during a panel, I never heard an announcement of the overall winner(s). Possibly this information was posted.
There are no dinners provided. Instead, you are free to eat in your room. Many of the available rooms had kitchenettes or full kitchens. Or you could sample one of the many restaurants in the historic town of Crested Butte itself. The conference and most of the hotels are located in Mt. Crested Butte, which is a short (free) shuttle ride from the actual town of Crested Butte. (You might think of Mt. Crested Butte as the big fancy hotels and ski area and the town of Crested Butte as the hippie area with all the restaurants and funky shops.) One of the nicest aspects of this conference experience is that it currently is small, and even if you aren’t dining with one of the visiting writers, agents, or editors, you very well may run into them while having dinner. Or, as was the case for numerous attendees, you were invited (or tagged along) and had dinner in a large group with many of these same people.
This conference also runs its “pitch sessions” differently than most. Instead of making appointments with the agent/editors or accosting them in the elevator, never letting them have a moment’s peace, and causing many attendees to be both anxious and possibly less open to spending time with other writers, you submit your pitch and first page PRIOR to the conference. The a/e then receive a large document with all the pitches and pages and flag those they may actually be interested in. THEN an appointment is set for you to talk to the person who has preselected your material. I posit that this makes the conference atmosphere less anxious and more enjoyable for all concerned. You might wonder how those who are not selected to pitch feel? This was the second time I attended this particular conference. The first time, there was some sort of mix-up and I missed the deadline to submit. The current system is for you to be notified about a week prior to the conference if you have been given a pitch spot. If you have been, a slip of paper with the time and place is included in your registration folder. I heard nothing, but since I was doing an Advanced Read and Critique session, an add-on (as is the pitch session), I was okay with it.
There are other opportunities during the conference where you might catch an agent or editor’s attention. One is the ARC mentioned above. Another is the “first page read.” First page reads have become more common at other conferences in the last so many years, but the first one I ever participated in was at the conference five years ago. During this, someone reads a mix of first pages to a panel of editors and agents. Although you want to see how your first page is viewed, it is also educational to hear why an agent or editor might stop reading any page. The person who sets up this session mixes in some openings to books currently on the bestseller list and, yes, this does trip up the panel. This year’s panel was nicer than that of five years ago, and one manuscript was actually requested!
Other, unexpected benefits might ensue. The first day of the conference, prior to the ARC, a man who was attending asked me if I’d attended a few years ago. I said yes and didn’t think too much about it, but by the end of the weekend, I was curious why he remembered me. Had I said something especially obnoxious? He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think why he’d remember me. I hadn’t read during the open mike night. During the last session I asked him. He remembered a line from my first page read! That alone made me feel good, but the editor from my Advanced Read session had many good ideas to improve my selection and said she wanted to see it when I was done.
I consider a conference a success if I come away with at least one new writing friend. At least one other conference attendee found me on Twitter, and there is that Facebook page referenced below. I have the email address of three more, plus I know I’ll see a fourth at RMFW. One or two others also said they’d be there, and since a number of them are very tall men, I’ll more than likely see and recognize them.
If you are looking for a small, friendly conference were most of the speakers are approachable and the presentations are interesting, this is one you should look into next year!
*I currently can’t link to the conference page, but here is the link to the Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Crested-Butte-Writers/188744957828306