The Space Needle. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
One week has gone by since the end of the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writer's Association) conference in SeaTac, WA, and I'm ready to discuss my experience.
The conference went from Thursday September 21st through mid-day Sunday September 24th. It all took place within a hotel by the Seattle-Tacoma airport. The conference offered some master classes (for extra cost), seminars on various topics, quick 20 minute discussions, pitch sessions (speed-dating style and 1:1), dinners with some infotainment, a raffle, and a movie night (for extra cost). There were 4 publishers and 7 agents who took pitches, and many published authors, both traditional and indie/self-published who presented.
I stayed at the hotel holding the conference and packed all my own food because little about the conference indicated any food was included (dinners were, as well as one brunch). My hotel room had no microwave or fridge though, so this became an ordeal. However, I do recommend packing your own lunches (and breakfasts if the hotel doesn't offer it) because the pre-ordered food was extremely expensive and the traffic around the airport made getting to or from a restaurant a daunting task. Food that was included with the conference was decent, no complaints.
I didn't pay for any master classes, so I can't confirm or deny their value. Most of the seminars I attended were a little too basic for me, but I'm sure were great info for others. I took notes and did write down some great nuggets of info. Though I will say the two sessions about prepping pitches (one how-to and one practicing with others) contradicted each other often. One class that everyone raved about, taught by Damon Suede, I missed for my pitch session. There was also a great class about mystery taught by an ex-spy. Many presenters had their books in a mini-Barnes and Noble, and they were all happy to sign books. (Excellent for gift shopping!)
One pitch session came free with conference registration, and you could select ahead of time which of four sessions to attend. The pitch session itself was crowded and required standing in line to pitch to who you wanted. I was able to pitch three people, since I was first in the room. Many people only had time to pitch two. I found this more chaotic than the format I've had at other conferences, where all the pitches are 1:1 and scheduled every five minutes. Eventually, there were 1:1 pitch sessions, and I stumbled into a free slot (they were supposed to cost extra). This was much smoother and removed the stress of wondering if or when I'd be able to pitch who I wanted. I got four requests from my four total pitches!
Like my experiences at other conferences, meeting new people was the most valuable part. I worked hard to make sure to small talk with anyone I ended up around--in lines, waiting to pitch, at meals, between classes. Everywhere. I'm not an extrovert, but I pretty much just pretended to be one. I met writers in my area and connected with so many people I want to keep in contact with. This is the truly most valuable part of any conference.
Is It Worth It?
I'm going to answer this question in two ways.
First: is a writing conference in general worth the cost?
Look at a couple items: what does the cost of admission include (example: food, pitch sessions, contests, how many days, are any big names going to be there, etc.)? What does it not include (example: hotel--although there may be a room block discount, food, master classes or special events)? What is the cost of travel to get there?
Do that math and then ask yourself if that price is worth the experience on offer plus the people you'll meet.
Second: is PNWA specifically worth the cost?
Registration: $425, since I am a member and registered early. ($575 for non-members by the time the early-bird pricing ended)
Hotel: over $800 for four nights (I checked in the night before to avoid commuter traffic heading toward Seattle.)
Food: $0 (packed it)
Movie night: $30, it was very entertaining and honestly on par with the price of a theater. Free snacks.
Extra pitch slots: $0, though I lucked my way into a free one.
Books: $50 at the mini-Barnes and Noble and got one signed
What I got: lots of good notes, four requests for pages, and invaluable connections to local writers who I never would have met otherwise. (Struggle with finding friends as an adult? Go to a conference for your hobby/passion and you'll make some!)
So is PNWA worth the cost? Will I go again next year (assuming life doesn't throw a wild curveball)? Yes!
*Caveat: I realize those are some high prices. Boy am I glad I have a nice day job! If those prices are not worth it to you, please note that all of the agents and most of the publishers who were at the conference take cold queries. Most of the classes were from people who also teach online or have a book version of their class for much cheaper. If you want to network with other writers in your area but can't afford a conference, check out what critique groups might be meeting, or what free or lower cost events might be hosted by groups like PNWA. Attending a conference is not a requirement to get published!
Did you attend PNWA or another conference this year? Want to tell other people to come to your conference, or warn them away? Let's discuss in the comments!