April and May find me–and many of us–in a time of big changes, lots of travel, and strategizing for the future. I’ve just come off 3 weekends in a row at writers’ conferences. Each one has its own vibe and focus. Some have tons of workshops, like Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace. Some are all about the speed pitch, like Writer’s Digest’s Pitch Slam. Some let you arrange for a critique of a partial manuscript that you submit in advance.

I think these conferences are tremendous opportunities for writers, but you have to consider where you are in your writing process, where you are in the country, and what you’re looking for from your conference.

Do you want face-time with agents and editors? Do you want to network with other writers? Do you want to hear a keynote speech from a writer whose work you admire or want to emulate? Do you want to pitch to a particular agent who’ll be at a conference?  Do you want to attend workshops and panels? Would you prefer they be taught by agents? Editors? Authors? Marketing professionals? Maybe you want a meal or a cocktail mixer with publishing professionals. If you can only go one day, does that day offer everything you seek, whether education, networking, or pitching?

Think about all of this before you register. It may be that the best conference for you is in your backyard. Or it may be across the country. I’ve met lovely folks in Atlanta from Georgia and from Colorado. Poets & Writers magazine, for one, talks about upcoming writers conferences. And there are plenty of online resources as well.

Have you finished writing your manuscript? If you haven’t, it is probably too soon to try pitching to agents and editors. You can still work on improving your pitch at a conference if you’re still writing, but be aware that you may frustrate agents and editors if you schedule a one-on-one apppointment with them. How so? Well, if your pitch is great and they want some–or all–of your manuscript, then what? They want it, but can’t have it. But if you have finished writing, and maybe want to revise and polish a bit more, that’s OK. Make it the best it can be before sending it out.

Above all, remember that agents and editors go to these conferences trying to find talent, and want you to succeed when you pitch them. Have a concise elevator pitch ready, take a deep breath, and tell us about your book.