Mystery Writers Forum

The Business of Writing => Conferences/Groups/Conventions => Topic started by: Lance Charnes on February 13, 2009, 06:37:31 PM

Title: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Lance Charnes on February 13, 2009, 06:37:31 PM
Has anyone been to one of these? If so, was it worthwhile? (
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Elena on February 15, 2009, 11:17:46 AM

I've never heard of it, but I'm highly dubious of it's effectiveness.  I'm basing this on what they present to you when you click on "About". This is usually the area where the 'whatever' is explained as to what it is and why. If you notice the entire first paragraph is devoted to slamming other conferences.

That is followed by an invitation to click on FAQ to find out more about who they are making it harder rather than easier to find out about them. Completing the page is yet another bashing complete with names of other writing conferences.

To me this says they can't think of anything good to say about themselves. In the advertising world it is considered that naming your competitors only sends your readers to them.

I'm sure if I poked around their web site I'd find out more about them, but why would I want to?

IMHO I wouldn't unlock the old pocket book just yet,
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: MarciaPost on February 27, 2011, 11:33:23 PM
Sir, I did not get the impression Elena did, rather interpreted as an attempt to show how they are different from the other writer events; and besides, the few comments made about the other conferences on the "About" page are true, very true.  Is it "bashing" if you're just telling the truth?  I and many others I know have felt like prodded cattle at places like Maui, etc.,

Also, I've been to two of the events noted on the FAQ page in question (where I don't see any more "bashing" at all???) and they perform as promised.  I had no complaints and was helped tremendously by the huge study guide, the quality of the editors and agents, and the whole program.

I encourage anyone to read the FAQ, etc., for themselves before coming to a conclusion: (


Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: John Arnold on February 28, 2011, 08:04:47 PM
I've been to three of these Algonkian Writing Conferences, including both writing conferences and a Pitch Your Book session in New York City and on the whole they provide good education for a reasonable price.  The moderator, Michael Neff, works to hold the cost down for each writer by holding conferences near hostels, etc.  He's familiar with what sells and what doesn't sell and has many contacts in the business, including many West Coast agents and NYC editors.  A novelist himself, he works to make everyone he accepts--and he doesn't accept everyone--move their project forward toward publication.  As the publishing business gets more and more difficult, I'm not convinced agents and editors have the time to read queries very easily.  Being in front of them is a definite way to improve your odds of at least getting decent feedback.  The Agonkian Writing Conferences provide, IMHO, far better value than some of the 'bigger' conferences where the interactions are increasingly staged and short-lived.

Michael Neff, who manages the Algonkian Writing Conferences, has abilities that include being a judge of a writer's platform, credentials, and talent, and moving that writer's project toward completion and publication. 
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: april4er on February 28, 2011, 09:26:10 PM
I also think it is a good idea to check out writer conferences before investing your money and time in them.  I have been to the Algonkian Writers conferences in Virginia and in NYC. 

As a beginning writer, I was looking for technique training and how to develop a good story that I would enjoy writing and that would sell.  I found that and more at the Algonkian conferences.  The Virginia conference is 5 days of intense discussion, writing exercises and pitch development.  I learned a lot about these topics from this conference, and so much more.  I also made incredible writer friends who continue to support me and my writing every day.

The NYC conference was amazing in that I was able to meet one on one with very well known and creditable publishers and agents.  Each agent and publisher took their time with me and gave me some extremely helpful advice on my plot development and pitch.

I don't think I could say enough good things about the Algonkian conferences.  Each time I finished one, I was more inspired to reach my publishing goals and become a better writer.  When I am ready to start the process of publishing, I feel confident that my manuscript will be professionally completed with a story written to the best of my abilities. 

Thank you,
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: eir on February 28, 2011, 10:43:44 PM
I attended the “From the Heart, but Smart” Algonkian Writers Conference in San Francisco this February and, despite initial fears about the low-brow nature of commercial fiction, I found the workshop to be extremely helpful. Michael Neff, a former student of Gordon Lish’s (Ray Carver's editor), knows how to craft a sentence and how to think creatively about structure and plots. The eighty-page course booklet takes you through a solid reading of some quirky classics and culls important lessons from them. Perhaps the best thing about the Algonkian Writers Conference, though, was Michael’s ability to adapt his advice to each individual project and to take it on its own terms.  I was impressed by the other writers in the workshop from day one and became even more impressed as the workshops went on--in part because Michael brought forward the best in each work.

Thanks Michael!

Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Skate on February 28, 2011, 11:11:26 PM
Hi Lance et al,
I've been to two of the Algonkian writer conferences, each very different from the other, both very valuable (to me).  I started with terrible query letters and, despite hours and months of reading and researching on the internet, no real understanding of the business of writing.

From the two conferences, I met or was connected with:
 - an editor (an EDITOR!) who wants to read my manuscript
 - an agent who I believe may give me a second glance
 - an excellent book doctor to whom I'm sending my manuscript
 - a MUCH better query/pitch
 - a rewrite that I probably wouldn't have done otherwise
 - a much better understanding of the agent-writer experience, and what I need to do
 - contacts, contacts, contacts, and serious writer friends
If that sounds as if it's worth the money, go for it.  The Algonkian writer conferences got my feet planted firmly on the path where I want to be going.  Is it hard?  Yes.  Is Michael Neff brutally honest?  Yep.  But he really, really wants you to succeed, and he doesn't scorn tough love.

Good luck with your writing!
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: citron on March 01, 2011, 12:44:15 AM

I have to echo what Skate and Eir and John Arnold said about Algonkian Conferences.  I went to the one in San Francisco, and it was radically different from any other workshop or conference I had attended.  Michael Neff's approach is simple and pragmatic - he teaches the writer to understand the perspective of the agent or editor, whose job to sell your novel.  In my case, I showed up at the workshop with a completed novel.  In the workshop, we had to write a pitch and rewrite it, then we got to practice it on a real, live agent who gave us feedback.  Bad pitch?  Rewrite it and try again a couple days later on MORE agents.  I will add that everyone brought their laptops and at one point I passed my laptop to Michael so he could vet my pitch, and he added a sentence or two, and he did this for any of us who asked.  So the conference is your basic Pitch Laboratory.  This is not to say it was easy.  I found it tremendously difficult to switch gears like this, from hardcore novel-writing to hardcore market analysis - but once I got it I felt great.  I realized I can use this very pitch in a query letter.  Or I can go to another conference and pitch a bunch of other agents in person.  Another thing we got to do was to ask questions of the agents - and this, again, de-mystified the whole process.  Totally worth the price of admission, and I won't hesitate to go again.  And Skate is right - if you end up in his workshop you will find that Michael Neff really wants you to sell your novel.

good luck!
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Burr Snider on March 01, 2011, 03:13:19 PM
I got two invaluable things out of the recent Algonkian Writers Conference in San Francisco. One was the repeated admonition to utilize all the tools of the craft. Even those of us who've written for a living forever can always use this reminder. A carpenter wouldn't attempt to frame a house without tools and neither should a writer ever sit down without his or her full arsenal at hand. Michael Neff is relentless in this regard and his course workbook is a terrific repository of techniques, devices, tricks and clear advice. Secondly, The Algonkian Writers Conference is a no-nonsense primer on all that need be done to prepare a manuscript for presentation. Michael consistently underscores the fact that publishing is a hard-hearted racket driven solely by the profit motive. Agents are deluged with thousands of MS yearly and only a few are ever advanced to a publisher. Hence, a pitch, a log line and a synopsis must be absolutely sensational to garner even the slightest attention. In that regard, this is not a feel-good seminar. Some hearts were broken and some treasured ideas were trashed by the agents who attended. But from the first hour of the first day Michael emphasized the cold facts and discouraging numbers of the trade, urging us to beat the odds by avoiding the errors and pitfalls of the amateurs. Now, there is some unavoidable tedium associated with such a gathering, when people are working on projects that seem silly or meaningless to you, but I found it helpful to pay attention to everyone's presentation in order to hone mine to a better polish. In doing so I discovered that the focus of my project needed to be compressed and a new angle of attack implemented. Honestly, I'm returning to work energized by the five days spent with Michael Neff and the aspiring writers I befriended.
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Bob Mueller on March 01, 2011, 06:36:09 PM
We've had a flurry of new members sign up in the last day or so, and all of you have taken the opportunity to make your first post a reply to a thread that's just over two years old. Please take a moment to introduce yourselves in the Welcome Wagon Thread, or the specific post that welcomed you in the Chat section.
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: MarciaPost on March 01, 2011, 08:39:52 PM
Bob, hi, I just bumped into this post for the first time a few days ago on google and thought to respond.

I hope no MWF rules are being broken.

Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Sally Henry on March 02, 2011, 12:03:31 AM
I recently attended the Algonkian Writers Conference in San Francisco and found the experience to be invaluable.  Michael Neff led the conference with ethics and integrity.  He clearly explained the tools needed to successfully write and publish including reviewing tension, plot outline, character development, dialogue, and perfecting a pitch and synopsis.  Michael Neff carefully and relentlessly worked with each writer to assist them in polishing their pitch for agents and troubleshooting the novel in general.  This was exactly where I needed to be.  Some of the feedback was, indeed, sobering, but I wasn't promised the conference would be a string of feelgood sessions.  The work we accomplished was real and the feedback was real.  I concur with the review submitted by Burr Synder on February 28, 2011.  My thanks goes to Michael Neff for his patience and attention to detail in designing a writer's conference that was truly meaningful. 
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Lola on March 02, 2011, 12:08:37 AM
When I walked into the February Algonkian Writers Conference in February 2011 I was immediately intimidated. I was far from having a complete novel, let alone ready to pitch or discuss it. Throughout the course's five days, and with the assistance of instructor, Michael Neff -- and my brilliant peers -- I was able to give my proposed story idea structure and format. It helped me narrow down my vision for a novel.
The pitch process was more difficult than I had expected but after several rewrites, allowed me to explore different directions with the story. Even more helpful was pitching my novel to an agent panel that provided me with invaluable critiques of my work-in-progress. Although I was lucky enough to walk away with some very useful advice (an agent even pulled me aside to talk), this was not for the feint of heart. Some aspiring novelists were deflated by the harsh critiques... however, Michael Neff's advance warning of the severity and true-to-life pitch environment had certainly thickened their skin.
I was inspired by my fellow writers and am optimistic each novel will find its way to a bookstore near me (even in Canada!) Their ideas and imaginations were unparalleled and I can't wait to read their finished work.
Although I felt the Algonkian Writers Conference may have been too advanced for me (given my lack of novel), it was an incredible experience and now I'm really ready to exercise my chops! Thank you!
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: machonerd on March 02, 2011, 02:53:31 AM
The Algonkian Writers Conference is equal parts:

• a PITCH-IT-TO-ME BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER WORKSHOP in which Michael Neff will help you hone how you talk about/describe your story (your pitch) so that you can pique agent and/or reader interest in your work effectively.
• a KNEE JERK REACTION SESSION WITH LITERARY AGENTS in which working literary agents will give you feedback on your pitch, your premise and how they might react to your work. Additionally, they'll probably tell you if they think you're putting it in the wrong genre or if it sounds too much like something they've already seen (or seen a lot of). If your lucky, they'll love your idea, give you a business card and ask you to please send your work when it's ready (this alone is worth the price of admission).
• a PANORAMIC PICTURE OF THE PUBLISHING WORLD so that when the conference is over, you know exactly what's going for you, what your up against and what it's going to take to become a published author.

Additionally, between the different sessions, writing exercises and discussions, you'll get a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Is your description sloppy/boring? Do your stories lack tension (ahem ... does your story lack story?!)? Are you revealing secrets too early or making things too convenient for your protagonist? While the conference doesn't evaluate your merits or your potential, it does expose you to some great best-practices so that you can answer these questions for yourself and improve your manuscript before you send it off.

If you're serious about your writing and, more importantly, about being a published author, Michael Neff's Algonkian Writers Conferences are a great way to arm yourself with the knowledge and tools to make it happen (while avoiding the pitfalls and landmines that set so many others back).
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: harrijsh on March 02, 2011, 05:39:31 PM
Just wanted to add here that I have been to two Algonkian Conferences (both in NYC and VA) and plan on going to San Fran. this summer.  They are invaluable.  Depending on the conference I have had the chance to meet with and receive feedback from editors, publishers, agents, and other writers...I'm probably even leaving something out.  The feedback has been anywhere from content to writing style to voice and I know this is true for the other attendees that have gone as well because I still keep in contact with many of them.  Michael Neff truly wants to see all his participants published and strives to help them in any way he can, even providing contact after the conferences.  I highly recommend this conference to any writer who wants to get published and get some real "in the gut" feedback on your writing.  Thanks Algonkian Conferences...keep up the amazing job!
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: paulawilliams on March 03, 2011, 12:36:21 AM
Attending the Algonkian Writers Conference at Fisherman's Wharf twice and two of the three-day conferences has been nothing short of a life-changing experience. I expected sharp inspection of my premise and got it. I wanted practical application of craft and got it. And most importantly, I needed the truth about my writing, and got it . . . and more.  The focus of the five-day workshop at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco led me to fashion my novel based on the market. Through the direction of the facilitator, Michael Neff, I've created a viable commercial project and pitched my premises to various agents, several of which want to read my finished MSs. As a result, I'm creating novels I can be proud of and which will be a commercially viable. The Algonkian Writers Conference is an investment in time and money I've never regretted.
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: jitaska on March 04, 2011, 08:27:41 PM
I attended Michael Neff’s Algonkian Writer’s Conference in December and the NYC Pitch and I found both very worthwhile. The emphasis is on how to make your manuscript marketable. Michael Neff spent an incredible amount of time and energy working with each attendee honing our plots and showing how to enhance the level of writing.  The Algonkian Writer’s Conference Virginia was a very full five days of good value for any writer who wants to be a better one and a saleable one. Oh, and I can’t end without saying that the setting on the banks of the Potomac and the comfortable cabins, the good company of fellow writers, who have become good friends, and the excellent food, were well worth the money.  Joan  :D
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Dashwood55 on March 07, 2011, 09:00:34 PM
I just got back from the Algonquian writers Conference in San Francisco.  I found the five days to be well organized, helpful and really worth the time and money it took to attend.  In addition to working on our writing, we were able to meet with five literary agents and pitch our book ideas as well as meeting with a publisher and a publicist who discussed the market, publicity and pre production tasks to make our work sell.  I came away energized and ready to put Michael Neff’s suggestions into place.  I would recommend this conference highly to anyone wanting real world access to publishers and agents, as well as getting the pitch and pitch concept down cold.  Steve Heinrich – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: NealAllen on March 10, 2011, 02:30:44 PM
To me, the scorecard mentality for the Algonkian conference isn’t reflective of its real value. I didn’t go into it expecting to get published, and I came out of it with some important reality checks and other helpful knowledge that ultimately can make me a better and more publishable writer.

So here’s what I found I had joined: In the room were fifteen fiction writers, mostly unpublished and mostly genre writers -- mystery, YA, vampire, zombie, historical, fictionalized memoir, horror/mystery -- and a few literary fiction writers.

Michael Neff had us do some warm-up exercises before and during the first day, and then we delivered our first draft pitches. All of them needed work. Shortening, tightening, adding, whatever. More important, it was clear that the plotting and characterizations in the books in most cases needed similar work. Refining the pitch became a litmus test for the dramatic urgency and general marketability of the text. That was the unspoken theme for the next few days. If something was flawed to him, Neff’s attitude was that it was a great opportunity to find a substitute for the flaw, and make the book even more marketable. In most – not all – cases, the writer saw eye to eye, and in some cases clearly had been unwilling to face up to a bad decision that something inside them knew was a bad decision. That’s why we all need readers and editors!

Yes, most of my fellow writers thought the point of the pitch was to get the agents to buy into the book’s concept. I was probably in a minority in not caring so much about that. But most of the value that I noticed that people actually got was seeing where their books were flawed in tone, voice, plotting, arc or characterizations. All of that was visible without anyone reading a single passage from their manuscript.

By the second day when the agents started to appear, most of the pitches were ready. The agents were struck by how many good pitches they were hearing. They were dropping their cards, and coming up to individuals afterward and asking to see the manuscripts. Just as telling, when the agents were skeptical of a pitch, they were in amazing lockstep with what Michael Neff had predicted and talked about with each of us as we refined our pitches beforehand. The weaknesses he saw, if they were still in the pitches, turned off the agents. So much in publishing is fashion, especially in genre publishing. Fairies are done. Zombies are on their last legs. Oh, that’s a twist to vampires I haven’t heard; show me more. For YA to work, the lead girl has to be recognizable here and here and here. Is your protagonist doing that? Those sorts of things. I pitched literary fiction, and the questions were the same kind.

As writers we would like to think that our rhetoric is most important. The writing is what sells, right? But agents have two gates: Plot and writing. The value of the pitch is that it persuades them that this beautifully written manuscript won’t devolve into 200 pages of angst and interior dialogue without action. Their main task day and night is to read and read and read. The pitch gives them the OK to take a longer chance on a book.

And while a hugely flawed plot can’t be improved by an editor, badly flawed writing can. There isn’t such a thing as a “good enough” plot. But there is such a thing as “good enough” writing. Go to a bookstore and pick up the books with the glossy jackets.

Meanwhile, Michael Neff took us through a lot of pithy, great readings and notes on how to outline and manage plot. I came away with five or six tools for making my process of plotting and writing more efficient. How many workshops offer that? If you’re like me, it had been many years since I refreshed my vocabulary for plotting and characterization. Neff has some brilliant little tools. They integrate well with the pitch refinement, too.

He’s no Marilynne Robinson or Bharati Mukherjee, two writers I’ve been lucky enough to study with. They helped me learn how to build a sentence, and maintain a voice. But I daresay that a much smaller percentage of the people in one of their workshops will eventually publish a novel than people in Neff’s. Part of it’s self-selection. Just being that interested in an agent-centric workshop means the writer is that hungry to produce a readable, publishable book. Lots of literary workshop participants are stuck in wanting to be a better writer qua beautiful phrases, of wanting to be more self-expressive, and those can be identities that don’t result in writing that carries the interest of a general audience. Readers have expectations, and a pitch exercise hones the book to the readers’ expectations.

I think the agents probably do automatically give a better look at a manuscript from a client of one of Neff’s workshops. But that’s not the whole value. I got some good practice on my chops during the workshop, and immediately afterward started churning out stories with much more efficiency than before. I didn’t expect to get a book published from attending, but I have no doubt that I will get a book published quicker because of what I heard and learned.
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Lance Charnes on March 12, 2011, 01:26:23 PM
Enough already, people! One or two almost-identical gushing reviews would've been enough. After twelve, I have to wonder if I've asked about a cult.

I look forward to your comments on some of the 1278 other posts on this forum.
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: linda on March 12, 2011, 11:24:45 PM
As a long time member of this site, I find the sudden influx of "one post" new members who are only posting about the Algonkian Writer Conference to be suspicious, at best.

If I'd had any inclination to go to the conference, these posts have certainly persuaded me not to.   When a group of new members start posting on the wonderful qualities of a conference, and only about that conference, I get the distinct feeling I'm part of a marketing blitz. 

This is especially true when one mentions that they found us on Google.  Apparently they're googling the conference and then commenting on it in other sites.

I know I have a tendency to be suspicious, but I don't feel that I'm wrong in this case.  The Algonkian Writer Conference is definitely OFF my list of conferences that I would attend, or ones that I would recommend.

Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: MarciaPost on March 15, 2011, 07:12:17 PM
This is all my fault.  A small group of people were asked to respond to the negative comment and it went viral, got out of control, that's all.  These views were all freely expressed, and all by distinct individuals who actually attended the events. 

Please tell the regulars here we sincerely apologize!!! 
Title: Re: Algonkian Writer Conferences
Post by: Bob Mueller on March 15, 2011, 07:29:58 PM
Let's go ahead and call this one done.

I sincerely invite our newest members to poke around and make themselves at home. This site is about writing, and we welcome discussion about writing.
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