For those of you who've been to one before, do you think writers conferences are worth attending?
Travel, food, and the admission price add up fast.
I would think that getting face time with agents and publishers and pitching your idea would be the best part.
But do agents or publishers of any clout even show up?
If you are new to writing, they are valuable. You get to hear real published writers tell it like it is in the industry regarding some element of writing or getting published. You get to see what the real writing world is like. There are a few agents. They are paid to be there, not trolling for clients.
You do get to pitch them. Will you make a contact that will take you to the promised land? Probably not. Don't go to the conferences that promise more than they can deliver. Find ones that focus on learning not "secrets of getting published." I've been published many times (nonficiton) and I'm telling you, there are no secrets except to begin by memorizing Strunk and White (96 knowledge-packed pages). Buy a good college dictionary and a Roget's Thesaurus. Buy a reverse dictionary so if you have the meaning you can find the word. And, always carry a bag of unsalted peanuts in case you have to feed a gerund. And if you are going to write about something, make sure you are not just rehashing what you saw on TV or read in someone else's book. Nothing turns off a pro faster than derivative writing. If Robert A Heinlein wrote it first, he also wrote it best.
I've been thinking about this also. I've been to a lot of conferences on a lot of topics and although they're sometimes interesting, they're never life changing or groundbreaking.
I live abroad so I don't have as many conference opportunities anyway.
Yes, they can be. AWP is a great one, will be here in Chicago in 2012. You get to wander the bookfair, see all of the journals/magazines, meet editors, pick up copies cheap. You can hear big name authors speak, and talk to smaller authors as well, hear panels on everything from pedagogy to sex to poetry to genre-blending. And if you have a student ID it's only $40 for the AWP entire conference. Well worth it, IMO.
What is the best way to find local writer's conferences that are legit?
Probably nearly all conventions are "legit," but some may suck.
AWP is the big one when it comes to literary fiction conventions (and there is a particular focus on academia as far as the "on-site" events). Then there's the &NOW Conference for more experimental writing. You can find listings for literary fiction conventions here: http://www.pw.org/conferences_and_residencies
If you write genre fiction, there may be conventions in your area that frequently occur. Not sure how to find them besides just keeping your eyes open or googling the genre of your choice, "convention," and the area where you live. The bigger ones as far as the conventions where writers travel from out of town to get to are The World Horror Convention, World Fantasy, HorrorFind, and Readercon. There's probably a myster/crime convention of that nature, but I'm not familiar with it.
Bouchercon is for mystery/crime. Was in STL in 2011. Cleveland in 2012.