Should You Go to a Writers’ Conference?
People frequently ask me whether they should invest the time and money to go to a writers’ conference. In my opinion, it can be a valuable experience whether you’re agented or not, published or not. But especially if you’re neither.
I could write pages and pages about the value of a conference, but in the end it comes down to a personal decision about how to spend your time and money. Here are some things to think about:
1. If it’s a financial hardship, then it’s usually not the right thing to do. There will always be more conferences, perhaps at a better time financially.
2. Making a commitment to attend conferences regularly (once a year if you can) signals to yourself and your family that you’re taking this whole writing thing seriously; that you’re treating it as a business and a profession, not just a hobby.
3. The workshops available at conferences are valuable for continuing to improve your writing. Even authors who are multi-published attend workshops because they want to keep growing as writers.
4. The intangible value of networking and making friends with other writers can be life-changing for someone who’s used to toiling all alone on the computer (even with online friends). Interacting with like-minded people is validating, encouraging, and downright fun.
5. The opportunity to meet with agents and editors is, of course, a major draw for most writers. Conferences are pretty much the only place you can do this.
6. I think it’s important to feel that you’re part of something larger than yourself. Going to a conference helps you to feel like you’re part of the writing and publishing community at large.
Q4U: Those of you who’ve been to conferences: Why do you go? What would you say to someone trying to decide if they should jump in?
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I couldn't agree more. Last year's ACFW conference was invaluable for me. It defined for me what agents meant by "The story has great potential, but the craft needs work." I realized after the conference just how much work.
Unfortunately, this year I'm resonating with #1 in your list. There is just no way for me to make this years conference. And it's killing me. Basically, the needs of my family come first.
One of the reasons I appreciate your blog is that it gives us a way to connect with you outside the conferences. Though, nothing beats a face-to-face discussion.
>Point number 1 is why I don't attend any conferences. Hopefully some time in the future I'll be able to find one or two I can attend, even just once.
>What would I say to someone? GO… definitely go! I've been to a number of the Surrey Int'l Writers' Conferences near Vancouver, Canada, and always come away invigorated and inspired. Even if you don't have a finished manuscript to promote there is so much to learn at the workshops, so much benefit from the interaction with other writers and publishing professionals. So, GO!
>When a friend invited me to attend a writers' conference with her, I thought, "I've been teaching writing for over a decade. Why do I need to attend a writers' conference?"
How wrong I was! Writers' conferences introduced me to a whole new world of friendships with others who share my passion for writing, of learning how to pitch projects to editors and agents, and eventually, of teaching at writers' conferences.
Best investment I EVER made.
>Thank you for your post! I have never been to a writer's conference and have wanted to for years. I forwarded the link of your post to my husband to help convince him that it is worth the time and money! Thank you!
>I just got back from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conferece in LA and it was invaluable. I've been to this conference twice before, and, every time, I leave with a wealth of information, lasting friendships, and new inspiration.
>I can't emphasize how valuable writers conferences are to the new author. All of the reasons above PLUS the fact they work. I have acquired Camy Tang, Lisa Harris, karl Bacon, Deborah Vogts and Cheryl Rickers–all from conferences.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that this is a business conference. Yes, networking and socializing is fun and a huge benefit. But be prepared to work. Know which editors and agents you want to see. Go to workshops, get critiques, practice your pitch. This is the best opportunity you will ever have to improve your chances of getting published.
>I learned about so many conferences through reading this blog-thank you! I have attended three SCBWI conferences and enjoyed them however I learned more about the craft of writing through the Highlights Foundation week at Chautauqua and a novel workshop at Boyds Mills. I highly recommend the Highlights Foundation workshops. I can't wait to return in October and spend a weekend with seven new friends refining our novels and soaking up our teacher's every word. Our experience together last May was one I will never forget. Magical bonding with others who share a love for story.
>It's a struggle for me to go to conferences because I don't know if I can get the most from my money. Not because of the conference contents — but because of my hearing loss. I'm a lipreader and wear out easily at conferences.
I attended sxsw twice and had a great job. But I worked behind the scenes, so I only had to pay for travel and hotel.
I was contemplating a conference, but it decided for me as it takes place at the same time as a major holiday. So not meant to be.
>I got three immensely valuable things from my writing conference (Squaw Valley Writers Conference):
1) Affirmation that I could write well, and that my novel was salable
2) Some great comments from a well-known author and respected editor that I later used to open my query letter
3) Wonderful writing friends who have been test readers and have been incredibly supportive
PS And my first novel just sold.
>Close to home & affordable: YES. Set aside your dreams of instant success, go to a conference near you, and be helpful. Actually listen to other writers instead of pouring out your own story. Meet people and care about them. Worry less about your future career path and more about being God's kind of person right here and right now.
>Or you could look to the top of my blog sidebar under "Quick Links" and click on "List of Writers Conferences."
>Sharon, try this link.
>I have never been to a conference. I don't even know how to find out where and when.
I would appreciate specifics about some conferences, especially if there are any in or near Arkansas
>Last year I started with a small 2-day conference close to home. I got to have lunch with the presenters and met some wonderful people (published and not) with whom I still correspond.
This year I did the Write-to-Publish (a 5-day trip to another state) as well as returning to the 2-day ACW conference near home. I went to WTP first and really didn't think I'd get anything out of the ACW (since two weeks earlier I had been at the bigger event). I was SO wrong!
It was as if the WTP prepped me to absorb EVERYTHING at the ACW conference. I thought I'd get to the point when I'd "heard it all" and wouldn't need to hear it again. Instead, I just became more aware of what I DON'T know and that helped me know which classes to take.
I'm really looking forward to next year!
>Realized that it's been a LONG time since I've attended a writer's conference – and it's time. I'd planned on registering for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in Denver next month, but now I'm really excited to go!
>Also — if you're short on funds, most conferences allow you to apply for a scholarship!
>I try to go to two or three conferences a year. One thing I realized is that a specialized conference (like an SCBWI one for me because I write YA) is usually way more valuable because it's tailored and you meet people who speak your language and work in your area of the business. I enjoy small conferences (I'm heading to Rutgers One-on-One in the fall), but a large one ever so often just wows you, and you usually get to see some big-name authors speak. (I saw Frank McCourt at an AWP conference and it was amazing.)
Either way, I find conferences revitalizing and inspiring, though some much more than others. And it's fantastic to get a nametag with your name and "Writer" beneath it — heck yes, that's you. A Writer with a capital W.
>Thanks for the comments. I'm heading to my first conference (SCBWI), and I'm excited. For me, I haven't gone in the past because I wasn't ready to put myself out there. So, it's a commitment to writing as more than a hobby.
>I recently blogged about how I pay for writer's conferences, check it out:
>PNWA, this summer, first writers conference, no regrets. What did I get from the conference?
1. Met fellow beginning writers and realized all of us are unsure, have varying degrees of confidence, and that we need to support each other as best we can. To that end, have joined a writers critique group composed of people I met at PNWA. We have our first meeting this week.
2. Spoke with three agents. All were interested in my manuscript. I had an amazing one on one pitch meeting with an agent who read my first page and asked to read the first 100 pages when my manuscript is ready to show (which will be by this October as I am finishing last two chapters, then will revise).
3. Attended workshops that offered insight on the industry, advice on writing techniques, and gave me a chance to see agents and authors (vs unpublished writers) as real people, too!
What did I "put in"? Because I believe in give and take, I had to be willing to put myself out there in order to get anything back. Turned my query in to be read at a pitch workshop, agents seemed to like it, gave me encouragement to continue. Because often what we are seeking is validation. Validation that our ideas are worthwhile, that our writing is not all crud, that we can indeed make a connection to others out there (readers).
It is also important to be prepared to attend a conference, whatever point you may be at in your writing career. Because my manuscript was not complete, I focused on two things – my query letter (so it would be good to go when man. is ready) and the first chapter. Especially the first three pages. And because I did work so hard on those first pages, I felt confident (o.k, not really, but figured I'd done all I could with the first few pages), I was able to hand over that first page to the agent. And what do you know, she liked it enough to ask to read more.
Baby steps…think about what you need to focus on right now and say maybe in the next two or three months. Then go to the conference with those more immediate goals in mind. I found that kept me focused and gave me the push/confidence to work at my next goal (completing my first manuscript).
Yes, it was hard to come up with the funds to go. But yes, it was worth it. And I think attending shows agents and editors you are serious about your writing. I'm not saying you are not serious if you cannot or do not attend a writers conference. But I think the agents you meet at a conference are maybe even more open to hearing your pitch. They attend to find new writers…future authors. Having their ear (or both) just gives you that extra edge to show them your story holds promise.
>I go because I love the fellowship and the workshops, and I don't want to miss the opportunity to meet with editors and agents face to face.
FYI, for advice on attending conferences (specifically the American Christian Fiction conference) check out the ACFW blog: http://www.acfw.com/blog.
All the best,
Annette M. Irby
>For two years and three manuscripts into my writing journey, I didn’t attend conferences or read books on writing. Why spend my minimal spare time learning to write when I can just write? This way of thinking got me nowhere fast, so I finally gave in. I attended local conferences at first and learned the nuts and bolts. After four years and ten conferences, I stopped learning and looked for something more advanced. I attended my first American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville. Boy did I learn. I joined an awesome critique group through the organization and learned some more. Last year was my fourth ACFW conference and my first sale resulted from a meeting with JoAnne Simmons of Barbour’s Heartsong Presents. I’m going this year to network and take all the marketing classes. In writing, you never stop learning and the friends I’ve made are invaluable. They get me, as only other writers can.
As for money, God has provided the funds for me. Each year, it seems to fall out of the clear blue sky.
If nothing else, buy the syllabus (an absolute steal) or CD (a fraction of conference cost). This way you don't have the face to face experience, but you still learn.
>Yes, go to a writer's conference for all the reasons Rachelle listed.
Especially as a beginner, you can learn the major players in the business, get professional feedback on your manuscripts, and understand that writing is a craft you can learn, not an esoteric guild open only to the elite.
And, sometimes, God has unexpected plans. Like the time at Write-to-Publish when Jane Johnson Struck of Today's Christian Woman, invited me to submit an article.
I'd given her the one-sentence summary, but I was so tired (from over-excitement) that I could not answer when she said, "Tell me more."
"Well, send it to me. I'll take a look," she said, with a smile.
That article, from 2007, is still online.
If you can afford it and you're serious about writing, those divine appointments can accelerate your career.
>I was already planning on commenting, and I knew I had to when I saw Lee Lofland's comment. Lee's Police Academy for writers at the Mad Anthony was the first conference I attended, and Lee gave me my first professional critique. He provided some helpful comments (read as kind, but brutally honest)on my manuscript which really helped me improve it.
Well, I just got back from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers' Conference, just my second writers' conference, where I pitched my completed manuscript–with some very glowing feedback and a request for a proposal from both an agent and an editor!
Still far from a sale, but I've really enjoyed both conferences, and would love to attend more of them. Now if only I could sell my book to pay for it!
>Well, I'm quite partial to writers conferences since I sold my first book to an editor while attending one. I also met my agent at a writers conference.
I normally attend 12 – 16 conferences each year as a presenter and I absolutely love going to these things. You just can't match the synergy that comes along with surrounding yourself with your peers in a conference environment.
I'm a huge fan of networking as part of this business – it's an almost must these days. Venues such as blogs (I also write a fairly successful blog – 27,000 visitors each day), Facebook, and Twitter work well, but there's no better way to meet people than to do it face to face at a popular conference.
A good example of how much I believe in conferences is the The Writers Police Academy. I started it last year and the second event is scheduled for April 2010.
Do yourself a favor and attend a conference of your choice as soon as you're able and comfortable with doing so. You'll never regret it.
>I attended my first conference planning a special session with the agents, allowing them to line up and pitch me on why I should select them as my representative. Knowing full well that my just-around-the-corner, international, multi-published success would keep me busier than a liar in a single's bar, I reluctantly came to the conclusion it would be my one and only conference…
>Wow, this post came at the right time. I was deliberating between going to the ACFW conference next month or feeding and sheltering my family. Thanks, Rachelle, for helping making the choice clear!
>I've been to a few conferences, big and small, near and far. It's nice to be around other writers and there's always something to learn. This year I'm attending the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in October. They have a great line up of agents, authors and editors. Can't wait to go and make new friends!
>When a beginning writer asks me for advice, the first thing I say is to attend a conference. Writing is a business like any other. You have to commit to spending some money on it with conferences and writing books. it's crucial. You learn lots of the nuts and bolts, but even more important is the networking that takes place. This is important even for published authors. I had many books published when I went to Mt Hermon in 2002 and met my Ami McConnell. I still remember sitting on the floor outside the professional track class and telling her about my Rock Harbor series. My agent had sent it to her several months before but she hadn't looked at it. After that face-to-face meeting, she went back to her office, read it and bought it and I've been with Thomas Nelson ever since. That would not have happened without that personal contact.
ACFW is coming up next month and it's fabulous for fiction authors. You won't find more agents and editors gathered together in one place. My best friends are other authors and those friendships all started with conference. Conference is a priority for me and always will be. You never stop learning in this business. You never arrive. Conference is where you keep walking up that mountain!
>I've been to three Writing for the Soul conferences and will be at ACFW next month.
Honestly, I approached my first conference thinking that I could walk away with a book contract. I quickly learned how this business really works. (Blushing since I also learned how much my craft needed improving.)
Since then, I look at conferences as an investment in my (fledgling) writing career. Get the training. Meet the people in the business. Make friendship connections. Go home inspired to write.
People of all professions go to training seminars. I am a professional writer and do the same.
>Albuquerque used to have one large yearly conference, but Southwest Writers gave it up for numerous small conferences. Years ago, I went to two of the large conferences–what could be better than meeting famous writers, agents, and editors? Plus, ABQ is a short drive for me, so no plane ticket required. The shorter, day-long conferences simply can't provide the same variety of writers and agents/editors.
>For someone new to writing non-fiction like me, the three conferences I attended so far have provided great inspiration and information to "get up to speed". The experience I've gained in pitching to agents and publishers and sending in the requested proposals and sample chapters have been invaluable in guiding me on my journey.
It was very interesting by my third conference to be sharing with other writers about my lessons learned and provide some input that helped them–even though I was new at the whole process myself.
>When I attended the BEA I had a blast. Writers are the nicest people and the agents we're so kind and open to listening. I would go again if I didn't have to hop a plane to do it. It can be expen$ive.
>I say to someone wondering if they should jump in: Go. Big or small, near or far, go to a conference.
>I also go for all the reasons you gave. Of course I've only been to two and they were both small (under 300 attendees) but I still learned a great deal.
I'd like to go to a bigger conference someday, like RWA or ACFW. But it's currently a bit of a financial stretch so that will have to be something that waits.
I am hoping I can go to AFCW next year since it will be in Indy and that's only a 2 hour drive away for me.
>My first writer's conference last year was like making the decision to walk through the door. Attending a big conference, full of people who all "get it" was a life-changing experience for me. I never realized there were so many normal-looking people who walk around talking to themselves, scribble murder plots on their church bullitins, and obssess over passive verbs the way I did. If you are struggling with "being on the fence" about whether a writing career is really for you, I urge you to attend a conference. You'll know by the end if this is your thing.
I can't attend ACFW this year, but am already planning for next year. Everyone, have a fantastic time and I hope I meet many of you at next year's ACFW.
>Find out what bar the out-of-town agents and editors are frequenting… go there!
Haste yee back 😉
>Going to writers conferences helps you become comfortable in your own writer's skin. Helps you know you are not weird. You will feel more at home at a writers conference than any other time in your life.
>For newbies, conferences are great eye openers. They teach the how's and why's. Plus, they connect people. Meeting publishing execs who can open doors, cut deals, hear pitches, fine-tune ideas and refine our craft is priceless.
Can't afford the biggies? Smart small. It's getting out there — and being in the mix — that seems to matter most. (Thanks, Rachelle, for the question.)
>This year I asked for a trip to the Midwest Writers Workshop for my birthday. I looked forward to it all spring and summer (Feb – July) and it was worth every minute and every penny!
The manuscript eval with a known writer in my genre saved a viable novel from the trunk and I actually . . . talked . . . with a living breathing literary agent without sustaining any injury. We didn't make a love connection, but I got some great feedback on my query and believe that project is viable as well (she laughed in the right places and didn't roll her eyes or tsk tsk).
I will be going back and hopefully on one other next year. I even threw my name in as a presenter, I have expertise in a topic (copyright law) they might find interesting.
Love live conferences and those who put them on and teach at them.
>I've never been to one. Someday!!
>I've gone to two conferences and the many things I've learned in the workshops have influenced my writing tremendously. But more than that, these conferences connected me to writing friends that I've only had the opportunity to "see" online. Both conferences were wonderful investments in my writing, and I also had the chance to have a one-on-one critique of my work. That was very helpful and encouraging. I love conferences!
>My first conference was She Speaks last year, which was a great nuts & bolts of writing conference. This year I went to Greater Philly Write His Answer, and I'm already planning Blue Ridge for next May!
It is expensive, but I enjoyed the community with peers, not to mention the lessons learned. If you can afford it, go. But I absolutely wouldn't break the bank to go. It's more networking than anything else.
>I've been to a few 1-2 day conferences and was hooked right away. It's a time for fellowship and learning.
I'm able to attend the ACFW conference in Denver next month, so that'll be exciting.
If you're serious about the craft, conferences are way worth the money!!
>Be prepared, but don't sweat the small stuff. It is inevitable that no matter how thoroughly you've vetted your proposal you'll find a typo two minutes before meeting with an editor or agent. Don't freak out. It'll hardly be the first typo they've seen.
Go instead with the idea of forming relationships. Because truly that is so much easier to do in person than via the computer. There is a certain kind of synergy that develops at a conference and it is so wonderful to drink from that well of inspiration. Don't miss out on that because you are too focused on the minutiae of how your meeting with the editor of your dreams will go, or later, how it went. Relax ad enjoy and you will get so much more out of the experience!
>I arrived at my first conference full of misgivings and doubt. I left with a clear mandate to write and the beginnings of friendships that continue to this day. I still attend conferences, and can second every reason you've given. I believe the networking and collegiality are just as important as the educational aspects. And, of course, there is (or can be) a clear spiritual benefit to the experience.
>I have learned at every conference I have been to. I don't understand someone saying don't go to learn. I also learn from writing books and online courses.
The conference takes a writer to the next level.
>My first conf. was a small writer's retreat, and it really helped me prepare for ACFW last year. I had my first taste of *being* with other authors and having to talk about my baby (the written one… not human ones)
ACFW last year was my first one, and oh my, it's exactly what I needed. I had a manuscript I was editing, but got some great tips on HOW to edit it. Just being in the physical presence of so many writers inspired me to write more.
My advice is to pray about it. Neither year did we really have *extra* money laying around. But God provided and made a way each time when I gave the choice up to Him whether or not I should go.
I am SO excited this year (have been doing a funny conf. prep series on Monday's on my blog… it's getting me in the *conference* mood BIG time!) I feel more confident as a writer this year and am looking forward to seeing new friends and old friends alike, and learning a bunch of new stuff:-)
>I'd never been to a conference (too expensive) until I found one for twenty dollars, including dinner! It was short, but great. Chris Roerden, who wrote Don't Sabotage Your Submission, was the speaker. It helped me take my writing to the next level, and I learned all the little details that took my writing to a professional level. The book is well worth the price. I use it whenever I edit I a novel.
>I've been to four of the last five ACFW conferences, and I think they're invaluable for all the reasons you mentioned. I've learned much from the workshops, I've gotten some great meetings with editors and I've had a chance to network that I wouldn't get anywhere else. Plus, being out of my crazy house for four days really helps rejuvenate me.
>It's always so good to refuel with like-minded people in this solitary profession.
>I have been to two writing conferences and I really think conferences are great for networking but not so great for information. Meeting people and getting your name out there is huge at a conference especially if you have a blog. If you are in the “writing is all about who you know” camp then this is reason alone to attend a conference.
If you are pitching a book it is a necessity because you will have face time with publisher/agent.
If you are going just to learn more about writing then you can save your money by reading this blog and others like it. The information is out there. If you are like me and the cost of a conference is an enormous expense (whereby $2,000 might as well be $200,000 then I’d try a writing course/workshop at your nearest college).
>I have made so many friends at conferences. These friends are people I talk to about my kids, college choices, job opportunities and writing. Sharing ideas and goals with people who understand is so exciting. The experience goes beyond the price of the conference.
It's so worth it.
>I started attending at least one conference a year 4 years ago. The big thing I learned at my first conference was this: I don't just write, I AM a writer. It was amazing to meet other people who hear imaginary voices, who scribble ideas on napkins, and who take the hard experiences of life as fodder for a good novel.
After 4 times to our regional conference (OCW), this year I really felt at home. I know all of the staff, much of the faculty and many of the attendees and I'm no longer nervous when pitching to editors or agents.
If you want to write, my advice is to make conferences a priority. You'll learn more in a weekend than you can imagine and you'll meet some great people. If money is a problem, ask for a scholarship… or find out if you could volunteer to help plan the conference in exchange for a discount… or ask for tuition for Christmas.
>I go for all the reasons you gave.
I went to 2 1-day conferences initially and learned 1) "if these people can get published, so can I" and 2) I needed a book proposal.
I spent the next 6 months researching, refining my idea and preparing for my first 'big' conference (Mt. Hermon). I submitted my book proposal to 4 publishers; 2 of them took it back to committee and about a month later I got the call from the Thomas Nelson editor that they wanted to publish my book.
What seemed like a big investment at the time (I was engaged and used wedding money to attend), was the best investment I could have made in my writing career at that time.
I've been to Mt. Hermon nearly every year since then, even during an extended period where I wasn't seeking publication. (I also attended OCW conferences when I lived in the NW). The relationships I've formed with other writers as well as with editors and agents have been a big part of why I returned to seeking publication once life created room for it again.
I love the inspiration from being around so many creative people at conferences. I love the laughter that comes from sitting around listening to master storytellers tell real-life stories that may never be included in a book (you might be surprised at how entertaining editors and agents are when they aren't listening to pitches). I love rejoicing with friends as they share successes–some of which were inspired and/or conceived at a conference years earlier.
It's the business/publishing/connection stuff that usually motivates me to go to a conference, but it's always the personal stuff that blesses me the most when I come home. The friendships, encouragement, laughter–and that hard-to-define sense that I am most wholy myself surrounded by other writers in that setting–is what keeps me coming back year after year whether I've got a proposal to pitch or not.
There is no substitute for attending a conference and it's absolutely money well spent.