Why I Go To Writers’ Conferences

jetMost people think agents go to writers’ conferences strictly to find new clients to represent. For some agents this might be the case, but it’s not true for me, nor is it true for most of the agents and editors I know. There are five main reasons most of us go to conferences:

1. To meet the people behind the queries.

At a conference, I can make personal connections with writers, hear them talk about their books, and learn more than I could in a 400-word query letter. Yes, this is part of the process of finding new authors to represent, and it’s one reason we’re there.

2. To meet with my clients.

Most of my clients are spread across the country and we have few opportunities to get together in person. A conference is a great place to do this, especially if both the agent and the author have other reasons for being there. There are some conferences where I’ll be able to get together with more than one client, such as ACFW, at which (this year) there will be 45 authors represented by Books & Such, 20 of them repped by me.

3. To meet with editors and other industry professionals.

In order for conferences to be worthwhile (cost effective) for us, we use them as prime networking opportunities. I meet editors to whom I might sell a book someday, and strengthen relationships with those I already know. I pitch them books I’m currently shopping and get their response in person. Several times this face-to-face conversation has led to a sale for one of my clients. At this week’s ACFW conference, I have 17 such networking meetings scheduled.

4. To give back to the writing community.

Most agents and editors understand how difficult it is to be a writer pursuing publishing these days, and we recognize the value of helping authors get informed, learn more about writing and marketing, and meet the ogres agents and editors to see that we’re just regular folks. So we go to conferences to help writers do all of that. We don’t believe in the faceless, mysterious, scary publishing paradigm of the past. We want to be accessible.

5. To maintain visibility in our industry.

Yes, there can be a bit of self-promotion involved, simply in the act of showing up. We want writers and publishers to know who we are and what we’re doing.

What are YOUR top reasons for going to conferences? (Or wanting to go, if you’ve never been.)

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Pia Thompson on May 13, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    I’m going to my first conference next month, the Write! Canada conference in Guelph. I’m going to try to learn, network, and step out of my comfort zone and pitch a novel and get feedback from someone who knows more than me. I’m nervous but excited. This is my year to grow!

  2. Kira Budge on March 16, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    I’ve been to a number of online writing conferences and I loved them so much. I only wish I had enough money to go to the big ones in person! It drives me crazy to hear about them, knowing I can’t go.

  3. Jane Daly on September 23, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    I recently attended the Oregon Christian Writers Conference. As our keynote speaker said, “It’s not about the contracts, it’s about the CONTACTS.” I couldn’t agree more.

  4. David Todd on September 18, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    All I want this conference is a two book deal;
    a two book deal, just a two book deal.
    And if I could obtain a two book deal
    then I would have a happy conference.

    It seems so long since someone’s said,
    “Send me your proposal and some chapters.”
    And if I could get a five figure advance
    I’d feel like I’d been raptured.

    All I want this conference is a two book deal,
    a two book deal, just a two book deal.
    And if I could obtain a two book deal
    then I would wish you happy conference.

  5. Cecelia Dowdy on September 18, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    My top reason?

    I want to get a book contract. There are others, of course, but, that’s my top priority.

  6. Susan Berger on September 18, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    Oh Wow. To meet industry professionsal, learn wonderful things. I just put up a blog post about what I learned from Bonnie Bader about Transitional readers.
    To get contacts and to have fun

  7. Amy Morgan on September 17, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Haven’t ventured to my first conference yet, but like Robin’s suggestion of going local first. Maybe 2013 will be the year I get the nerve to venture forth!

  8. Peter DeHaan on September 17, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    Up until now, I’ve been attending strictly to learn about writing and the industry — and made some great friends in the process.

    For my next conference, I’ll be teaching a workshop and will have a project to pitch. I’m certainly not done learning, but I’m ready for the next step.

  9. Sarah Thomas on September 17, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Two things I LOVE about conferences that I didn’t expect going in:

    1) The awesome atmosphere of support. Everyone I met was cheering for me to succeed. I had been to a secular conference and it was really competitive–not so the Christian conference!

    2) The food. Oh my. I do like to eat. Proverbs 31 She Speaks is delectable. And when I missed dessert to meet with . . . Rachelle Gardner . . . a VERY nice staff person gave me the chocolate torte to go. I thought about bringing it to you, Rachelle, but instead I went up to my room after our meeting and ATE IT.

    • Cherry Odelberg on September 17, 2012 at 11:43 PM

      There are just some things you should never say to an agent…

  10. Martha Ramirez on September 17, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    What a great list. I’m so glad you still go to conferences. That’s exciting 45 of Book N Such’s clients will be there. I think that’s so cool to be able to meet your agent and editor in person.

  11. Ron Skelton on September 17, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    My first conference is this weekend. I am hoping I get my first pick for agent meeting.

  12. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on September 17, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    Would go if I could. Maybe someday, with the Grace of God.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 17, 2012 at 4:50 PM

      That would be awesome! If you go, then Casselman can room with you… so at least of you can post bail. 🙂

  13. Brianna on September 17, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I’ve never been to a writer’s conference, but I would love to attend one, especially now that my book is under contract and I have some self-publishing under my belt. I am constantly learning so I know would benefit from workshops. The networking would be huge and could be an opportunity to increase sales and grow my freelance editing business.

    • Samo on December 16, 2012 at 5:30 AM

      Posted on Jason, I feel your pain sometimes I feel weird lenttig Cate play with my Star Wars toys or Batman figures, but then I think, Is it because they’re boy’ toys? and then I let her go to town.We have friends with a two-year-old son, and in their family, the dad does all the cooking, so they got their son a kitchen so he could be like daddy. I thought that was very cool.

  14. Tycie on September 17, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    I’d love to go to learn about the writing craft and publishing industry and also to meet other authors and agents.

  15. Kathy Rouser on September 17, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    At the beginning, I would say that I went to writers’ conferences to learn more about the craft and meet other writers. It’s very nice to meet people face to face that you’ve communicated with over the internet or known in an online critique group. The last time I was able to go to ACFW, it was especially to meet with agents and editors, hoping to increase my chances of publication someday! 🙂 But the inspiration and fellowship are also an important part of a Christian conference.

  16. Paula on September 17, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    A few years back I went to the Writers Digest Conference West just to get exposed to the idea of conferences. I’ve also gone to smaller events for Christian writing but never a large Christian writers conference. I want to push myself into the unknown and do it now because of the networking and opportunity to pitch ideas. What conferences apart from ACFW do you recommend? I write nonfiction.

  17. Lindsay Harrel on September 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    I’m going to ACFW this year to meet all my awesome online friends in person, to learn as much as I can about the craft, and have the chance to network and pitch. Plus…I want to have fun! 🙂

  18. Anabelle on September 17, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    When would you say is a good time for an unpublished writer to go to her first writer’s conference?

  19. Laurie Buchanan on September 17, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    I go to the the Writers’ Institute at UW-Madison every April. This year I did two presentations:

    Why Critiquing is Necessary

    Presenters and writers (published and non-published) come from all over the United States, representing every genre under the sun. It’s a great mix of people that makes for a rewarding experience.

  20. Crystal Memmott on September 17, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    I enjoy interacting with fellow writers and learning their success stories. Conferences and workshops help me to improve my writing and I love learning how the publishing process works. It’s fascinating to hear from the agents and editors present.

  21. Gabrielle Meyer on September 17, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    ACFW will be my first writers conference and I’m beyond excited! My biggest reason for going is to learn as much as I can about the writing industry, a close second (or maybe tied for first) is to meet my online friends in person and gain new friendships with other writers, agents, and editors. Plus, let’s be honest, up there on the list is a five day vacation with no little people to feed, no diapers to change and no house to clean!

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 17, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      No diapers!
      No snotty noses!
      No “Mom! Where is my…”

      Waiters, housekeeping staff and the toilet seat will be down for 5 straight days!!!!

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 17, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      Oh. Riiiight.
      Mature adult conversation pertaining to your career.

      And dinner OUT!!

    • Nichole Hall on September 17, 2012 at 4:51 PM

      Yes Gabrielle! The 5 day “vacation from mommy-hood” is most appealing 🙂

    • Sarah Thomas on September 17, 2012 at 5:26 PM

      See, it IS a vacation. So many of my friends here “conference” and think it’s work, but for writers it really is a dream vacation.

  22. Gerri Wetta Hilger on September 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    For all the reasons mentioned already—especially meeting agents. i have only been fortunate to go to one, but hoping for St. Louis next spring.

  23. Nichole Hall on September 17, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    This is my first time attending a major conference. The main reason I am going is to make connections and form relationships with other writers, agents and editors. I plan to pitch my manuscript, but most importantly I’m going to learn. I want to learn from anyone who is willing to teach.

    There is much I don’t know about the industry and even though I’ve read many books on the subject, there’s nothing like experiencing what I’ve read about. So all though I’d love to walk away with an agent telling me to send more to them when I get home, that’s not my main focus.

    I want to have a good time and enjoy being a part of what I’m certain is an amazing group of people!

  24. Emily Akin on September 17, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    I go for the networking. When I first started attending conferences, I used the workshop content and featured speaker as my main criteria. I’ve found that, even when I’m not particularly interested in the workshops or featured speakers, I can learn a lot from visiting with other attendees and faculty in social settings.

  25. V.V. Denman on September 17, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    Originally, I signed up for this year’s ACFW conference (my first) in order to pitch to agents. But God has been humbling me ever since, and now I realize what a newbie I am! Sure, I’d welcome a contract, but the odds of that happening are slim. (This is not low self esteem talking, it’s reality) But the odds are HUGELY in my favor of learning a ridiculous amount, meeting new friends, including all my online buddies face-to-face, and drawing closer to the Lord. I’m looking forward to becoming a stronger Christian/friend/writer for having attended.

    • Cherry Odelberg on September 17, 2012 at 11:39 PM

      The odds are hugely in favor of learning a lot!!!!!!!! That is true, from any conference I ever had the privilege to attend.

  26. Ruth Taylor on September 17, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    I’ll be a first-timer at ACFW.

    The most significant reason I’m going is to pitch my novels (hope to meet you Rachelle!) If I don’t get a request, at least I’ll have met the agents and editors in person, and perhaps down the road they’ll remember me.

    I also look forward to learning from the sessions, networking, and making new friends. I can’t wait to be surrounded by other artists who love to write just as much as I do.

    Oh, and did I mention that I’m eager to have some fun? It’ll be a good break! 🙂

  27. Heather on September 17, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    I’d love to go because a) I’m a conference junkie – I love going to the architectural ones for my profession. b) to meet with other people and know that I’m not alone. c) to know what’s going on in the industry.

  28. Robin Patchen on September 17, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Like most everyone here, I’m looking forward to ACFW because I’d love to connect with an agent and/or editor for my latest book. But I also realize that, while I have my personal goals, God’s plans for me may be very different.

    Last spring I attended a local conference hoping to connect with an agent and/or editor, and I did. Though the editor’s house isn’t looking for what I write, she and I have become excellent friends. What God had planned for that conference was far different from what I had planned, but it was better. So I go to ACFW with expectation, knowing God has something good in store for me that I probably didn’t see coming.

  29. Jeanne on September 17, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    This will be my first conference, and I’m looking forward to a number of things. Meeting the people face-to-face that I’ve connected with online, learning more craft, being wrapped up in the excitement of being with others who “get” me are top reasons. I’m looking forward to meeting agents and editors and putting faces and voices to names .

    Happy travels, Rachelle.

  30. Dana McNeely on September 17, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    I’ve been to several conferences with the primary goal of attending stellar writing workshops and networking with other authors in one location. This year I’m going to Dallas because I’ve finished my Biblical Fiction and I have 2 goasls: 1) I want to try to find the right agent. Of course I’d love to have the chance to meet with you! 2) I’d love to get to know other Christian Writers on this same journey and have someone to talk to along the way.

  31. Jessica Nelson on September 17, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Similar to yours. Visibility, networking and learning. Hope you have a lot of fun and make great connections!

  32. Connie Almony on September 17, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    This year in Dallas will be only my second conference so I’m hardly speaking from a breadth of experience. However, I came back home from St.Louis last year forever changed. There was such an “ahhhhh!” factor there. Lots of people who were like me: Love a good story, love the flow of words, and with ACFW, love the Lord. Couldn’t ask for much more than that. I got to meet people face-to-face I’d only shared emails with. I met new people who are now email buddies, crit partners and prayer warrior partners. It was great! And yes, I met some agents there. Wow, they were normal too, human and caring. Who’da thunk it ;o0? An education indeed! Not to mention the classes.

  33. Richard Mabry on September 17, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Rachelle, from a writer’s perspective the major reasons are similar to the ones you listed: to meet agents and editors (your own, if you’re represented/contracted), to network with others, to learn (a writer should never stop trying to improve), and to give back.
    That last one is important for me–I’m an outgoing officer of ACFW, I’ve taught at this and other conferences, and tried to pay forward what others did for me.

  34. Rick Barry on September 17, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    I crave at least one annual gathering of creative publishing types. The intensive days of talking and hearing about all things related to writing/publishing create a special inspirational dynamic no one can get at home. Networking, forging new friendships, and of course pitching projects add to the fun. See you at ACFW!

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 17, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      So, uhh, Rick. I’m (poorly behaved) curious. Are you driving there? Taking a bus? Or just jumping out of the plane over Dallas? I’d kinda be shocked if you just showed up in a cardigan and sensible shoes.

      • Rick Barry on September 17, 2012 at 12:06 PM

        Jennifer, no skydiving this time. I told Scotty to lock onto those coordinates and beam me directly into the hotel lobby. 😉

        (Actually, I’ll be using 25,000 Delta Skymiles for a free flight.)

        • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 17, 2012 at 12:43 PM

          Hahaha! Make sure you don’t give the coordinates to the giant flower vase and land in the daisies.

  35. Lori Kempton on September 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    I would love to attend a conference for writers. Being newer to the industry, I find it difficult to know which one would be of most benefit. How does one choose the best one for them?

    • Robin Patchen on September 17, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      As a new writer, I attended a local conference first. I live in Oklahoma City, so I attend the OK Writer’s Federation conference, and it was amazing. I learned a lot and made a few new friends. If you’re new, I’d suggest starting small with something local. The smaller ones are often cheaper and meet for a shorter length of time, so they’re not as much of an investment.

      If you’re like many writers (myself included), you’ll find the interaction with other like-minded people energizing. Once I went to one conference, I knew I’d keep going. Now I try to attend two every year, one local, one national (like ACFW).

      • Lori Kempton on September 17, 2012 at 10:02 AM

        That is great advice! Thanks! I really enjoy getting to know my fellow bloggers online. I know it would be even more fun if I had local connections I could meet for lunch occasionally. I will look into what we have to offer here in the Cincinnati area. Thank for the help!

  36. ed cyzewski on September 17, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Every conference I’ve attended has provided at least one if not two excellent connections, even the conferences that I thought were a waste of time at first! While some conferences are better than others, you really can’t beat the chance to sit and talk with an editor or agent.

    I’d also add that it’s very motivating. When I see a room full of writers, that makes me want to work harder. I don’t want to be the slacker in the room!

  37. Stephen H. King on September 17, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Last year, I went to experience, to learn, to pitch. I did all three. This year I volunteered for the committee, which has pretty darn well ruined the event for me as something to attend.

    That said, there’s one event I’d go to again and again. It’s called “Pitchapalooza” and it’s run by a couple known as the Book Doctors (no, this isn’t an advertisement or an endorsement; I’m not affiliated with them in any way). It’s an event where you stand in front of a panel of judges (and the rest of the convention crowd) and pitch your book in 60 seconds. Probably the most meaningful activity of the entire conference last year, it was. If you can get into an event like that at a conference near you, it’s well worth the long lines, lukewarm coffee, and bumping into grumpy agents (no offense, Rachelle! *grin*).

    • V.V. Denman on September 17, 2012 at 10:23 AM

      That makes me nervous just thinking about it. But it sounds awesome.

      • Stephen H. King on September 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM

        It should; the studies I’ve seen say that public speaking is in the top five of nearly everybody’s greatest fears lists. I’ve been teaching for decades, so putting my baby out on the line verbally only made me nervous rather than petrified. But everybody who pushed through the fear got something tremendous out of it. It’s so important to be able to distill the essence of “why should I buy/read/publish your book?” into a 60-second plug.

  38. Jennifer Major @Jjumping on September 17, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    Why I’d WANT to go:
    To meet other writer friends and put voices and motions to their words. To learn as much as I can about the industry. And to either meet with or find my agent. Hopefully by next ACFW I’ll have landed My Dream Agent. And maybe by then PJ will have finished Part Three and Pote and I can watch him wow the crowds and beat off the agents and editors with a well used autograph pen.

    Reason I’m NOT going: Mission trip in exactly 30 days.
    I’m not ready. Simple. I am not ready for the whole kit and caboodle. Next year?
    Stand back…

  39. josey bozzo on September 17, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    The first time I went, it was for the experience and to learn.
    The second time I went, it was to pitch my book to publishers.
    This time, I’m going because an agent called me and asked me to come and meet her.

  40. Diana Harkness on September 17, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    1. To meet the people behind the blogs I follow (3 dimensions are better than 2);
    2. To be inspired by other writers;
    3. To gain greater insight into the process;
    4. To support the conference organizers;
    5. To get some time away from responsibilities at home;
    6. To find an agent. (Which is probably a bad idea because I make a mess of personal encounters with strangers.)

  41. carol brill on September 17, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    My top reasons are to learn more about writing craft and meet other writers. The chance to meet agents and editors is also a draw, but not my prime motivation

  42. Jeremiah Zeiset on September 17, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    I enjoy going to writer’s conferences not only to speak, but also to hear from authors, what they are experiencing. It’s great knowing more about the day-to-day life of our authors (I operate a small Christian publishing house)

  43. Jackie Ley on September 17, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    I’d go like a shot for the networking, the chance to pitch in person and just the sheer pleasure of interacting with other writers. However, I’m a UK writer and these kind of events are much thinner on the ground here. I envy you the set-up in the States. Hope you US writers appreciate what you’ve got.

  44. Krista Phillips on September 17, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    LOVE writer’s conferences!!! Going to ACFW this year for the first time in 3 years, and I’m so excited!

    My motivation is a little different this year. In years prior, I’ve gone seeking connections to agents and editors to try and sell that most important first book.

    Now that I have a SUPER amazing agent, I go to meet with her, to still network with editors for future book contracts, to network with author authors and learn even more about marketing and the writing craft, and also to spread the word about my latest release, because a writers are readers too!

  45. Lorelei on September 17, 2012 at 3:36 AM

    I go because I’m a workshop leader. Plus, the hotel has a bar.

  46. P. J. Casselman on September 17, 2012 at 2:33 AM

    I’d like to go to meet agents in person, see friends from blogs such as this and to gain better insight into the industry as a whole. Perhaps when I sell the second house I’ll be able to go to more than the tiny one in Overland Park, KS. Meanwhile, I live vicariously through my friends’ blogs.

    • Jeanne on September 17, 2012 at 9:40 AM

      I know exactly where Overland Park is. 🙂