Is A Writing Conference Worth It?
Writing conference season is coming—it’s time to put yourself out there.
This is the first in a two-part series for first-time writing conference attendees. For Part 2 on how to make the most of the conference once you’re there, click here.
For years I wrote on the side, alone, hiding my work like some illicit hobby and sneaking a few hundred words whenever I could.
Since I didn’t write professionally, I didn’t think I could call myself a writer. Me, attending a writers conference? Ludicrous. Those were for real writers. I was merely an outsider, dabbling in the craft and peeking into a realm of elite professionals.
I know, stop snickering. To many new writers, though, professional organizations and official conferences are incredibly intimidating.
But they don’t have to be.
In fact, a writing conference might be one of the fastest ways to advance your writing career. With a few tips, any newbie can benefit from a writing conference.
Let’s break down the elements of conferences and how to choose the right one for you.
So, What Is A Writing Conference?
Writing conferences provide attendees with educational workshops, opportunities for feedback on their work, meetings with agents and publishers, round-the-clock networking, and loads of other experiences. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many conferences have gone virtual, still providing most of these features and often at a lower price.
The structure of each conference varies, but there are common themes. Often workshops are scheduled throughout the day, and social opportunities are lined up at night, such as dinner, open mic sessions, and networking at the hotel bar (yes, it really is a thing).
Many conferences also offer one-on-one sessions with agents or publishers for authors to pitch their work. Even two minutes of face time could be what you need to break into the industry.
As an added bonus, many of the workshops or materials are available after-the-fact, so if you missed a particularly interesting session, you will still have access to the resources.
What Can I Learn At A Conference?
Educational workshops span any topic on writing craft, such as:
- Impacts of word choice
- What’s new in the Chicago Manual of Style (the publishing industry standard for fiction)
- How to prepare queries for agents
- How to self-publish
- How to manage marketing for your work (which you’ll need whether you choose to publish independently or go the traditional route)
Presenters are experts on their topic and can provide further insight in one-on-one conversations afterward.
A writing conference will also open your eyes to the industry as a whole, which will put you at a great advantage when trying to pitch your books to agents or attempting to position yourself in the market.
Why Do Conferences Cost So Much?
The old adage is true, you get what you pay for: nationally recognized keynote speakers, bestselling authors teaching a workshop, ten minutes to sit down with a New York agent, etc.
Attend the best conference you can afford, with the intent to make the very most of every minute there.
Many conferences have gone virtual, and some may continue to do so this summer and fall. Virtual conferences come with a lower price tag, since there’s no overhead needed for an event space or meals. Plus you won’t need to gas up your car or secure a hotel room to get there.
While a virtual conference won’t provide the serendipitous networking at an in-person event, conference coordinators work hard to provide a venue for writers to connect.
To facilitate networking, most conferences have a virtual lounge, or separate forum topics open to attendees. Try posting in one of these, letting people know you’re new to the conference and would like tips on any can’t-miss sessions. You’ll likely get a warm response from more seasoned attendees.
If the price for such an event is still too far out of reach, contact the conference staff and ask about scholarships. Many organizations raise money for scholarships to make these events more inclusive.
But I’m Not Sure I’m Ready To Attend A Formal Conference…
This is really up to you, but the answer is mostly likely that you are.
Most writing conferences include content for the newest of writers as well as the repeat attendees. Any workshop you attend will probably teach you something.
Additionally, the exposure to more aspects of the industry will open your eyes to what is possible, and may even inspire you to try something different with your writing.
But most of all, attending one of these events will undoubtedly give you the opportunity to link up with more experienced authors who can help you on your road to publication.
Are We Back To The Bar Networking Again?
Yes. Network at the bar, during breakfast, at the coffee pot, in a virtual lounge, and as you wait for each workshop to start. Any time you aren’t in a workshop is an opportunity to meet someone new.
If you’re an introvert, set a goal to make conversation with one new person per day — even introverts need writing friends.
Put yourself out there and you’ll find value. I met my accountability partner and closest writer friend at the coffee pot. Really.
Every conference attendee will likely be able to help you in some way. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Most writers live for talking to other writers about writing.
So How Do I Chose The Right Conference For Me?
No matter your interest, there is an event for you. Conferences are held by national-level organizations, genre-specific associations, state associations, and more.
Writing a thriller? Check out ThrillerFest. Is there kissing in your book? Look into Romance Writers of America. A quick online search will reveal upcoming conferences applicable to whatever genre you write. Or search for writing conferences in your city/state.
Some events have built-in writing time, and others aim to offer as many opportunities as can be crammed into a three-day period. Maybe you want the down time, or maybe you want to live in a three-day blur of adrenaline, coffee, and new friends. Choose what works for you.
In the end, the right conference is the one you can attend.
Ready to take your writing to the next level? Register for a writing conference and commit to improving your writing craft.
Still have questions? Get in touch in the comments below, or catch me on Twitter: @editsunderway. And if you see me at a conference, come up and say hello!