Writers’ conferences can launch a career. They bring writers face to face with authors, agents, editors, publishers, and other writers at all skill levels.
But they can feel overwhelming for the uninitiated. With all the offerings, how does a writer navigate a conference to get the most from it?
The Benefits of a Writers’ Conference
I attended a writers’ conference for the first time in September 2018. I enjoyed every minute. The conference was a small, intimate, one-day affair about an hour from my home. The schedule featured six speakers. Approximately thirty-five participants gathered to absorb the knowledge of presenters.
In one day, I learned about:
- Writing groups
- Beta readers
- Traditional publishing
- Query letters
Choosing the Right Conference for You
Writers’ conferences are exciting events with a lot to see, do, and learn. Choosing the right one for your vision, goals, lifestyle, and budget is your priority. Here are preliminary considerations:
Why do you want to go to a writers’ conference? What are your writing goals? What do you hope to take away from the conference? Signing with an agent? Contacts? Work on your writing skills? Refine your pitch?
Who is the intended audience of the writers’ conference? If you are an indie author, you probably are not interested in a conference designed for people who are looking for an agent. Likewise, you may not be interested in a conference for romance writers if you are writing children’s books.
If the writers’ conference has a theme, what is it? A theme can tell a lot about the conference’s focus and personality. Does the conference theme fit your goals? This consideration falls in line with determining why you want to take part in a conference.
How to Make the Most of a Writers’ Conference
Once you’ve chosen which conference you’ll attend, plan to make the most of the experience. Consider these elements as you go:
Learn as much as possible about the conference. Contact the organizers if possible.
Is the building accessible for wheelchairs, walkers, and other people with mobility concerns? Ask about accommodations about your specific disability. Can you bring a therapy animal? Reasonable accommodations should not be an issue.
What are the parking options? Where is the lodging in proximity to the venue? If lodging is not in the same building, check with the hotel to find out if the venue is within walking distance or if a shuttle is available.
Is the venue multi-level? If yes, is there an elevator? How many people were present last year? Often, information is available on the conference or organizer’s website, but these questions perhaps are not included in the FAQs—frequently asked questions.
Find out about professionals who will be there—authors, agents, editors, publishers. Ask about others who may be present—web designers, graphic designers, and other people you may need to help you. Inquire about table rent if you have books, merchandise, or services to sell.
Register early, especially if there’s a registration closing date or you want to secure time with an agent or editor to critique your work.
Gather Your Supplies
Determine your supply and equipment needs. Business cards are a must. Copies of books you have published.
You may want to bring a laptop computer. Notebook(s), depending on the number of speakers or breakout sessions. You may want a different notebook for each or keep everything in a single notebook with pockets. Pens in several colors including two black, two blue, plus refills. Highlighters in several colors.
Bring books or other materials you want authors to autograph. If you are meeting with agents, editors, or publishers, take the premise along with the first three to five chapters of your book, polished and ready to pitch. Research agents and editors to find out what they are looking for and how they want to receive manuscripts at the conference.
I went to the writers’ conference with my writing partner, a past participant, so I had a heads-up on what to expect and what to take. I took a notebook. I left my laptop at home. I satisfied my pen fetish, although I didn’t take my favorites in case they got lost.
Create Your Budget
Budget well for the writers’ conference. Consider airfare, lodging, ground transportation, food, money to buy books, and incidental expenditures that may arise. When registration, keynote speaker fees, and critique fees are factored in, a multi-day conference can top out at $2,000.00 or more.
If driving, plan for plenty of rest stops along the way, as well as gas, food, and lodging stops.
Pro tip: You can write off your writers’ conference attendance as a business expense. Be sure to check with your tax professional.
Be Ready to Learn
Breakout sessions are invaluable opportunities to learn. Industry professionals facilitate the sessions. Only at a writers’ conference is so much knowledge available in one place.
Choosing your breakout sessions can be a challenge as several topics of choice may be presented at the same time. Check the program to find out if they repeat at a different time. Weigh your options to decide which ones sound most appealing to you. Take time to plan your schedule in advance, so you do not waste minutes making your choice.
Some topics fill up fast. Plan to arrive at the session room early enough to get a good seat. Be ready with a second and third choice.
Connect With Panelists
Sit up front at a breakout session, if possible, where it is easier to see and hear, and there are fewer distractions. I listened intently to each speaker and wrote copious notes. The speakers encouraged us to engage, so I asked them questions—to clarify a point or to repeat a statement. All six were quite gracious.
During free time, I visited the tables of the speakers whose presentations spoke to my needs. I bought books from two speakers and the conference organizer. I let them know what I enjoyed about their presentation.
If they used slides, I asked if they would mind emailing them to me. I gave them my business card. I also collected business cards from them.
The day after the writers’ conference, I sent thank-you emails to the authors I connected with. I asked them a question I had not thought of at the conference. They all responded within a few days, answered my question, and offered further assistance.
Connect With Writers
Writers’ conferences offer a host of networking opportunities. Many writers are introverts, well-suited for the solitude that writing requires. We writers naturally gravitate unto ourselves rather than to other people.
But you need to be around people at times, which can raise anxiety, particularly when attending a large conference. Writers’ conferences offer the ability to interact at your comfort level.
I didn’t take full advantage of the free time. Lesson learned. When I go to the conference in 2019, I plan to meet other participants.
I did connect with a woman at my table. We exchanged emails when we got home. I encourage networking with as many people as possible. You never know what relationships will form.
The Joy of Writers’ Conferences
Above all, relax. Enjoy the event.
Be open-minded. Soak up what the conference has to offer. Get interested in the speakers, break-out facilitators, and other writers.
When I am in the company of other writers, I feel energized and inspired. I am with my people.
I hope that you are able to attend a writers’ conference, gather with other writers, and experience that sense of community as well.
Have you considered attending a writers’ conference? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section.