writer’s conference can change your career. It gives you the chance to make connections, learn more about your craft, and meet other writers just like you. Writers list several excuses for not attending, such as they don’t feel like “a real writer,” or conferences seem overwhelming. Maybe you’ve thought the same thing. But stop right there! You are a real writer, and there are several reasons why you should attend a conference.
Perhaps you have already gone to one in the past, but you didn’t feel like you got your money’s worth. Conferences are full of positive experiences just waiting for you, if you know what to look for and why you should be there. The following benefits and tips will leave you excited and ready for that perfect conference.
One of the best benefits of attending a conference is the chance to network with professionals in your field. Many editors and agents speak about the writing business and look for new clients. Cherry Weiner, owner of the Cherry Weiner Literary Agency, says, “I believe most professionals go to find that one best selling author. For me that does hold true, but it comes in a pale second to my reason for going. I want to pass on as much information on publishing as I can to an author. I believe that an informed author has a better chance of being published.”
“At many events, editors and agents also
listen to pitches from attendees.”
If you live in the Midwest, far from the bustling communities of New York and Los Angeles, then you don’t have the chance, on a daily basis, to meet the people responsible for publishing authors’ work. But if a New York editor from Random House plans to attend a conference in St. Louis, and you live close by, there’s your chance to meet her.
At many events, editors and agents also listen to pitches from attendees. These are usually one-on-one meetings with an agent or editor about your work. It’s your chance to convince them they definitely need your manuscript. This opportunity to pitch to a professional would pass you by if you stayed at home.
Agents and editors will also be available to chat at lunch or between sessions and they want to talk with attendees. They’re spending their Saturday or Sunday at a writing conference instead of at home with their families. They’re looking for new talent and that could be you! Many speakers who work at agencies or houses closed to open submissions, may announce a code word to write on your submission envelope. This means they’ll take manuscripts from anyone who was at the conference and uses the code word. It keeps your work out of the slush pile and maybe even closer to the top of this person’s to-do-list. Some agents and editors ask you to mention meeting them at the conference in your cover letter. “The ability to say that sentence is like an Open Sesame,” Weiner states.
Networking is the number one reason to attend conferences. You never know when you might meet someone who could discover you and your talent. Mary-Lane Kamberg, author of The I Don’t Know How to Cook Book, is the perfect example. “I sold lots of writing as a result of meeting editors and also signed with an agent I met at a conference.”
Sharing War Stories
Another great reason to attend a conference is to meet other writers just like you. Let’s face it—not everyone in your family understands you as a writer. When you tell them you didn’t get any sleep for the last three nights because your characters were holding a conversation in your head, they look at you like you’re nuts. Or how about when you’re excited because you got a personalized rejection from a big New York publisher, and your spouse says, “So, are they publishing it or what?”
Then you might say something like, “No, but she loves my work. And she wants me to remember her with my next manuscript.”
Then he shakes his head and asks when it’s going to be in the bookstores.
However, a fellow writer would understand the importance of that personalized rejection or empathize with your lack of sleep due to your chatting characters. Harvey Stanbrough, the author of Punctuation for Writers and an experienced speaker, comments on the importance of finding other writers at a conference. “Perhaps most important, though, it’s a chance to be fully immersed in a world of people like themselves, those for whom the ‘just-right’ word or well-turned phrase is a glimpse of Heaven.”
“It is important to share with other writers, who have the same struggles as you. They understand how difficult writing can be.”
Besides empathy from others, it also helps to hear about their successes and failures, so you know you’re not alone. After chatting with the poet sitting next to you during a poetry session, you learn she has sent her poetry book to five publishers and received five rejections. But she will not give up until she finds the perfect fit. All of a sudden, that one rejection for your short story doesn’t seem so bad.
It is important to share with other writers, who have the same struggles as you. They understand how difficult writing can be. If you live in a remote area or do not attend a regular critique or writers’ group, it is extremely important to find a good writing conference. Go to one, and find some real, live human beings to share your experiences, joys, and heartaches.
Improving Your Craft
Most writing conferences have speakers, who are working writers, editors, and agents. These people have something to teach you! But you need to be where they are to learn from them. If you are just beginning your journey down this writing path and need the basics, there are conferences that teach this beginning knowledge like proper formatting and where commas go.
You can also learn how to write a better short story or attend a poetry workshop or even plan and start your next novel. Conference sessions exist on a range of topics such as characterization, market trends, electronic publishing, creative nonfiction, writing for children, and much more. You name it, and there’s probably a conference somewhere for you to improve that area of your craft.
The other great thing is you may be introduced to a topic you knew nothing about before. For example, you might listen to an enthusiastic speaker teach about Japanese poetry. When the session ends, you have a new interest you’d like to try. Often presenters will incorporate writing prompts or exercises in their speeches or give you “homework” to stretch you as a writer.
When you have the chance to practice writing with professionals, you will improve your craft. Luella Turner, a Pushcart prize nominee, mentions she often has light bulb moments while at a conference, even if she’s heard the speaker or topic before. She explains how something will just click and maybe even solve a problem she’d been having with her writing. Different speakers may put a different twist on topics like writing a short story, marketing your work, or submitting a manuscript. If you attend a conference, you may experience your own light bulb moment and improve your craft along the way.
As writers, we often look for inspiration. Some of us have an easy time, while others must dig deep to continue with their projects and stories.
“The passion writers feel for their work
is catching at a conference.”
A conference can be just the inspiration you need. When enthusiastic writers, agents, and editors surround you for a day, a weekend, or even a whole week, you will most likely leave inspired. Especially inspired to get your behind in the chair and write. Ideas pour out of me whenever I listen to speakers. I usually bring an extra journal along to a conference just for ideas.
The passion writers feel for their work is catching at a conference. Don’t miss your chance for inspiration, especially if you’re feeling unmotivated.
A final reason to attend is simple—you can claim your conference expenses on your income tax. The fees for attendance, hotel, food, mileage, and even parking can be claimed. Just remember to save your receipts.
And you don’t have to be as famous as J. K. Rowling to report your writing business to the IRS. There are a few tax laws to understand, but just ask any CPA or even companies such as H & R Block. They can give you the answers you need, so you can really get your money’s worth out of a conference.
Three Tips for Getting the Most for Your Money
Speaking of taxes and money, conferences have a lot to offer, but sometimes their fees can be high. Make sure to follow these tips to help you get the most out of your conference experience.
Tip #1: Don’t Be Shy
The number one tip is don’t be shy. You have to be willing to talk to people, especially agents and editors. Remember, most people around you are writers and want to improve their craft, get published, and sell their books just like you! A great opening line when you’re sitting next to someone is, “So, what do you write?”
Writers loved to be asked this question because then, they can talk about their own work. Don’t you like talking about yours?
As for editors and agents, approach them when they are mingling with attendees. Don’t try to talk to them in the bathroom about your Civil War saga. They need privacy, too. Remember the worst thing they can do is tell you, “I’m sorry. We’re just not interested in that.” Big deal! It might be hard to hear, but at least you went up and talked to them. And when someone tells you that’s exactly what they were looking for, you’ll feel especially glad that you weren’t hiding in the corner during the conference.
Tip #2: Do Your Homework
When you arrive at the conference, it’s important to have educated yourself about the speakers. Kamberg suggests, “Do your homework. Research the editors and agents, especially to see what they publish, so you don’t waste your time. Try to read something that presenters have written. You might have questions about why they did something a certain way.” The Internet and local library are wonderful tools when it comes to preparing for a conference.
Tip #3: Be Choosy
Now that you’re ready to go, find a conference that fits you. If you write for children, several conferences are targeted specifically for children’s writers. Don’t go to the Western Writers of America conference instead, just because your friend asked you to go, and you think you need to attend a conference. Remember, this is your passion and your career—take charge and find a conference where you will learn a lot and meet an important contact.
So are you ready to pack your suitcase, grab your notepad, and head to a conference? Stanbrough sums it up best. “Writing is by and large a lonely endeavor. Attending a conference now and then is the best kind of working vacation.”
Margo Dill is a freelance writer and elementary school teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound.