Disclaimer: This is NOT saying you have to go to a conference. This is if you are on the fence about going to one.
Writers conferences are expensive, usually require you to take some time off work, and you often have to travel to them. So what’s the point of going? Are they even worth the effort and money?
In 2016, I’ve had the good fortune to attend three (and a half?) writers conferences: the Houston Writers Workshop, DFWCon, and the Writers Digest Conference (and Comicpalooza, which has a literary panel track as well). At every single one of these, I have come home with at least two of three things that improve my writing career.
1.) Meetings with agents
Almost every conference will have agents that are either there to speak at panels or participate in pitch sessions. I have already given a short spiel about what pitching is (and be expecting another one on the value of it), so I won’t go into those, but those agents that attend want to be there. They are looking for someone to sign, so they are interested in hearing about your stories. Plus, they have the ability to “feel out” a writer as they’re pitching–not something you can easily do in a query letter. And you get to feel them out (which is equally important, especially since a lot of them are really cool people). So if you’re a generally nice person with an interesting story and seem to do your homework, they’re more likely to request pieces (or even a full version!) of your manuscript.
2.) Advice on writing and the writing life
The main content of conferences is usually the panels and workshops. That’s where speakers present to you new (and sometimes old) material to help you better your writing, your platform, your publishing deals, and more. These people genuinely want you to get better. Almost every time, they’re authors, agents, editors, or other figures in the publishing industry, so they’re able to give you information you may not already have or could never have access to.
3.) New writing friends
This was sort of an unexpected benefit for me. It should have been obvious–what, with all the networking opportunities and social media around them–but I’m always pleasantly surprised at the number of new friends I make at these. Oftentimes, these conferences will have a networking reception of some kind. A lot of people use this time to stalk agents they didn’t get to pitch to during the pitching sessions.
I’ve only been to one reception (Writers Digest Conference), but I spoke only to other authors (partly because I find it incredibly awkward to make small talk with someone when I know I have an ulterior motive). I had met a few of the people already through social media or a chance conversation during the conference, but the interactions during the reception solidified a relationship. I spent over an hour getting know new people, some of whom agreed to be critique partners or beta readers with me. And, actually, I met a guy (shout-out to Eric!) that had attended DFWCon with me as well–just this time, we finally met in person!
In addition to receptions, start (or suggest the conference start) a Facebook group or Twitter hashtag to promote both the conference and the members. This way, the attendees can interact with each other and follow each other on various social sites. From both the Writers Digest Conference and Pitchwars (a separate contest), genre-specific groups spurned from them, so I have found critique partners that know my genre as well.
While conferences are most definitely not a mandatory part of an author’s life, they can be very helpful in getting you new connections and new ideas. If you’re on the fence about signing up, I highly recommend them (of course, after validating that it’s a real conference and beneficial to you 🙂 ).
Have you attended conferences? Share your experiences below!