The Value in Writers Conferences

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?

YES.

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!

 

6 thoughts on “The Value in Writers Conferences

  • August 22, 2016 at 10:17 am
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    My reasons are the same as your reasons! I’ve only been to one conference so far, but it was completely worth it. An agent requested my full manuscript, and though she ultimately declined, that was still a huge step for me. The cost unfortunately means I can’t make a habit of it, but I plan on going to another conf as soon as my 2nd novel is ready for querying. Thanks for writing this post and reminding me to look up confs in the near future!

    Reply
    • August 22, 2016 at 10:15 pm
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      Congrats on getting a full request! That’s such a big step!

      Reply
  • August 22, 2016 at 3:18 pm
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    I try to attend at least one per year, though in many years I go to two or three. DFW Con was wonderful last year, is a really good mid-sized conference for those not ready to jump into something the size of Writer’s Digest or San Francisco Writers Conference. I’ve attended a couple smaller ones, too, but there’s a tipping point at which they become very limited in what they offer.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2016 at 11:45 pm
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    I enjoyed reading this post. I also attended WDC 16 and the cost had me on the fence until the Wednesday before it began. The experience was great. While I didn’t have a book to pitch, I picked up invaluable insights for the eleven how-to books I was self publishing that month. The positive energy was great but you really need to track your action items and follow thru on them via a calculated plan of attack or else buyer’s remorse might set in a couple month’s down the road.

    Reply
    • August 23, 2016 at 11:49 pm
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      months. No possessive. (Another note: kinda like mogwai feeding, don’t blog after midnite)

      Reply
    • August 24, 2016 at 7:11 am
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      I’m so glad you found the conference worthwhile! I enjoyed it as well and found many lessons learned from it.

      Reply

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