If you’re a writer, you should attend a writers conference.
In my younger years, when I was cutting my teeth on the whole writing thing, I didn’t appreciate what going to a writers conference would do for me. Looking back, I wish I had. It’s easy to make excuses:
- I’m just starting out
- It’s too expensive
- I’m a published veteran who doesn’t need anything a conference can offer
Sometimes these are valid, but usually we’re looking for an excuse to avoid going. Trust me, if at all possible, GO. Do some research, pick a conference you think would be the most helpful, and make it happen.
In a couple days, I’m heading to Philadelphia to attend the Realm Makers conference. This will be my third year in a row, and through my past experiences, I’ve learned some valuable things about conferences.
Why should you bother spending time and money to attend a conference? There are plenty of reasons, but here are the top three:
The focus of many conferences is the teaching. Any conference will usually include expert panels, individual classes, critique sessions, and continuing sessions that drill deep into a topic.
A few areas you can expect to learn about include:
- Creating characters
Yeah, the internet is full of free advice, and you can check out mountains of books from the library, but learning is different in person. There’s something special about sitting in a room full of other people who are as strange as you (admit it, writers are a strange breed) and listening as the presenter shares his or her expertise.
Another upside is that you can ask follow-up questions. Can’t do that with a book.
At the first conference I attended, Realm Makers back in 2014, Steve Laube gave a short speech during a pre-conference “party.” One of the things he said has stuck in my mind to this day. He told us that our presence at the conference made an impression on him as an agent. We spent the money and time to learn and hone our craft, and that dedication stood out to him as an agent and put us ahead of other writers.
If you’re new to writing, the amount of things you can learn is as vast as Smaug’s treasure horde, and even if you’re experienced, don’t overlook the value. As we all know, no writer stops learning.
One of the biggest draws of a writing conference is the chance to pitch editors and agents. Unpublished authors anticipate landing the contract they’ve been hungering after.
The editor and agent sessions are great, but they’re not the only opportunity for making connections, and as you’ve probably heard, it’s not what you know, but who you know, that counts.
Networking is essential.
Imagine this scenario:
A young, unpublished writer attends her first conference, complete with scheduled pitches to an agent and acquisitions editor. She gives her pitch and does well, but neither person asks for more. A sad end to the story?
Not quite. Later on, during a random conversation at lunch, she gives a synopsis of her book to the people sitting next to her. Unbeknownst to her, an editor is sitting across the table, listening intently. When the writer finishes, the editor says “That sounds like an interesting story. Could I see your synopsis and sample chapters?”
You never know which connections will work out, and the more opportunities you give yourself, the better your chances of striking gold.
Conferences are ripe with opportunity for making connections, not only with editors and agents, but with marketing experts, potential critique partners and beta readers, and published authors who might enjoy your story concept and mention you to someone in the industry.
No amount of reading, listening to podcasts, or musing over the fundamentals of writing will give you such a concentrated chance of networking. Even sending emails and communicating on social media isn’t as effective. There’s something about meeting someone face-to-face that leaves a lasting impression.
Writing is a lonely pursuit. Most of us are introverts, so it doesn’t bother us as much, but even us solitary writers need to pull ourselves out of our holes and interact with the world. What better way than to spend a few days with other writers?
Maybe you’re friends with other writers, part of a writer’s group, or involved in groups on social media.
Or maybe you’re like me. I went into my first conference two years ago knowing only one person. It was intimidating, but you know what? Writers are a cool bunch. The people were friendly and welcoming, and never once did I feel left out or ignored.
Last year my time at Realm Makers was spectacular. I was able to meet online friends in person, reconnect with some people I’d met the year before, and make new friends. Talking about books and sharing ideas not only sparked my creativity, it inspired me to pursue my projects with passion.
The sense of community was powerful and I had a blast. Whether it was staying up till 1:00 am playing a board game with my roommates or having a discussion about favorite superheroes during lunch, fellowship and fun filled every moment. I knew I had found my people—my tribe.
We sit at our computers for hours, with only our characters and ideas for company, and that’s great. But at some point, it’s healthy to interact. And if you’re an introvert watch out, because you’re going to make friends. 😉
Have you been to a writer’s conference? What was the experience like? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.