Getting The Most Out Of Conferences

What makes the expense of traveling to a conference, paying for tuition and room and board, spending two or more days away from family and the regular routine of life, worth it?
on May 5, 2014 · 5 comments

RealmMakerslogoOften this time of year, writers are gearing up to attend a conference—or perhaps they’ve just recently come home from one. Others may be thinking, why attend a conference? After all, there are writer instruction classes and webinars online which are considerably cheaper than conferences (see for example, WOW classes and Writers Digest tutorials or webinars).

Certainly online classes, workshops, tutorials, and webinars by industry professionals are helpful, even necessary, in this era of less editing and more self-publishing. However, there are benefits to conferences and the savvy writer will take advantage of what’s offered.

I want to highlight one conference in particular, to be held in Pennsylvania May 30-31—the second annual Realm Makers Conference geared specifically for Christian writers and fans of speculative literature. At the Realm Makers website, they describe the conference as “The only symposium for people of faith who love science fiction and fantasy.”

Led by Keynote speaker Tosca Lee, the schedule includes classes by an impressive list of faculty, including Steve Laube, Jeff Gerke, author L. B. Graham, and many more.

In reality, though, the things that are true about Realm Makers are true about all Christian writers’ conferences—Mount Hermon, Orange County, Maranatha, Florida, Northwestern, Blue Ridge, Colorado, Oregon, ACFW, and more. But what things? What makes the expense of traveling to a conference, paying for tuition and room and board, spending two or more days away from family and the regular routine of life, worth it?

Instruction. Despite what I said earlier about online learning opportunities, I don’t want to minimize the instruction aspect of a conference. The truth is, too often we don’t know what we don’t know. How do you take an online class to learn how to deepen your characters’ point of view if you don’t know you need to do so? Conferences often introduce writers to topics they’ve not thought about before.

Sometimes these instructional topics come packaged in an ongoing workshop. For instance, in my first conference at Mount Hermon, I sat in an extended class on fiction co-taught by Randy Ingermanson and Brandilyn Collins. These wonderful instructors covered any number of topics, including ones I hadn’t realized I was weak in.

Networking with other writers. SpecFaith webmaster guru, E. Stephen Bernett reminds me from time to time that we met at an ACFW conference years ago. Little did I realize at the time that we would be working together in this online venue.

At conferences I’ve met writers who critiqued my work, who became subjects of an article I’ve written, who write guest articles here at Spec Faith, whose books the CSFF Blog Tour has featured, who are currently judging for the Clive Staples Award, who endorsed my writing ebook. In other words, writers help writers, and often those contacts begin at writers’ conferences.

Opportunity to pitch to editors and agents. Critique sessions, online classes, and webinars can put writers in touch with a limited number of editors and agents. Writers conferences make it possible to meet face to face with a greater number of industry professionals. These are the people who know about this volatile and ever-changing business from the inside. They are the ones receiving hundreds of manuscripts each week and seeing the caliber of writing. They have insight into what books are selling well and who is buying what.

What an opportunity, then, for writers to pick the brains of these professionals at a conference, starting with a presentation—a pitch—of their own work. How else can writers find out if they have an idea that captures the interest of those in the know?

Inspiration and motivation. Often hearing about the writing journey of those who have gone on before is an incredible encouragement. Further, believers can share the ways in which God uses struggles and successes to form us into the image of His Son. These stories might come from writers we meet during informal gatherings or from the keynote speaker.

I’ll never forget the year Ted Dekker spoke at Mount Hermon and shared how he had reached financial bottom when God opened the door to his writing. His story was moving (he himself was choked up as he told it) and inspiring. It was a reminder that God’s timing is not our timing, that He has plans we most likely don’t see in advance, and that we can trust Him with our writing.

Mount HermonGet away. Some times the best thing about a conference is the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday and focus on writing. Many conferences offer places where the writer can be alone and think or journal or (shockingly! 😉 ) write. Conference venues can prompt ideas for story settings or even plot lines. And there’s a wealth of people from which to draw ideas for characters.

Fun. I can’t remember laughing harder than I did at the general sessions at Mount Hermon the year Liz Curtis Higgs was the keynote speaker. But apart from the humor speakers bring, conferences can be fun when writers prank each other as Randy Ingermanson did Steve Laube (ask either of them about it some time) or as writers hang together in the evenings over coffee. Of course there are also meals and banquets (sometimes including costumes) and award presentations and focus groups—all fun activities.

Prayer support. For the believer, conferences offer opportunities to pray for and receive prayer from other writers. And not just for writers, but for the editors and agents who often are on the front lines trying to get the best stories in print. Some from indie houses may be operating on a small budget. Some may have a small number of support staff. Others may face the task of breaking down resistance from those in house who are so concerned with the bottom line they aren’t eager to try something new. Whatever the case, we can pray for those we connect with at conferences.

So what do you think? Are conferences for you?

If so, you might take the plunge and register for Realm Makers today.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. Julie D says:

    I wish I could make it….

  2. Alex Mellen says:

    These are great reasons! I’ve loved going to writer’s conferences, and I can’t wait for Realm Makers!

    If you’re looking for practical advice about conference-going, I wrote a blog post about it.

  3. Julie, I’m with you! I could easily become a conference junkie, and I would especially love to go to Realm Makers.

    Alex, thanks for passing along your link! Important stuff. I especially agree that it’s important to go to as much as possible—sort of the “shop ’til you drop” approach. 😉 I’d also suggest to plan prayerfully. God may have appointments for us that we didn’t plan, and we shouldn’t try too hard to “make it happen.”

    One year at Mount Hermon, where conferees can sit at the round tables with the staff member of their choice for lunch and dinner, I planned to sit with a particular agent. Two others conferees were there ahead of me and saved the agent’s seat (which we’d been instructed to do). They also were shifting around to make sure they had seats on either side and that they had saved seats as close as possible for their friends. As it turned out, I was on the opposite side of the table. When the agent arrived, she informed the table that she liked to go around in a circle and hear what each person was writing. And she always started with the person furthest from her—me.

    All the planning those other two writers had put into trying to get where they could talk to the agent was for nothing.

    Yes, we should plan, but yes, we should trust God when He changes our plans.


    • Alex Mellen says:

      That’s a good point, Becky. I’ve definitely experienced changes of plans–maybe I should list flexibility as one of my tips! But because I’m generally a planner, I’ve experienced the panic of not being sure which session to attend at the last minute.

      But really, there’s no way to get unhelpful information at a conference!

What do you think?