9 Benefits of Attending a Writers Conference

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Having returned from Writing for the Soul, my first writers conference of 2013, a few observations are fresh on my mind. They might be helpful to you as you debate whether to attend one this year.

I’ve proclaimed the benefits of writers conferences from time to time. Here is a quick recap of the obvious reasons to attend:

  1. The opportunity to meet editors face-to-face. Some editors won’t consider a proposal from a writer unless they first met at a writers conference. Initially, that sounds unfair, doesn’t it? But look at it from an editor’s perspective. In today’s economically-strained publishing environment, the editor needs all the information he or she can accumulate to make a wise acquisition. And due to staff reductions, time is precious. Conferences are time-efficient for everyone. Your face-to-face interaction creates a three-dimensional first impression, way more information than your name, photo, and bio alone. NOTE: To ensure your first impression is optimum, be prepared to present yourself as a professional. I wrote a blog on this topic here.
  2. The opportunity to introduce yourself and meet with agents. If an editor with whom you met has requested your proposal, chances increase that an agent will be interested in talking to you.
  3. Educate yourself about the publishing industry and learn about trends and important things that are happening, including new technologies and how you can use them.
  4. The potential for joining or forming a critique group with attendees who write in your genre and with whom you connect.
  5. The inspiration from the main speakers and workshop leaders to persevere.
  6. Learning more about the craft of writing and how to approach an agent or an editor via a query and proposal.

But beyond these are the intangible takeaways, nuanced at first, which I could see in attendees’ eyes as they participated in the conference process.

  1. The energy that pervades the atmosphere when so many writers gather to talk all things publishing is palpable. Whether you are a new writer attending for the first time or an industry veteran who came to speak or lead a workshop, a conference is a time of refreshment and renewed commitment. It might be just the thing you need if your writing is bogged down or stuck. Most conferences offer attendees the opportunity to receive a critique of their manuscript by a professional editor. For a fraction of the fee you would pay to hire an editor on your own, you can gain valuable insight from a publishing veteran. That is reason enough to attend a conference.
  2. The camaraderie among attendees and faculty, all of whom understand each other’s passion for writing, common struggles in the journey to publication, and the stresses of fitting writing into real-life responsibilities. New writers commented to me how encouraged they were by the support and kindness they received from agents, editors, and veteran authors. What’s not to love about that?
  3. A first-hand glimpse of how the industry works from a business perspective. I believe this is one of the most important benefits of attending a conference. We spend a lot of time concentrating on craft, plot, message, and platform–the basic essentials of a publishable book. But equally important is gaining understanding of business realities. For instance, why is the marketing plan so important in your proposal, and what do agents and editors expect to see in yours? After listening to the speakers tell their stories and learn from workshop leaders, I observed a-ha moments in my 15-minute meetings with attendees as those pieces were fitting together for them.

Next week I’ll give you a list of writers conferences taking place this year.

Which of the above are the most important reasons for you to attend a conference this year? What did you appreciate most about previous conference experiences? Have you kept in touch with attendees you met at previous conferences?


30 Responses

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  1. Anne Love says:

    I think writer’s conferences literally sling-shot you forward on your journey!
    Memorable moments: visiting with Chip MacGregor through an entire dinner before I knew who he was (ahem–total newbie, I was). Sitting beside my current crit partner and dear friend Jaime Wright at the newbie’s table in Denver ’09; trembling before my first pitch, and the one where my seat-mate pushed me into the line to pitch for BHP; and WORSHIP!!!
    SO worth it! Be prepared to be stretched. I can’t wait for ACFW this year.

  2. Tari Faris says:

    I have only been to two ACFW conferences. But both are highlights of my writing journey. My favorite part has to be connecting both with other writers and people in the industry.
    Before my first ACFW, I had no writing friends. Since then I have been amazed and blessed by so many great friendships. I hadn’t realized how a great community of writers would not only bless me emotionally and spiritually, but also push my writing further and make it stronger.

  3. rachel says:

    I am going to ACFW for the first time this year; but due to friends who have been and all of the exciting things I have read (and pictures I have seen ), I almost feel like I have been there before! I suppose I am most looking forward to getting a sense of the community-in-action— also to hearing what people I have only read in email and comment form sound like 🙂

  4. One reason I attend conferences is to meet with others in the industry. This year, I look forward to meeting with my agent and discussing current projects and proposals. Along that line, I have several ideas that I hope to pitch to editors I have met with in the past.

    Another reason I attend conferences is for self-assessment. As I attend workshops and chat with other writers, I evaluate where I am as a writer. Have I grown in the craft? What new technology should I be using? How can I better reach my audience?

    Last, but not least by any means, I attend conferences because of the main speakers. They are indeed inspirational and challenge me to seek God’s guidance in my writing in new and deeper ways.

  5. While learning the craft and meeting with agents/editors are my top reasons for attending conferences, the greatest joys always come from getting together with friends (old and new) I might see once per year. Lasting memories are created, and friendships are deepened.

    I also love the worship time. Standing with other believers from so many backgrounds, yet all praising the same God, is awe-inspiring.

  6. I’ve attended the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference the past couple of years, and my first year was a real eye-opener. It was invigorating to be around others who were passionate about writing. But it was overwhelming to learn how publishing works. It’s a completely different experience to sit in a session with an agent than it is to learn through bite-size 500-word blog posts. But ICWC focuses a lot on non-fiction, understandably so since Wesleyan Publishing House doesn’t publish fiction. This year, I’m going to the ACFW conference! All-fiction! Woo-hoo! (Sorry. Very uncharacteristic of me, but I couldn’t contain my exuberance.)

  7. Larry says:

    There is much wisdom in todays post, Mary. Here’s a few things that really resonated with me:

    3.A first-hand glimpse of how the industry works from a business perspective.

    I feel that all writers should attend a conference, just for this alone. They can therefore see how they could fit into the industry, what ways they would desire to try to reform the industry, or in what ways they would enjoy doing things differently if they are to work outside the traditional industry.

    1.The energy that pervades the atmosphere when so many writers gather to talk all things publishing is palpable.

    Indeed! Imagine being in-person at something like the “bad query” blog Rachel had the other day: all that excitement and joy with fellow writers.

    I know many writers don’t have the financial resources to attend lots of conferences, so I would suggest going to your local or regional book festivals. There’s usually some good workshops, speakers, and the Q&A stuff can get interesting. For industry insight, I’ve noticed writers tend to be willing to discuss the industry, though just remember that their journey in the industry could be quite different from that of other writers.

    • Larry,

      I understand what you mean about the cost of conferences. Many aspiring writers tell me that they cannot afford to go to workshops or conferences. Often conferences offer CDs of the workshops and lectures. Ordering CDs is one way to experience the teaching of a conference at a smaller cost.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Larry, thanks for your book festival suggestion. And Rachel’s query contest surely gave us a fun day, didn’t it.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      I second book festival as a low-cost alternative to conferences. We have some pretty good ones around here, and they’re a fraction of the cost of a writer’s conference. NYT authors show up and give talks and answer questions.

      Having said that, I’m hoping to attend a writer’s conference at some point. I’ve heard so many good things about it, and it’s not as much as meeting agents and editors, but to put faces to names, and to be inspired and encouraged, and to encourage and cheer on others.

      Thanks, Mary, for confirming that saving up for a writer’s conference can only pay off.

  8. I attended a few local one-day conferences. These were fantastic. I met several published authors and learned quite a lot about the process and the how-to of writing a full length novel.

    My first “big” conference was the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference. The joy, the encouragement and the information blessed me. The spiritual aspect, (I hadn’t anticipated), confirmed an identification with a calling to something more than fulfilling a life-long dream.

    And of course…I met a delightful and inspirational agent!

    Thanks for the reminders!

  9. Good morning, Mary. “Writing For the Soul” is such a wonderful title and concept! I hope that you had a productive and soul-satisfying time.

    You asked which of the reasons you listed would be the most important reasons to attend a writers’ conference. I feel almost cold-hearted saying this, but the most important reasons for me to attend a writers’ conference would be to meet face-to-face with agents and editors and have the opportunity to “shop” my manuscript. Learning more about the industry would be another top reason for me to attend a conference. As I don’t have much money, attending a conference would be a business investment, so my main reason for going would be to do business. That said, connecting with other writers is always invaluable. Also, my soul cherishes the opportunity to connect with others (writers, agents, editors, anyone I meet) human being to human being. So I would go to a writers’ conference to work at getting my manuscript published and to learn more about the business of writing, but while I was at the conference, I would want to get to know the PEOPLE who were there.

    Blessings on your weekend!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Christine, your main reason for attending a conference isn’t cold-hearted. You’re talking reality. Attending a writers conference is an investment in your career and you are wise to want to focus your primary efforts on meeting with agents and editors, getting a paid critique, or learning something new in the general sessions and workshops. The intangible benefits are blessings to absorb and enjoy in the process.

  10. I don’t think we can stress enough the value of writer’s conferences. I have gleaned so much industry knowledge from those who have been on this writing journey for far longer than I have. I have also never felt more encouraged and inspired.

    Attending these conferences with fellow believers and getting to know some attendees has really affirmed that I’m supposed to be on this writing journey.

    God has placed certain people in my path and it has just been incredible. So pray for God to lead you to the right conference, whether small or large, and be open to His guiding hand.

    I did a blog post with advice from one of the conferences I attend each year. The link’s below if you’d like to check it out.


  11. Great post today, Mary. It’s been a busy week with the kids on vacation, so I haven’t been out here much. It was wonderful to come back to this post, especially since I was at a planning committee meeting for our local conference last night.

    Since my hubby doesn’t support my writing, I attend mostly to talk to people in the industry and to meet agents. Though I don’t feel the conference is the best fit for me, it’s what I can afford and it doesn’t require travel expenses.

    My goal is to attend a Christian writers conference within the next couple of years, as the Christian market isn’t big in my area, so our conference most likely won’t ever offer a panel geared toward it.

    One of the things we were considering this year is having the lunch seating arrangements reserved by genre, so attendees could connect with those writing similar books. What do you think of this idea? I like it, but I also feel it’s good to expand your horizons and chat with writers of other genres. I would appreciate your thoughts on this if you have the time.

    Hope you have a blessed weekend. Nice to have you back.

  12. Sharla Fritz says:

    So many good things have come out of attending Write-to-Publish. The first time I attended I felt like my head would explode with all the new information I learned. But I really appreciated getting a new perspective on the publishing business and what it took to write a good book. One of the best things is getting the encouragement of other writers.

  13. . . . just got back from a tail-waggin’ of a conference. Wow. The meet and greet with all my fellow Writer-Dog-Owners was outstanding. I never realized there are so many literary breeds out there –

  14. Sarah Grimm says:

    I will be attending my first conference in April and I am so excited and downright terrified. The biggest step for me was signing up to pitch to a couple agents I am really interested in. I won’t lie, I am scared out of my mind, but I can’t succeed if I never try.

    That being said the encouragement of being with other writers is sure to be what I’ll need to boost me into a round of querying and persevering. 🙂

  15. Bonnie Doran says:

    I’ve attended Colorado Christian Writers Conference for 16 years plus a host of others. This year, I’d like to meet with editors and learn more. I’ve become friends with many of the attendees.

  16. Elaine Faber says:

    I think, as a fledgling writer, I’m still realizing all the things I don’t know that I don’t know! Everything we do, read articles,study blogs, attend conferences, or seminars instills something new that I didn’t know I didn’t know before (and now I do). Hoping the conferences I attend this year will narrow the field of what I don’t know, and bring me closer to what I need to know to be successsful.

  17. Lisa says:

    I think this is so valuable. I have only attended one conference the Festival of Faith and Writing last spring. I hope to get one on my calendar. I would love to meet all of you wonderful writers, editors, and agents in person. I love soaking up all the knowledge they impart.

  18. Sharyn Kopf says:

    To be honest, I have something of a love-hate relationship with writers conferences. I love meeting and brainstorming with other writers. God has blessed me with several wonderful friendships with women I’ve met at conferences like Write-to-Publish and Blue Ridge. And, of course, I’ve learned so much.

    Then there’s the downside: I almost always spend at least one night in tears. Or leave that way. Why? Because I set such high expectations, thinking this is the conference where I’ll meet the editor or agent who will fall in love with my work. Last summer, hoping to avoid the grief, I determined not to pitch at all. Didn’t work. I felt, as Romeo put it, so unsatisfied. Clearly, I need to change how I prepare myself for conferences.

    And I have to do it before September, when I hope to attend ACFW for the first time!

  19. Laurie Evans says:

    I can’t say enough about the New England RWA conference in late April. Last year was my first time. Loved the excitement and energy! Can’t wait to go again this year.

  20. I just got back from leading a workshop at the Castro Valley Christian Writers Seminar. It’s a small conference for beginning and intermediate writers so no agents or editors are present, but it’s wonderful to interact with other writers who are Christians. Even as part of the staff I usually learn something new every year.

  21. Megan Sayer says:

    Mary I have a question – hope I’m not too late.
    I’ll be attending my first ever writer’s conference later this year, the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis. I’m doing as much research as I can into who I should try to schedule appointments with, and I’ve focussed primarily on agents (I am currently seeking an agent). Is there any value at this stage in meeting with editors as well, or would that be for a later stage in the writing journey?
    Thank you!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Megan, by all means use the opportunity at ACFW to introduce yourself to editors. Do your research to request meetings with editors who are looking for proposals in your genre.