Should You Go To a Conference?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I could write pages and pages about the value of a conference, but in the end it comes down to a personal decision about how to spend your time and money. Here are some things to think about:

1. If it’s a financial hardship, then it’s usually not the right thing to do. There will always be more conferences, perhaps at a better time financially.

2. Making a commitment to attend conferences regularly (once a year if you can) signals to yourself and your family that you’re taking this whole writing thing seriously; that you’re treating it as a business and a profession, not just a hobby.



3. The workshops available at conferences are valuable for continuing to improve your writing. Even authors who are multi-published attend workshops because they want to keep growing as writers.

4. The intangible value of networking and making friends with other writers can be life-changing for someone who’s used to toiling all alone on the computer (even with online friends). Interacting with like-minded people is validating, encouraging, and downright fun.

5. The opportunity to meet with agents and editors is, of course, a major draw for most writers. Conferences are pretty much the only place you can do this.

6. I think it’s important to feel that you’re part of something larger than yourself. Going to a conference helps you to feel like you’re part of the writing and publishing community at large.

Those of you who’ve been to conferences: Why do you go? What would you say to someone trying to decide if they should jump in?


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29 Responses

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  1. Hilary Cobb says:

    I’ve debated attending the acfw conference, but financially could not justify it. So I was thrilled when I saw that Boise, Idaho is starting their own on April 2019! That’s only 15 minutes away for me! I’m glad you shared that conferences are great, but not worth hurting ourselves financially. There will always be another one to attend.

    I totally agree and appreciate the information in this article.

  2. First, a huge thank you to all who have offered prayer on my behalf. Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you know the tune…and I’m ready to die. But that’s God’s call.
    * In another life I used to go to conferences, looking to be a part of something greater than me, a remora attaching itself to a bigger, more badass shark.
    * But the hole I was trying to fill was God-shaped, and realizing that was the first step to freedom.
    * Conferences were still fun, though; Wore super-tight black jeans, an orange t-shirt, and a white dinner jacket, and played the rock star.

  3. I appreciate your balanced approach, Rachel. In most cases, God’s plan doesn’t include pushing family finances over the edge. I’ve yet to attend my dream conference, but I’ve attended shorter events, closer to home and within my budget–and reaped most of the benefits you list here.

  4. I’ve been to a number of conferences over the years. I’ve loved the classes, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned how manage the nerves and doubt to pitch my work to agents and editors, and to deal with the disappointments when an appointment doesn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. It’s been great meeting authors whose books I’ve read and loved. And, I have especially loved the opportunities to connect with online friends and hear their voices, see their facial expressions, get to know them in an in-real-life setting. I come away from conferences with lots of information, and especially with growing relationships with people who share my passion. When a conference can be afforded, I recommend them for all these reasons.

  5. Rachelle, thanks for the first item on the list–a reason to put conference attendance off if it represents a financial hardship. I found that the more I attended conferences (after eventually getting my first contract), the less I got from the classes but the more I got in touching base with my colleagues. It’s an individual matter, and often boils down to “What do we want to get from our attendance?”

  6. Great advice! I’ve attended both large and small conferences. I always learn something new and come away encouraged and refreshed. I do warn newbies not to go into a conference expecting to “be discovered” or sign with an agent at the dinner table. I did meet an acquisitions editor while standing in the lunch line one year. That led to publication, but it still took the process of query and proposal.

  7. Susan Sage says:

    I think the best part of conferences are all of the connections made. The bonding that happens between writers is wonderful and getting to see agents and publishers as “normal” people (if there is such a thing! ; } ) is priceless. And, if it’s a Christian writer’s conference, the benefits are even better as people pray together and talk about how God leads and directs in writing.

    I would disagree about the financial statement though simply because it’s too broad. There are opportunities for help in the area of finances to attend conferences. I knew of a woman whose way was fully paid by people who found out she couldn’t afford it. If she had simply said now’s not the right time because of finances, she would have missed out on the blessing of allowing others to help her and she would have stolen the blessing they received. I do understand your point, but sometimes the enemy uses finances as a roadblock.

    • Susan Sage says:

      BTW, I’m not saying throw your family into financial crisis by going, I’m simply saying, just because it looks like it won’t work, doesn’t mean God doesn’t have another plan. I think we should seek Him about going whether finances are involved in the decision or not.

      Just wanted to clarify.

      • I agree that when there are financial roadblocks, that they should be considered carefully. If the person you reference is my friend, I know she spent a lot of time in prayer before going and felt very clearly the Lord’s leading. So if you are attending a conference while dealing with financial roadblocks, be sure to take it to the Lord and see what His plans are. Sometimes He does bless us with those incidents we never expected and sometimes He is saying not right now. (Not that you don’t know that already, just wanted to point it out for anyone who might not. πŸ˜‰ )

  8. Thank you Rachelle for the post especially about not putting your family in financially hardship. I haven’t been able to attend a long distance writer’s conference yet, but I am heading in that direction. I have taken advantage of many local conferences, all Christian so far, and I have never come away empty handed, or with an empty mind. At first, it was all about learning as much as I could because at that time I had very little experience or knowledge about the world of writing and publishing. Since, those early years, I still go for as much learning as possible, to pitch a current book concept, and to meet and greet fellow writers, agents, editors, speakers, and connect. I do like seeing and meeting the individuals that go with blogs, agencies, publishers, and books. I am so thrilled and grateful that I have been able to attend the first two years of the Northwestern Christian Writer’s Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota which is only twenty minutes from my home. It has been wonderful, and Lord willing I plan to make that a ongoing conference to attend.

  9. The danger of attending Christian writers conferences is that they’re addictive!

  10. David Todd says:

    I spent about eight years and upwards of $7,000 going to conferences, both national and regional. I gave them up when I decided to self-publish. I’d still like to go for the fellowship with other writers and the networking, as well as for craft development, but those by themselves don’t justify the expense for me.

  11. Years ago, I loved learning through Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God about all the ways that God speaks to us. And one of those ways is through God’s people. For me, conferences are one of those ways that God can speak to us through His people. The first one I went to, I met one of my now favorite authors who lives in my local area, and I now attend her critique group. Our crit group is a huge blessing for me, because they are helping me tighten my manuscript, make progress, and many more things. I might have never had that opportunity without that first conference. πŸ™‚

  12. The very first time I went to a writer’s conference, it was purely to learn and become a better writer for my personal hobby. It was a very small, local conference and I mistakenly thought I would be able to hide in the back of a room, learn what I needed to write better, and then leave undetected. Boy did God have a grand ole time with that misconception. Through that first conference, God has pulled me into a world I never knew existed and blessed me with friendships I had prayed to have for decades. If you are on the fence about going to a conference, and it isn’t a financial strain, I say go. You never know how God is going to bless you through it.

    Nowadays, I go to conferences to connect with others, continue to learn the craft, and, this year, for the first time ever, I will be testing the waters for my novel. Conferences can be scary, but they can also be among one of the biggest blessings of your life. They don’t have to be big, national level ones either.

  13. I went to my first writers conference (a regional SCBWI) when my firstborn was 6 months old. I had already taken two different two year distance courses, but there is something different about a conference. It was agony to leave my baby for the very first time, even if it was with my mother, but slowly and surely I have learned with each conference I’ve attended. I shoot to go to one a year and in the last fourteen years, I’ve only missed one year. You meet writer friends (the incredible joy of talking with another writer is priceless), form critique partnerships, make editor friends even if they don’t take on your story, and you learn from some of the best writers in the industry. You practice pitching your work, being disappointed, being thrilled and still keeping your sanity, only to be disappointed again. You learn to take the ups and downs of having someone love your work and still say it is not ready. You learn to revise and then un-revise and then revise again because of various off hand remarks of various editors that you sit with for lunch over the years. In short, you learn how to do this thing called writing. You don’t have to break the bank either. I can’t afford the big conferences, but there is a small local one that I can manage and I go, every year. It’s worth it!

  14. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Writing is much of the time a solitary endeavor; but publishing is not. The networking and fellowship of conferences (My experience is with Christian writing confs) is precious and goes beyond meeting in cyberspace. The opportunities to learn are also more varied and somewhat different than cyber-learning. I would say to someone trying to decide ~ beware of over-loading your schedule. Give yourself permission to take time to be quiet, reflect, walk about. A conference can be like trying to get a drink from a firehose!

  15. Michelle Aleckson says:

    I’m preparing for my first ever ACFW! I’m grateful for a writing scholarship which made it all possible. If finances are an issue, look into scholarships and grants in your area as another possibility.

    Also, a veteran author friend suggested to manage our expectations when attending a conference. We most likely won’t be going into a pitch appointment and come out with a 3-book contract. But if we go in hope of learning something new and making friends, we won’t be disappointed. I’m taking this advice to heart!

  16. Beth Foreman says:

    Thank you for the reminders about attending conferences, especially since I’m packing up for my first ACFW conference this week! I’ve attended several excellent local conferences and always walk away with lessons about craft that help me grow, new writer friends, renewed energy and excitement for my writing, and the reminder it’s not just me and my laptop. Attending conferences reminds me (and not just my family) that this is my work, my calling, and not just a hobby.

  17. Cindy DeBoer says:

    I’ve been to three writer’s conferences. Their value increased as I grew in seriousness about writing. Each one gave me priceless takeaways: how to hone my craft, the nuts and bolts of publishing, practical steps on platform building, and so much more! Plus – the friendships made with fellow writers – Oh my! I’d attend a conference every month if my family would let me…