Blogger: Michelle Ule
Sitting in for Wendy Lawton
A writer’s conference can be a valuable investment in a writing career.
Learning more about the craft, making friends, and building connections is why I attend writer’s conferences.
I’ve also learned how to place myself in a tight publishing market and how to share information about my work.
(You know, market?)
With all the transitions taking place in 2020, a number of popular writer’s conferences are going online.
Does it make a difference if a conference is virtual or in-person?
Sure. Meeting people in person is always great.
But there are plenty of reasons why an online conference can work.
Here are three reasons why any serious writer should consider attending a conference.
I have a degree in English Literature and worked as a newspaper reporter. I’ve been writing since childhood.
I may have read thousands of novels and analyzed more poems than I want to think about, but that didn’t mean I understood how to write one.
Writer conferences provided a focused tutorial on the hows and whys.
They forced me to ask myself an important question: “Do you want to write for the market or for your own satisfaction?”
Naturally, I’d always assumed those were the same things.
But they’re not.
I learned how to pair my writing with what the market sought.
In smaller craft classes, I squirmed as the others evaluated my writing and pointed out ways to improve.
Studying craft enlarged my understanding of how to present my ideas and my stories in a stronger, more commercial way.
I needed that training.
Online classes can provide such an opportunity–without everyone necessarily looking at you!
The teachers may slant their material to accommodate not being in person, but the information is still sound, helpful, and valuable.
Plus, in many cases you can take classes on your time schedule and from home.
Making Friends or Finding a Like-Minded Community
Writing may seem like a solitary existence, but it’s not.
We need each other–and the friends I made at writer conferences have been the joy and the most fun part of this career.
I shared fun and success with friends in collections we wrote together. I’ve read and commented on my friend’s books as a Beta reader.
They’ve done the same for me.
If I have questions, I have a community of like-minded people I can contact to ask.
But does it work online? How do you make friends in a virtual conference?
I’ve been participating in online Facebook-based private writing groups for more than a year.
While the conversation isn’t as lively as talking to a person face-to-face, writers are generally good and fast typists.
We’ve just moved our comments into the chat boxes!
In some ways, since we’re dealing with writers, writing and reading each other’s comments feels natural.
I have had helpful conversations–both online and in private messages–with people for years.
We’ve helped market each other’s material, shared ideas, cheered each other on, and even endorsed each other’s books.
No one understands the joys and sorrows of the writing life better than the people living your same experience.
I met and befriended the majority of them at writer conferences.
Online gatherings can provide friendship-making opportunities.
Professional connections are also important and can only help in the writing life.
Where can you best meet industry professionals than at gatherings designed for introductions?
The first person I met at Mount Hermon turned out to be an editor. Seven years later she published my first book.
Even if I didn’t meet an editor, agent, keynote speaker, I knew who they were. That made them easier to approach when I queried for the first time.
It also made the publishing world friendlier when I could attach a face to an individual.
I’m still polite, but they don’t scare me as much.
The same type of relationship-building can happen in online conferences. Agents are taking one-on-one Zoom meetings at some online conferences.
Think of the advantages–once given an appointment, you can contact the agent or editor in advance and email them your one-sheet of information.
They can review the information before your meeting and spend the whole session knowledgeably discussing your personal project.
In addition, asking insightful questions during any sessions, or making meaningful conversations can spark interest from a professional.
If you have a unique idea, you could catch the eye of an industry professional. Follow up on anything they might say about your idea and who knows what can happen?
Sure, meeting in person can work well for some, but if you are particularly shy or a nervous introvert, an online meeting can enable you to write rather than try to keep your wits together when meeting a stranger.
Pay close attention if a professional allows remarks or questions during their presentation. If you have something wise to say, type it in.
If you don’t . . . well, listening is always good.
Bonus: A conference is also fun!
It enables writers of all levels to interact with one another.
A conference, whether in-person or online, can be filled with surprising information and warm camaraderie.
I’ve discovered new authors, learned valuable skills, and found new ways to positively change my writing.
Every conference I’ve attended has encouraged me and sent me “home” with great ideas to help my writing life.
What to do now?
With in-person conferences mostly on hiatus this year, where do writers go for a similar experience?
Here are groups I’ve personally worked with or whose conferences I’ve attended:
Write that Book with Tricia Goyer (Ongoing Facebook group)
American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)
Everything Memoir with Susy Flory (Ongoing Facebook group)
Other conferences I know of but have not attended include:
Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference
The Northwestern Christian Writers
SoCal Christian Writers Conference
Do you have to attend a conference?
Of course not. But it worked very well for me.
Meanwhile, a group of folks who love Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference formed a kickstart campaign in hopes of raising enough funds to run a physical conference in 2021.
For more information, or to donate to the campaign, check out the link here.
3 reasons to attend a writer’s conference, even online! Click to Tweet
WHY attend a writer’s conference? Click to Tweet
Check out http://www.southernchristianwriters.com they have been going for 30 years out of Tuscaloosa Alabama. Their virtual conference is this coming weekend the 24th & 25th. A deal at $50. I’ve attended two of the in person ones and they were great. Highly recommended..
Thanks for the information, Kim.
Damon J. Gray
I allow myself two conferences (max) each calendar year, and one of those two will ALWAYS be the West Coast Christian Writers Conference.
( I received no financial compensation for this glowing endorsement. 😉 )
Which is where I met you in person. 🙂
A virtual conference would be great,
something to which I could aspire,
but the Internet is, of late
is like rubbin’ sticks for startin’ fire.
It’s a landline, s’posed to be
reliable and very fast,
and thus it is a mystery
why the signal doesn’t last.
But I’ve seen junction boxes felled
by bovine horn, and it ain’t strange
when one considers anger jelled
out here upon the open range,
and this may be cows’ clarion call
to make vegans of us all.
Alas, online would have been wonderful for you, Andrew.
Michelle, yeah, it would, but for those pesky bovines! They really do use the junction boxes as scratching posts, and there’s no wireless up here.
The situation really has me cowed.
Thanks for the information, Kim.
I absolutely recommend signing up for an online writers conference. I found a lot of value from the recent She Writes for Him conference sponsored by Redemption Press and Athena Dean. The teaching was excellent, and surprisingly, the fellowship was very sweet.
I also just “attended” the Speak Up Conference, which I’d always wanted to go to in past years but found it pricey to fly to Grand Rapids from the West Coast. When I saw the lineup of editors representing traditionally publishing houses, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve now had three 15-minute Zoom appointments with editors, each of whom has asked for two proposals. I have another meeting today. I would not have had those opportunities without doing the online conference. Also, I found that the dozen or so workshops that I watched were among the very best teaching I’ve had about speaking–just packed with practical takeaway.
Like Michelle, I was also a journalism major and worked for a daily newspaper. Also like Michelle, I actually learned to write from attending writers’ conferences and made my publishing connections there. I’ve either attended and/or taught at Mt. Hermon CWC, Greater Philadelphia Area CWC, Billy Graham School of Christian Writing (defunct), Glorieta (NM) CWC (defunct), Oregon CWC, West Coast CWC, Leverage, AWSA, and the B&S Retreat. Each has its own flavor and benefits, which you can figure out by reading through the schedule and course descriptions on websites.
Jean E. Jones
Janet, one of the things I was most looking forward to at the AWSA conference this year was meeting you in person! But my husband loses his job in a few weeks and we decided we couldn’t afford the flight. Now that it’s gone virtual, I plan to register. Thanks for sharing even more benefits here.
Thanks for the encouraging words. I will attend (virtually) the Northwestern Christians Writers Conference this coming weekend. It will be my first one and I have to admit I am nervous. I feel unprepared since I haven’t published anything and am just starting this writing journey. Still, I am excited to learn from writing professionals.
I also appreciate all the links to other writing conferences and groups.
Jean E. Jones
What a timely post! Thank you for this. I’ve been wondering just how useful a virtual conference would be since meeting people in person is lost. Thank you too for the list of conferences. When my writers group broke up, I searched for a new one close by, but couldn’t find one. These conferences could be a good substitute.
I love this post, Michelle, because I too love writers conferences for the same reasons you listed. As I read what you wrote, I also remembered how kind you were to me when I was a newbie. While I was still trying to figure out how I fit in, you walked outside to where I was sitting alone and sat next to me. You talked about your writing and asked about mine. Thank you. That meant the world to me.
I’ve remembered that gift you gave to me and try to pass it on by intentionally reaching out to connect in the same way with other writers at conferences. It may be a little more difficult to do it online this year, but making connections with other writers adds so much joy to this writing journey!
I would adore attending a writer’s conference and virtual is a wonderful idea, but the money needed to attend has always been and continues to be, a drawback.