To Go or Not to Go: Writer’s Conferences

This is  another entry the Mystery Writer Blog Tours Ink.

This article is the second stop in a rolling blog tour on the topic of writer’s conferences. Your next stop is Ryder Islington’s blog. The details on all the participants in today’s tour are at the bottom of this post, as well as a link to their websites.

Whether you’re a new writer or an experienced one, much can be gained by attending a conference. The trouble is that much can be lost, as well.

A great deal can be said for meeting other writers and enjoying camaraderie in an environment full of like-minded individuals. The ideas and inspiration fly. In the best of conferences, writers come away with a refreshed, eager to try new things, and a pocket full of new resources. But those same pockets are now shy of usually several hundred dollars that might have been used for other things–like, oh, I dunno–food, bills, and so on.

I’m often blown away by the fact that my colleagues attend several expensive conferences throughout the year. As for me, when I scrounge together the money, I need to make it count. Which is why there is one conference I try to go to every year—the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), which is held in New York City, a place that is the publishing capital of the world. When I attend an ASJA meeting, I can meet with my agent and editor, as well as touch base with my colleagues, brush up on issues and technological advances, learn more about my craft, and  find about about new markets. I have an old friend that I stay with in the city, so my expenses are travel, food, and the conference—which is usually around $200–that’s two or three days of jam-packed panels, meeting with editors (which is part of the conference), and being being surrounded by other professional writers. Not bad.

So when I see a local one-day writer’s conference that goes from about 9 to 4 and they want $95, I pause. You can see why, can’t you?

(But there are really good local writer’s conferences–The Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference in Virginia is a gem!)

Dear writer-friends, you can spend a great deal of money flitting from conference to conference. And what’s more you can waste a lot of time, as well. Choose well. Your time is valuable. And while conferences will give you the tools to become more successful, just because you attend one, doesn’t mean (necessarily) your life will change.

Still, getting out is important for a group of people who mostly sit at a desk every day in front of a computer and can be somewhat out of touch. Learning about the profession, staying current, is a really good reason to attend a writer’s conference.

Here’s my advice for attending a conference:

1. Choose wisely. If it’s expensive, make sure it’s worth it. How much access will you have to editors and agents? To the panelists and presenters?

2. Bring your business cards. Leave your writing samples at home. You will be loaded down with the “stuff” from the conference and editors and agents don’t want to carry around your samples, either.

3. Have your pitch, practiced, at the ready in case you get into a conversation with an editor or agent. By all means, if you are in a “social” situation, in the bar or hallway, be engaging and social and let them ask you about your work.

4. Be engaged with the writers around you, as well. Not only can you use another writer friend, but you never know who is sitting next to you. They could be as valuable contact as panelist.

It’s been my privilege over the past few years to actually help out with conferences and sit on panels–which I enjoy immensely. I’ve been in the business a long time and am always thrilled to help out other writers. I also been on panels where I  was glad I wasn’t an attendee–because many panelists were there just to promote their books. Ya have to feel for them, right? They have an audience and need to make it count, need to sell those books. BUT it serves to really turn people off. Panelists are there to entertain and educate. Or they should be.

What has your conference experience been? Any other good ones out there?

Please take some time and visit the other writers on this blog tour.

KT Wagner
Mollie Bryan
Ryder Islington
Sarah Wisseman
Kathleen Kaska

9 thoughts on “To Go or Not to Go: Writer’s Conferences

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      I think you’re right. So many of us like to isolate. But we need to force ourselves to get out–at least I know I do. I’m always grateful that I do.

  1. Ryder Islington says:

    You bring up good points, Mollie. The expense is sometimes enormous for what you get, and yes, some panelists are there as salespeople.
    I’ve enjoyed a few conferences, and have learned to be selective as a result of others.

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks for commenting. It all depends on our life situations, I’m sure. We have two daughters and are basically a one-income family. I do get payments for my books–but it comes in trickles, so I really can’t COUNT on it. I do need to make it matter when I take the money to attend a conference, you know?

      • Sarah Wisseman says:

        I like the option not to attend conferences sometime–or else attend a virtual one in my pjs. Expense is something we all have to take into account, and balance that against the value of meeting each other, fans, editors, and agents.

  2. KT Wagner says:

    I have a different perspective on the cost because I consider it professional development. I’ve also taken writing classes at local university and colleges – the tuition for these can run as high as several hundred dollars each. Conference workshops are mini classes, often with all the “good stuff” concentrated into a ninety minute session. A writer can easily take in eight or nine of these sessions over a long weekend – divided by the cost of registration, it can be quite a deal (dependent on the quality, of course).


  3. Mollie Cox Bryan says:

    That’s a great way of looking at it. I consider it professional development, as well, but just need to keep costs down. I’m going to check out those Savvy Authors! Thanks, KT.

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