For some ambitious writers, the New Year is a time to check out new and exciting writing conferences. This is a tangible way to invest in your personal development, and a great way to open up your professional network. Anyone new to conferences may be thoroughly confused as to which to attend, how to choose, what to look for, what to expect, or how to prepare. Experience will teach these things best, but some foundation information can help the whole thing benefit beginners right at the start.
What is a writing conference?
A writing conference, like other professional conferences, is a giant meeting place with features to help like-minded people advance their position within the field. There are a few variables that make each conference different.
First off, the features of each conference vary. Most conferences have speakers, often already successful writers or agents, who open each day’s session with word of inspiration and wisdom. Writing conferences, as they attract writers from all skill levels, often have a variety of workshops or classes. Be prepared to prioritize, however. Conference schedules often run several lines of classes at the same time. While you can’t be in two places at once, going to the conference with a group of friends can help, as long as your friends are willing to take careful notes and share!
Content of conferences means major differences as well. While some have a theme, made public as part of advertising or promotion, others just provide the schedule or names of the instructors and speakers. From that information, you should be able to tell if the content will fit your needs. If most of the speakers are agents, publishers, or editors, then that conference is mainly for those ready to look seriously at traditional publishing. If the roster is heavy with self-published authors, website experts, and marketing gurus, then be aware you likely won’t have much chance to pitch your book.
What are conferences for?
Professional conferences are intended to further good work in their field. For writers, this is mainly education in craft and publishing trends. For accountants, this would mean tax law update seminars; engineers would look for demonstrations of new technology; teachers sit through lectures of child psychology and curriculum models. Personally, the writing one sounds the most fun.
While it would be nice to say a conference is only about benefiting the attendees, it’s also a fundraiser for the companies putting it on. There are often vendors, sponsors, and authors there to sell. Many rely on such a large gathering of their target market to make up the difference after a poor selling season. Look for a conference bookstore to find titles by the speakers and instructors. If you’re considering a new notebook, writing software, or other investment, the conference vendors sometimes offer discounts or coupons for attendees that visit or purchase at their booth. If the conference is a good one, the best way to show appreciation is by spending money, preferably on the main sponsor’s material (the group whose name is on the conference). With a good conference, it’s more likely they’ll do it again next year.
How will attending a conference help my writing?
Attending and paying excellent attention to the workshop material can help your writing in much the same way as taking any course would. Do your homework and try what the speakers suggest. Even if it doesn’t work out you’ll have found something you don’t have to try again. At the very best, you may end up with an amazing technique or powerful tool that will mean greater success. You might also win a contest (as those are common and fun features of writing conferences) or have an excellent pitch session with an agent who wants to read your full manuscript. Those are direct benefits.
Indirect benefits exist too. These are often social. Making friends is a huge plus, and a good writing friend can be a beta reader, supporter, future-reader, even a mentor. This may happen on a larger scale if you sign up to join a group featured at the conference. The benefits don’t have to be this large, either. If you’re of a quieter persuasion, the real victory could be confidence from just going or sticking it out for a full day. Perhaps, while sitting at lunch, or in a workshop, or during the keynote speech, you have a thought for a story. Conferences are inspiring in unexpected ways, so be open to what such an experience may offer.
If you’ve never attended a conference, look for one this year. If you’ve attended dozens, or if you speak at them regularly, share what you have learned and what you share with others. This is a great way for people who want to develop their talents and move up the ladder to learn from new voices and skilled professionals. Give it a shot!