Seven Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference

After a couple of years of Covid, writers are again taking to the highways and airports to gather with colleagues at writers’ conferences.

My husband and I recently returned from attending two conferences just a couple of weeks apart. Although the conferences were different in their content and presentation, they were each wonderful in their own way.

Killer Nashville is targeted (love that word) at mystery, suspense, and thriller writers. We were there for two reasons: First, Hank Phillippi Ryan was one of the keynote speakers, and studying Ms. Ryan’s book Truth Be Told had a great influence on me when I was working on my first book. Secondly, my novel Time After Tyme was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award in the cozy mystery category.

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference was held in St. Louis this year. One major reason we chose that one was to meet James Scott Bell and attend his Story Grinder course. Mr. Bell’s books on the craft of writing, his courses and novels have been hugely instrumental in my own writing career.

There are many reasons to attend a conference, and lots of benefits to be had. Here are a few:

  1. Gather with fellow writers. Authors spend a lot of time in solitary pursuit of the perfect story. It’s a good idea to get out occasionally and meet new people. Even for those of us who are introverted, the company of fellow authors is special. After all, most of those people are introverts, too.
  2. Learn a new skill. Workshops, lectures, and courses give writers an opportunity to sharpen their expertise in the craft.
  3. Get feedback on a current project. Most conferences provide some critical feedback of an author’s work for free. Others charge a small fee.
  4. Pitch your work. Conferences are an opportunity to pitch your work to an agent or an acquisitions editor. Remember to rehearse your pitch and have it ready. You never know who you may bump into on the elevator.
  5. Sell some books. Most conferences have a means to offer your books on consignment. We’ve had success in selling a few books at each of the conferences we’ve attended.
  6. Help a new author. Many attendees are first-timers. This is an opportunity to provide encouragement and feedback to someone who is just beginning their writing journey.
  7. Get motivated. Conferences have a way of energizing the author and getting the creative juices flowing. Use the excitement to build on your next novel.

Deciding on the ideal conference

Choosing a writing conference is similar to finding a college to attend. There are plenty of choices, and you’ll want to consider size, focus, cost, and travel distance. Some conferences are specifically tuned to a narrow genre selection. Others may be open to any writing area. There are plenty of lists online, but I think the best resource for finding a good conference is from your colleagues, like those here at TKZ. I hope we’ll see some recommendations in the comments.

Before you sign up

  • Check out the conference to see if it offers the kinds of courses and workshops you’re interested in.
  • Research the professional editors and agents who will be onsite for appointments, and register early to get appointments with the ones you want to meet with.
  • If you’re going to put your books on consignment in the book shop, be sure you understand when to drop the books off, when you have to pick them up, and any other requirements

One more thing

I wanted to have some clever and useful give-aways at the conferences this year to advertise my mystery series, so I had some jar openers made to take with me, but they didn’t arrive in time for Killer Nashville. No problem, I thought. I’ll take them to ACFW. However, when I arrived at the ACFW conference with over a hundred jar openers ready to be placed on a swag table, I was told they didn’t have an area for that. I should have checked.

So, TKZers: What conferences have you attended and which would you recommend? What benefits have you experienced by attending a conference?

 

A gripping experience! If you’d like one of these FREE cute and practical jar openers (5-inch diameter), send me an email or contact me through my website at kaydibianca.com with your name and address. I’ll send you one while supplies last.

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About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three cozy mysteries, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

30 thoughts on “Seven Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference

  1. My favorite reason is to connect with writers I’ve known for years online but never met in person, and to meet new writer friends. The energy you described is palpable. After a conference I ride that high for several days. 🙂

    • Good morning, Sue.

      Making new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones are wonderful benefits. And it’s been great to once again meet in person. Sharing a meal with someone creates a connection that you just can’t get over Zoom.

      I also love the energy I feel when we return from a conference. Like you, i can ride that wave for days.

  2. I enjoy being in a group of people who understand the life.
    Conference connections are priceless.
    It reminds me of the first time I went to a “Mothers of Twins” meeting and looked around and realized I wasn’t alone.

    • Morning, Terry.

      Yes! Spending time with people who understand the life of a writer is priceless. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.

      Have a great writing week.

  3. It was so nice to be among people again, Kay. The energy at ACFW was fantastic. Writers SO glad to be together again.

    I know it’s nervous time for writers meeting with agents or editors. My advice here is: don’t be dull and don’t be desperate; and don’t waste their time with “throat-clearing”, e.g. “I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to pitch my story, going back and forth, knowing I was coming here to meet you. And I couldn’t decide the right approach, until my car broke down in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s….”

    Also, dress neatly and have breath mints.

    • Great advice, Jim. It’s so easy to start rambling on when one is nervous, but that just makes the situation worse. The agents and editors who endure so many 15-minute sessions must appreciate the well-organized and succinct presentations.

      Meeting you in person really was the high point of our conference, Jim. Oh, and your Story Grinder course was also fabulous. 🙂 Hope you’ll be back next year.

  4. Kay, you did a terrific job covering the many reasons to attend confs.

    I esp. appreciate #6 – help a new writer. I remember being totally intimidated in an auditorium of 400+ strangers at the Colorado Gold conf., all of whom, I was sure, were bestselling authors with many publications. Plus the Brahman–editors and agents.

    Surprise–I learned they were all humans. Yes, some had published extensively but others were as green as I was. No matter their level of experience, they shared the same doubts as mine.

    More surprising–editors and agents were not untouchable gods. They too were humans eager to find a new voice. Rejections were NOT personal. They felt bad telling a good writer “sorry, your story is wonderful but doesn’t fit what I need right now.”

    Myths were demystified and I made good friends whom I remain in contact with years later.

    This coming weekend is the 32nd Annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Hope you can join me there and benefit from the 7 great reasons Kay listed. https://www.authorsoftheflathead.org/2022-conference

    • Good morning, Debbie!

      You describe the plight of the new author at his/her first conference so well. It’s like being the new kid in school. But then you discover most of the other attendees have the same concerns. The new kid suddenly has hundreds of friends who can relate.

      Congratulations on your Flathead River Writers Conference! The speakers, workshops, and schedule look fantastic. I wish we could be there. I hope you’ll write a post about organizing and chairing such an event.

  5. Great post, Kay. I agree with Terry and Sue – meeting other writers. I met my first critique partner at an ACFW conference. Also, met JSB and got my copy of Plot and Structure autographed. At a conference in Nashville, I had the chance to meet Jodie Renner, and was later asked to write several short stories for her Childhood Regained anthology.

    Have a good day.

    • Morning, Steve.

      Sounds like you’ve had great experiences at the conferences you’ve attended. I agree with you that meeting other writers is a life-changer.

      We should all get together in person at a conference one of these days.

      Have a great week.

  6. For Indie writers, 20Books Vegas is the best. While it is an all-genre conference, there are mystery craft sessions, lots of marketing, and the chance to meet Amazon, Google, Apple and others players in the Indie field face to face.

    • Hi Alec.

      Thanks for letting us know about 20Books Vegas. Sounds interesting. I looked at the website and noticed it’s held in November. Are you going this year?

      Maybe others will chime in with more information about conferences that are aimed at a specific segment of the writing community. Thanks!

      • I will be there along with 1600 other writers. It’s inspiring to see an all-ages, all-genre conference. When I attended in 2019, I learned of a new to me genre – “Lit-RPG” thanks to a lanyard that someone was wearing. I’ve read more genres since that meeting which has caused me to want to try writing other stories.

      • in addition to 20 Books, you might want to check out Superstars. Some of the same people and great content.

  7. I had loads of fun at Santa Barbara WC, 2005.
    1. A workshop leader told me Saturday my short, Arma Virumque Cano, was the best thing he’d heard so far.
    2. Bradbury spoke.
    3. I met a number of really nice writers and WC staff.
    4. The food was good.

    The negatives, briefly:
    1. My new contacts evaporated quickly. There was nothing tangible gained, long term; when it was over, it was over.
    2. At the meet-up, one agent had misrepresented her genre of interest. At least one other attendee was bamboozled. We should have asked for refunds, but didn’t want to ruin the mood.

    Summary: A very exciting experience, in all, much less expensive than current WCs. (I stayed with friends from my church in SB.) Everybody should attend at least one WC.

    • Good morning, JG.

      Your experience at the Santa Barbara WC sounded good. (I had to use Google Translate on your short story. “I Sing of Arms and a Man.” Is that right?)

      Although you say “There was nothing tangible gained, long term,” we may never know what effect we have on others or what subtle changes the experience had on us.

      “The food was good.” — Always a plus.

      • All true! The BIBs don’t always let us know what’s going on in our basement. My net conscious takeaway at SBWC was positive. I may go again, someday, if the economy doesn’t tank.

        Adolfo, the man I sing of in Arma Virumque Cano🞸 is what was then called a “bus boy.” Many writers at SBWC had been restaurant staff, once, and as I read the piece, their laughter spoke of their understanding of Adolfo’s dilemma.

        🞸 = the opening words of Virgil’s “Aeneid.” The title is ironic, at a minimum.

  8. For a different conference if you’re writing anything with first responders, I recommend the Writers Police Academy. No agents or editors. Hands on learning of how cops, EMTs, firefighters work, taught by professionals in their fields on a training campus with all the toys.

  9. Good morning, Kay. Great post! Terrific list of best practices and tips. So glad you could meet JSB in person.

    I’ve attended a great many science fiction conventions over the years, both as a fan and as a panelist, including moderating a panel at the World Science Fiction Convention. I’ve benefited from all the panels on writing and genre topics, but meeting other writers is really the best part. I’ve made many friends that way. The same when I attended Willamette Writers, Oregon’s annual writing conference. I presented there in 2019, and moderated a panel discussion on the current state of science fiction and fantasy. I made a number of friends when I attended the World Fantasy convention as well.

    I have yet to attend a mystery convention. My friend Pat, a mystery writer, has been sending me lists of mystery conferences to attend. Killer Nashville was one of them, along with Boucher Con. Attending a mystery convention is definitely something I want to do.

    Have a wonderful week!

    • Great information, Dale. I think we all agree that being in the company of fellow writers is one of the best benefits of a conference.

      I enjoyed reading about your experience on panels and presenting at conferences. It’s a great way to give back to the writing community.

      Hope to see you at a mystery conference in the future!

  10. I’ve attended and recommend the Pacific Northwest Writers Assn conference in Seattle, the Science Fiction/Fantasy conference held in the Tri-Cities in Washington State, and the conference held in Boise I believe every other year. They were all excellent, well-organized events where a lot of great teaching was available.

    You were lucky, Kay, that Mr. Bell was the featured instructor at the ACFW conference. (I’ve taken two of his workshops.) One conference I attended had a NYT best-selling thriller author (that I won’t name) for a seminar the day before the conference began. He spent the three hours of the morning session telling us his life story from birth through college. There wasn’t a single scrap of writing advice. When the afternoon session gathered, one brave soul asked if he had any concrete tips, tricks, or advice for new writers. He replied that he didn’t think writing could be taught; you either had the ability or you didn’t. He then launched into the remainder of his life story. A lot of people didn’t return after the mid-session break.

    For folks who are considering attending a conference that includes an additional seminar, before you spend the extra dollars on it, check out the instructor. Have they written any craft books? What do reviewers say about them? Do they have a website or blog where they offer writing advice? Can you understand it and find it useful? What do other authors/attendees have to say about their instruction? Some folks, like Mr. Bell, are superb, and I highly recommend taking advantage of an opportunity to get in a really great seminar while attending a conference. Other writers (some very famous) just aren’t teachers, and your money is best spent elsewhere.

    • Thanks for the recommendations, KS.

      You are wise to point out the possible pitfalls of signing up for a seminar just because it’s a well-known author. Teaching skills are different from writing expertise, and it sounds like your experience was a waste of time and money — something none of us want to do. Thanks for the advice to do the due diligence before writing the check. (I’m still shaking my head that any writing instructor would say “he didn’t think writing could be taught; you either had the ability or you didn’t.”)

      Have a great week.

    • He replied that he didn’t think writing could be taught; you either had the ability or you didn’t. He then launched into the remainder of his life story.

      Unforgivable.

  11. To date, I haven’t been to any writing conferences. The one I really want to attend is New England Crime Bake, maybe in 2023.

    However, I did attend many Special Library Association (SLA) annual conferences when I worked for the U.S. DOT, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, managing a statistical information service for the public. At SLA conferences, I manned a booth showing demos of our products and database and gave presentations on sources of transportation statistics (far more interesting than it sounds). All the benefits of writing conferences cited by Kay and others hold true for library conferences too, especially meeting colleagues from across the country and learning about other facets of special library work. Plus, the vendors used to coddle us with receptions and gifts.

    • Good afternoon, Truant. The New England Crime Bake sounds very interesting. And a lovely place to meet!

      “Plus, the vendors used to coddle us with receptions and gifts.” I could live with that. 🙂

      Have a great week.

  12. I second Terry’s recommendation. I’ve attended two WPA’s and learned so much. Killer Nashville is great as well as ACFW. We have a small conference in Memphis the 3rd weekend in March that offers a lot of craft advice. MidSouth Christian Writers Conference. Oh, and Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Conference is great, too.

    Your list was spot-on. And I love getting to meet old friends and friends I’ve never seen in person before.

    • We attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last year and had a wonderful experience. Talk about an ideal location!

      Thanks for chiming in, Patricia. I really want to try a WPA.

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