Ten Reasons To Attend A Writers’ Conference

ConferenceI recently had a conversation with a new writer about how awesome our regional conferences are in hopes she would attend. Her response?

“Well, I don’t know … I’m just a beginner. It might not be worth the money.”

Oh, honey, how wrong you are, NOW is the absolute BEST time for you to attend! Conferences are for every writer, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out. Here’s why:

1. You could meet that certain someone.

No, I’m not talking about a love connection … although, hey, anything can happen. I’m talking about meeting a writing buddy, a friend to share your writing journey with, someone who can pat your back when you finish a manuscript and give you a shoulder to cry on after a nasty rejection. At my first conference, I was lucky to meet Pam Smallcomb, an amazing lady who’s been my friend/mentor/therapist ever since. Seriously. I’ve lost track of the amount of times she’s talked me off the cliff!

So if you meet a kindred spirit you feel a connection with, don’t be shy! Ask for their email address or if they ever want to swamp manuscripts. Who knows, it could lead to this …

2. You will be surrounded by people who speak your language.

At a conference, nobody will give you a befuddled look if you say:

“I subbed a YA MS to HMH and a PB to FSG, but HMH rejected the YA because they hated my MC and FSG thought my PB’s POV was all wrong, so now I’m too upset to finish my WIP!”

Instead, you’ll receive a sympathetic smile and words of encouragement from folks who understand your pain. The writing community (for the most part) is an extremely supportive one – we share our knowledge, answer questions, pick up rejected spirits, and unlike non-writing spouses, family members, and friends, we NEVER say things like, “So, have you sold that book of yours yet?” or “When are you going to be the next J.K. Rowling?” or my own husband’s personal favorite, “I’m waiting for my wife to write a bestseller so I can retire.”

Geez. Add some pressure, why don’t ya, babe?

3. The networking possibilities!

Where else can you meet agents and editors and art directors, oh my!

Seriously, this is a biggie. At a conference, you can hear firsthand what an agent is looking for in a client. What kind of story an editor wants on their desk. What kind of illustration catches an art director’s fancy. The bottom line: They want to get their hands on a fantastic manuscript just as much as you want to sell one, so ask questions, take notes, and learn from these career-makers! Plus, as more and more publishing houses close their doors to unsolicited manuscript, the ability to submit a manuscript as a conference attendee is an incredible perk.

4. A critique can change your life.

I love critiques! Having actual face-to-face time with an editor, agent, or published author is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. When else can you ask questions, find out what’s wrong with your story, and learn how to improve your chances of it selling? Hey, publishing is a crazy, crazy business, so you have to take advantage of every opportunity you can get. And there’s another reason why I think critiques are extremely worthwhile: Because I credit both of my book sales directly to them.

During one for Beauty Shop for Rent, an editor from Viking requested to see the entire manuscript. (Not gonna lie–I darn near peed my pants over that.) I sent it to her after months of revisions, and while the iron was hot, I also queried an agent, since being able to say my manuscript was already on an editor’s desk was a bonus point. The editor passed, but the agent offered me a contract! For Just Flirt, an editor requested the full manuscript during my critique. She later left her position to pursue writing full-time, but she passed my story to a different editor, one who offered a contract.

Sure, not all of my critiques have been golden. Most have been incredibly helpful, a few have been duds, but really it only takes one to change your career.

*Big Tip: Register EARLY since it’s often first come, first served!

Need some help getting it ready? Check out these past critique workshops:

Workshop #1: Opening Lines

Workshop #2: Amazing Manuscript First Pages

Workshop #3: Formatting

Workshop #4: Surviving your first critique

Workshop #5: Perfecting your Pitch

5. You can hear from the best.

Deborah Wiles. Kathi Appelt. TA Barron and *swoon* Richard Peck. These are only a few of the incredible speakers from our recent SCBWI MD/DE/WV conferences. It’s amazing, being able to hear their stories, listen to their words of wisdom, and learn of their failures and struggles that sound so familiar to yours. Like when Phyllis Reynolds Naylor spoke honestly about writer’s block … oh my gosh, I seriously wanted to run up the aisle and hug her. I mean, really? Phyllis Reynolds Naylor struggles at times, just like I do? That’s a big, BIG comfort!

6. You can learn how to improve your craft.

I don’t care whether you’ve a beginner or someone who’s sold twenty-five books, there is always something new to learn because every manuscript has its own set of challenges!

Okay, I’ll admit it. After attending … oh, around sixteen conferences since 1999, sure, you do tend to hear some writing tips over and over again. However, there have been many times when a speaker had taken familiar material and presented it in a brand-new way that really stuck to my ribs and helped with my writing!

For example: I once took a plotting class by Daphne Benedis-Grab during a time when I was having major problems with a manuscript. Since we are both big fans of screenwriting techniques, much of what she said was familiar. But she gave a great tip completely new to me … man, I wish I could remember what it was, because it instantly showed me how to fix my manuscript. The entire conference was worth that one tip alone!

7. You can learn about the ever-changing publishing industry.

Okay, I’m not one to worry about trends or what’s selling hot right now. However, it’s important to learn about our industry – how it works from a business perspective, about new technology, and what marketing techniques are more effective. For example, our region once had an art director speak about jacket covers – what works, and what doesn’t. I had no book under contract at the time and it had absolutely nothing to do with me, but it was one of the most fascinating talks I’ve ever heard!

8. You gain knowledge from unlikely sources.

“Never say never,” right?

Well, guess what. I will never be an illustrator. Never, ever, EVER, my artwork stinks! Because of this, I used to skip any sessions given by illustrators. Big mistake – there’s much to learn from them, especially if you’re a picture book writer! Two of my favorite presentations have been given by Paul O. Zelinsky and Floyd Cooper, two fantastic illustrators.

There was also a time when I avoided talks given by historical writers, since I had no plans on ever writing historical fiction. Another big mistake because guess what I’m now editing? Yep. A historical novel.

9. You could win something!

Like door prizes! And if you don’t win, there’s always cookies at most conferences. 🙂

10. You leave inspired.

After two days of listening to passionate authors share their stories, hearing advice from agents, editors, and art directors on how to make your work exceptional, feeling camaraderie with other writers, and immersing yourself in creativity and the beauty of books … you will drive home Sunday feeling energized and ready to tackle your own projects on Monday morning.

Okay, you might also feel tired and a little brain-dead.

But most importantly, you’ll be inspired, motived, renewed, and ready to work! So sign up and go to one already! You’ll be glad you did. 🙂

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