Picking a Writing Conference: 4 Questions to Ask

I attended my first writing conference ten years ago. Prior to that, I participated in a few college-based creative writing classes but wanted more without the hefty academic fees.

Conferences Open Doors

I met several authors at that first conference, and those introductions developed into relationships with people who are now some of my favorite authors. If for no other reason than getting to know authors on a personal basis, you should attend a writing conference. But that's not all I gained.

I learned a lot about the craft of writing as well as the world of agents and editors. One of the authors I met offered to help me stay on track to finish my novel. She did and I completed it with her occasional encouragement.

What Should You Look For In a Conference?

I've attended several conferences since that first one, some great, some ok. I've never attended one that didn't develop my skills and writing relationships in some way. Some questions you might want to consider include:

1. Who is presenting?

You don't have to recognize the names of the authors, agents, and editors on the faculty. As I mentioned above, I met several authors at my first conference who have become friends as well as my favorite authors. The only author whose name I recognized prior to that conference was the keynote speaker. She was good, but I didn't attend any of her workshops.

How did I know the conference faculty matched my needs? I read their bios, checked their credentials, and looked at the topics assigned to each person I found interesting.

2. What workshop topics do they offer?

This is a big one. Some conferences offer topics of little interest to me; others make it hard to pick between concurrent sessions. Most large conferences offer workshops on specific topics and panels where the experts field questions. A few of the smaller conferences I've attended offer writing classes with an author for the entire time. I've enjoyed and learned a lot from both types.

When I check out a conference, I tend to look for a mix of workshop topics on developing my craft, finding an agent, and editing techniques. If the topics or the facilitators of the workshop intrigue me, then I always learn something from the experience. I attended a small conference a few years ago that offered a panel on the food your characters eat. To this day, it was one of the most memorable panels I've attended.

3. Where, when, and how much?

I've seen a lot of conferences that I'd love to attend but can't due to the answers to these questions. Conference rates vary ($50-$1000+) dependent on size and offerings. A conference that lasts several days and includes meals will probably be expensive. One that's half a day and offers no refreshments typically is inexpensive. Don't forget to consider lodging and food expenses if they aren't included in the fee. The good news is if you're serious about your writing, you can claim these expenses as deductions on your taxes.

4. What extra perks do they offer?

Besides workshops and panels, many conferences offer other opportunities that enhance the experience for you. Some include:
  • Manuscript critiques
  • Mixers with the faculty (agents, editors, and writers)
  • Writing contests
  • Faculty-hosted tables during meals
  • Slush fests (think the slush pile live)
  • Writing time with an expert
  • Open mic opportunities
  • Volunteer roles (often come with reduced rates)

Making a Decision

When researching conferences, don't wait too long to sign up. Some conferences fill up early. Even if the conference doesn't fill up fast, some of the opportunities (critiques, volunteering, contests) have deadlines several months prior to the conference. Don't miss out because you waited too long.

If you don't know where to find a conference, one great resource is Shaw Guides or do an internet search on writing conferences. Also, check the ads in writing magazines such as Writers Digest, The Writer, and Poets & Writers.

If you have a favorite conference or amazing conference story, will you share the info in the comments section of this post? Thanks!


Valerie Norris said…
Helpful info, Barbara. Thanks!
Glad to hear it. I speak to so many people who don't know how to choose a conference, so I wanted to share these points.

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