Writing conferences are heavily advertised in magazines and websites aimed for amateur and professional writers. These are basically schmooze conventions. People go there to network and push their current projects on any editors or literary agents that frequent the event. You will not learn much about the actual craft of writing but you will learn about the business of writing.
Writing conferences are not for every writer. If you do not have a book project, then there is no reason to go. If you are freelance writer then you will be far too busy meeting deadlines to take a weekend off to attend. If you cannot handle pressure and think on your feet, then writing conferences are not for you.
The biggest reason to not go to a writer’s conference is the cost. Many writing conferences begin at $500 (US) and can quickly escalate into the thousands. This does not include food, transportation and (sometimes) lodging. Professional writers, literary agents and editors may be able to write the conference costs off in their taxes, but please ask your accountant before shelling out the expenses.
What do you get for your fee? Not much. You may get to hear a lecture and briefly meet a bestselling author. You may hear long lectures about how to market your writing and how the current state of the publishing industry is in its last gasps. You may even get to view beautiful scenery from a small window and meet other people with an interest in creative writing.
Sometimes there are workshops or lectures about the actual nitty-gritty of creative writing. But you often have to look long and hard to find these in a typical writer’s workshop.
Not For the Faint of Heart
The biggest benefit of any writing conference is cornering a literary agent or a publisher and giving them your story or screenplay pitch. Some conferences even have a sort of “speed dating” time where writers talk to agents for ten minutes and then move on. According to “Writer’s Digest”, more and more agents are refusing unsolicited manuscripts and only accepting those from writers they meet at conferences. Going to a conference may be the only way for a new author to secure an agent.
You must get your pitch down before you go to a creative writing conference. This is basically a speech where you need to start off strong and then work your way down to, “May I give you a copy of my manuscript/book proposal?” If you are not good at public speaking or if you stutter (like this writer) then you may want to skip any writers’ conference.
You also need to bring many copies of your manuscript or book proposal. This requires a large backpack, briefcase of roll-around luggage. Be sure you are in good physical shape to deal with all of the legwork and butt-kissing required.
“Six Figure Freelancing.” Kelly James-Enger. Random House; 2005.
“Life After Almost.” Scott Hoffman & Rachel Estrada Ryan. “Writer’s Digest’; September, 2009. pp 26 – 39.
“How Even a Bad Conference Can Make You a Better Writer.” Elizabeth Sims. “Writer’s Digest.” October 2009. pp 38 – 41.