By Donna Brennan – Vice President of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group
Maybe you’ve just started out on your writing journey, or maybe you’ve been diligently working on it for years. Wherever you are in the process, there are many benefits to be had from attending a writer’s conference. But not just any writer’s conference will do – you should look for a conference that fits your needs and where you are at the moment. Cost and location, although important, are not the most crucial issues to consider.
How to pick the best writer’s conference for you depends on your current needs and goals. Do you need to learn the basics? Do you need to understand how to market your book? Are you looking for a publisher, or do you prefer information on how to self-publish your work?
Some conferences are geared for a specific genre, which is great if you write in that genre. Some conferences cover a broader spectrum of genres and may include topics like marketing, pitching to an agent or editor, or self-publishing. Before you can choose the best conference on which to spend your time and money, you must determine what it is you need right now.
First, what do you write (or want to write)? Novels? Nonfiction books? Articles? Short stories? Poetry? Then narrow that down. What types of novels? Thriller? Romance? Or something else? What types of articles? Features? Self-help? Amusing anecdotes?
Next, where are you in your writing journey? Do you need to work on your craft? This includes things like pacing, dialogue, point-of-view, plotting, story arc, and self-editing. Do you think you have a pretty good grasp on the craft, but have no idea how to approach editors and agents, or how to compose a query letter? Maybe you want to learn the best ways to use social media to market your books or position yourself as an expert on a particular topic. Maybe you need help figuring out what kinds of book promotions work, and what kinds don’t.
Another important thing to consider, if you’re writing a book, is whether you want to self-publish it or go the traditional route. Or maybe you haven’t decided that yet.
Finally, what is the most important thing you want to get out of the conference? Is it to learn the skills necessary to get started or to improve your writing? Is it to learn how to market that book you’ve worked so hard on? Is it to meet with an agent, book editor, or magazine publisher? Is it to learn what you can about self-publishing? Or maybe you just want to network with other writers?
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can view conference listings with an eye as to how their offerings meet your needs. Read the titles and descriptions of the workshops and sessions thoroughly. Will the workshops provide you with the skills or knowledge you want? Go online and research the presenters to see what they write; maybe search for their books on Amazon and read the first few pages to see what you think of their work.
Are you writing a thriller, suspense novel, or mystery? Then maybe you should see if the conference offers any workshops on fight scenes, use of weapons, pacing, plotting. Do you write historical fiction? See if the conference offers workshops on how to conduct research for your story. Do you write romance? Beneficial workshops could cover topics such as dialogue, characters, or scenes.
Some workshops are geared for beginners. Others may expect a certain skill level or understanding. This applies to craft types of skills as well as technical types of skills. Read the descriptions carefully to see if it’s basic or advanced. You don’t want to waste your time covering material you already know or be lost in a complex topic your barely understand.
If your goal is to meet with an agent or editor, look to see if the conference offers appointments for pitch sessions. If they do, research those editors or agents to see if they handle the types of work you write. Go to their websites and blogs to get a better idea of what they’re looking for or what they might be like to work with. Go to sites like QueryTracker.net for more information about agents.
Other things to look for in a conference include opportunities to socialize with fellow writers, the presenters, and agents and editors. Are the meals included or do they cost more? Are critique services available, and if so, is there a cost involved? Can you make an appointment for advice with a marketing expert or book coach, and do these appointments cost anything?
A writer’s conference can be beneficial in so many ways. Do your research before you sign up, get plenty of rest in the days leading up to the conference, and have a great time once you’re there.