Are Writer’s Conferences for You?

I’ve attended my fair share of writer’s conferences in the past 10-15 years.  I had always wanted to write but never knew where to begin.  I played around with writing when my kids were little and I was stuck home with them during the winter, kind of like Nora Roberts story.  I read once where that exact thing happened to her. She pulled out a pad of paper and a pen and started writing a story and the rest is history.  I pulled out a pad and pen but never got anything that lengthy completed.  I have had a short story published and I had a column in the Altoona Herald for a time.  I enjoy writing short pieces but feel a real desire to create something that is novel length. I sought out other writers in the area and joined several local writer’s groups before I found out about writer’s conferences. I attended a few and became hooked.

I am an advocate for writer’s conferences.  So far, I’ve attended a couple of RWA chapter conferences, one in Omaha and one in Kansas City.  I’ve attended a Regional RWA conference in Chicago and a National RWA conference in Anaheim.  That’s with the Romance genre.  For Mystery, I’ve attended Love is Murder in Chicago and Mayhem in the Midlands, in Omaha.  I’ve also attended the Maplewood Writer’s Conference in Kansas City twice.  Maplewood was a non-genre specific conference. Unfortunately Maplewood has disbanded. 

What can you expect at a conference?  Seminars and workshops during the day.  Most are geared toward writers looking for basic guidance but they also tend to cater to the published author with seminars on marketing and the business side of writing.  Seminars alone are worth the conference fee.

It depends on the size of the conference but most organizers try to lure agents and publishers to participate.  If you have something completed, it is a wonderful way to get a foot in the door to the industry.  You can sign up for either group or individual appointments to pitch your story.  What more could a writer ask for? 

Some conferences use Saturday night as the night for an awards banquet.  It’s a great chance to dress up and network with fellow writers.  You never know.  I met a local author at Mayhem in the Midlands.  At the time, she hadn’t published yet.  The publisher had accepted her book but it wasn’t out yet.  She shared with our table some of her marketing plan for the next year.  She had it detailed out to what she would be doing each month to sell her book for the next year.  It was a good thing.  It’s now two years later and her sixth book will be in the bookstores before December.  In case you haven’t read her yet, her name is Shirley Damsgaard and she writes a series of mysteries with a librarian protagonist and her grandmother. They are witches who use folk magic to help them find out who dun it.  By day, she’s the Post Mistress in Stuart, Iowa.

Did I mention networking?  You will have a chance to network during the entire conference with both published and pre-published authors.  Yes, it is exciting meeting someone whose book has kept you up half a night but it can also be exciting to meet someone who may be starting out in the business with you.  You can develop friendship bonds that can be far-reaching when it comes to marketing your own book.  Instead of one website, think of having links on a dozen or more.  Each website you are linked to is a chance to boost book sales and help guarantee that you will not be a one book wonder.

If you’ve avoided conferences for whatever reason and you are serious about a writing career, I advise you to rethink it.  Pick up this month’s Writer’s Digest, Writer Magazine, Poets and Writers, or research the internet.  If you have to use a day or two of vacation for you and your writing career, take it.  I promise you won’t regret it. 

Virginia Gruver