Are Writing Conferences Worth It?
Should you go to a writers’ conference?
I recently went to a great writers’ conference called “Write Now!” at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.
If you’ve never been to a writing conference, I highly recommend attending one, whether you’re a new writer who hasn’t published anything (yet), or if you’ve been writing professionally for decades.
What’s in it for you?
You get to meet other writers. And sometimes, we need to be reminded that we don’t have to start, or continue, our writing journey alone.
Here are three tips to help you prepare for, and benefit from, attending a writers’ conference.
1. Ask questions — the right way.
Most writing conferences are divided into different sessions focusing on different topics about starting and improving as a writer.
When the session’s moderator or speaker asks if anyone has questions, you have one job.
Ask a question.
This is not the time to tell your life story about how you’ve always wanted to write, how your parents felt about this, etc.
Just ask a question.
This helps you and other writers at the conference.
Your question is more likely to be answered directly. Your question is also more likely to be remembered by the speaker and by others in the audience.
You might even get a “Hey, that’s a really good question” comment from the speaker and/or from other writers.
You’re also saving time. The shorter your question is, the quicker the speaker can answer it and the more time there is for more questions.
Most writers are nice, but even we have our limits.
And one way to get others attending a writers’ conference to resent you is to ask a long-winded question that leaves little or no time for any other questions.
2. Play nice with the other writers. Network.
Talk to other people attending the writers’ conference.
There’s usually some down time between writing conference sessions. A writers’ conference that lasts for more than a few hours usually has a scheduled hour for a meal (breakfast, lunch and/or dinner).
Use these times to say “Hi” and introduce yourself to another writer.
“But, what should I say after that?” you might be thinking to yourself.
Many writers, including me, are introverts and we tend to hate small talk.
It’s not that introverts don’t like to talk. We just prefer deep conversations, usually about heavier topics.
And that’s cool.
Just start with at least one or two small questions, before trying to start a discussion on how to cure cancer or achieve world peace.
Here are some questions you can ask while networking at a writing conference:
- “Are you going to the session about (session’s title or topic) later today?”
- “What type of writing do you do?”
- “What do you think about the conference so far?”
Small talk can lead to the bigger, deeper conversations that you want.
You might also learn about writing opportunities, and some of these opportunities might even pay writers.
And that’s why you should bring business cards when attending a writers’ conference.
Your business cards don’t have to be fancy.
All you need is a clean, simple, easy-to-read design that includes your name, title (examples: author, writer, blogger, fiction writer, content writer, etc.) and email address.
It’s also a good idea to include your website/blog address (if you have one) and at least one or two of your social media links (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.)
So, networking with other writers is definitely worth the time and money you’re spending at the writing conference.
Most writers are really nice and are happy to share their ideas and experiences with each other.
And since you’re not Beyoncé, or a boxer fighting Mike Tyson, I can almost 100 percent guarantee that no one will bite you.
Writers don’t bite. It’s just not our thing.
3. The writing “pros” are also nervous.
If you think mingling with a hundred, or even hundreds, of other people is nerve-wracking, try getting up to speak in front of them.
I walked up to one of the speakers (not Mike Sager, who is in the above photo) at the recent “Write Now!” conference, shortly after his session.
“I was so nervous!” he said.
That was surprising to me.
He’s an experienced public speaker and his session was a helpful and very relaxed discussion about writing and getting published.
Speaking experience usually varies among the people who are sharing their knowledge and advice during writing conference sessions.
Some of the guest speakers are writers who have spoken at writers’ conferences and other events for years. Other session leaders also have writing experience, but this is their first time being a guest speaker at a writing conference.
Either way, both types of speakers are usually, at least a little nervous.
And that’s great to know, because it means you’re not the only one who feels that way.
Also, for speakers, being a little nervous is a sign that they actually care about the writers’ conference. They want to do a good job of sharing their experiences and tips, in the hopes of helping other writers and making the writing conference a successful event.
A Few Last Thoughts
If you’re thinking about attending a writers’ conference, start local.
Try to find a writing conference in your city or in a nearby city.
This will help you connect with other local writers, who you’re more likely to keep in touch with, online through social media, and/or in person with a follow-up coffee or lunch meeting at a local restaurant.
A local writing conference will also give you an idea of what types of future writers’ conferences you want to attend.
For example, do you want to attend a writers’ conference that focuses more on fiction or non-fiction writing? Or do you benefit from attending a writers’ conference that features experts on both types of writing?
After attending one or a few local writers’ conferences, you can then consider a long drive or hopping on a plane to attend bigger writing conferences, if you have the means and the desire to do so.
And whether you’re attending a writer’s conference in your city or in another region, sometimes, we all need to be reminded that we’re not alone, or weird, in our desire to write.