Conference Migration

It's about that time of year when writers begin to migrate. We flap our wings and head by the flock to writing conferences.

I've never been to a writing conference before. Never. But lately I've become more and more convinced I need to go.

I have two novels that I'm polishing and pitching. As an unpublished author, I've had a difficult time getting agents and editors to look at my queries. One agent that finally took the time to read my letter, asked for the Full, but still hasn't had the time to actually read it. (I haven't given up hope yet!)

Over the past months I've had to re-evaluate my strategy for how best to get my novels in front of editors and agents. Is a writer's conference the best way? Is it becoming nearly the only way?

Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Guy of Advanced Fiction Writing, shared his experience with writer's conferences: Some Thoughts on Writing Conferences. He also shared eight reasons to go to conferences in his post: A Bit More on Writing Conferences. His thoughts are enlightening.

For unpublished writers what are the benefits of a writer's conference? Here's how I hope I can benefit:

  • Meet agents and editors face to face and pitch my books.
  • Network with published authors.
  • Gain encouragement from other unpublished writers.
  • Grow in writing skill through various classes and seminars.

What are the drawbacks of a writer's conference? Here are the drawbacks for me:

  • COST: The fees for the conference, lodging, food, and travel add up quickly.
  • Travel: Many of the big conferences are located in urban areas and require a plane flight for most.
  • Size: So many unpublished writers are vying for the few slots agents and editors give.

Do you have anything to add to my lists? What are other benefits or drawbacks of writer's conferences that you've heard about or experienced?

Tomorrow we'll discuss more specific writer's conferences. So come back prepared to share your recommendations!


  1. I look forward to hearing what others say. I've never been to a conference, but hope to at some point. Of course, I would like to think that there is a way to get your work into the right hands without going to a conference. Maybe it is just that personal touch that helps in catching an agent/publisher.

  2. I'm going to my first one this fall - the ACFW conference. Very excited. Very nervous. I know I will learn a lot and hopefully get the chance to network - maybe open doors that would otherwise be closed. I'm not sure. It's so hard to get our foot in the door, isn't it? That's so cool that an agent requested a full! You have to be doing something right, right!?

  3. Hi Sherrinda,
    I'm looking forward to everyone's comments too! I'm having such a hard time deciding if I should go to a conference! It's a HUGE investment!

    But since nothing is happening for me, I'm wondering if it would be the best route for getting my MS's in front of agents and editors.

    I think eventually every writer should go to a conference, it's just a matter of deciding when your work is ready enough to pitch and if there are enough benefits to outset the costs. That's what I'm still trying to decide!

  4. Hi Katie,
    So many doors are closed to new writers. It's so tough to get a foot in with agents and editors through the usual query letter over the transom. But maybe the conferences will give us more access to those agents who are usually closed to new writers. I don't know!

    I'm still thinking on the ACFW conference. It's just so expensive and so far for me!

  5. I go to the NJRW conference every year. I LOVE it! And I don't even take advantage of the pitch sessions. :)

  6. Just being around like minded people (writers) is encouraging and relieving. You discover you're not so weird after all.

    Never been to one where the food hasn't been fabulous, either. It's so nice to have a break from cooking all the time.

    Personally, I feel most at ease at Christian conferences, rather than secular ones. Christian's seem far more tame, and accommodating to each other, from my experience.

    Your pros and cons are ones I'd pick at the top of my list, Jody. And, yes, I do believe conference are invaluable to a writer.

  7. Hi Jennifer,
    How have you managed to not have to pitch at a conference?! Even before you published? I think it would be great to go to a conference and not have to worry about preparing the "elevator pitch" and the "one page sell sheet" and all those other things. It would be great to just go and enjoy! Maybe someday!

  8. Hi Eileen,
    I was wondering where you were this morning! Hope all is well with your clan! How's the writing going this week?

    I'm hoping to pick a Christian conference too. But I'm wondering even with a Christian conference how much "pushing and shoving" there will be to get to the agents and editors? Since the majority of unpublished authors are there to pitch, do you need to be agressive in order to get the best appointments?

  9. Hi, Jody! No, I wouldn't say aggressive, but when the listing goes up, you do need to move your body to the sign up sheets as soon as possible. I've never seen pushiness at the Christian ones I've attended, but huddles, yes. I've never been to the ACFW one, though, that would be much larger than the ones I've attended, but I understand you select your appointments online for that anyway. So that would alleviate any pushing at sign-up sheets.

    Just try and scout the tables out that the agents and editors sit at to get a seat near them. They are usually really good about going around the table to see what people are working on. At least the experienced ones are.

  10. I have never been to a great big writing conference. But my local RWA chapter, which I no longer belong to, used to hold small writing conferences with a big name author. They were small and intimate (no more than 50 people) and it gave us the chance to really connect.

    I would like to go to a big writing conference one day just to see what it's like.

  11. Thanks Eileen! I suppose if you didn't get an appointment with an agent or editor that you wanted, that then you could try to get at their table and hope you could garner some interest that way? This is all new to me!

    But if I pay all that money to go, I really want to take advantage of the editor/agent relations. That would be my primary reason for going at this point in my writing career. Can a new writer really make the right connections at a conference or is it almost as difficult as plain old querying? That's the question I'm struggling with. Thanks for your input!

  12. I'd love to go to one at some point. Thanks for all the great info.

  13. Hi Melissa,
    So smaller conferences are more for connecting with other writers? And larger ones for connecting with agents and editors? I've never been to either, so I'm still trying to figure this out!

  14. Hi Rebecca,
    Then we're in the same boat at this point! I'm still trying to figure out the benefits!

  15. Jody, as a courtesy alone, most agents and editors that attend conferences will ask you to send a proposal. In the opening cover letter of that proposal the very first paragraph is where you'll remind them of your meeting and their request.

    That alone will give you a better chance of them perusing your proposal than a query letter they receive from someone they've never met.

    From what I understand, the writer should really try and discern from the agent/editor appointment whether or not it is just a courtesy request, or if they are truly interested in your work. If you intrigue them enough, I suspect you'll know, and those are the ones you send a proposal to A.S.A.P. so that they receive it while you're still fresh in their mind. So be polishing those stories and proposals BEFORE you attend a conference. Face to face meetings are the best way to see if you connect with the editor or agent, if you're a good fit to work together. If you are, you'll both recognize it, so I'm told. Don't blow that connection by being tardy in responding to their request.

    The appointments aren't neccessarily for selling your work, they are more for selling yourself. Finding a good fit. Do your homework, decide which agents and editors deal with your story genre and style and seek them out. That'll increase your chances of finding a good fit ten-fold. No use wasting your time on an agent who doesn't deal with your genre, or has a full clientelle in that area and isn't looking to expand there. Research the websites, make some phone calls ahead, to be sure that conference is really worth the cost of going to.

    The seminar and classes alone are very beneficial with improving your writing skills, but for the money, it is always better to choose a conference that is bringing in your desired agents or editors that have the best fit for you and your work.

    Does that help any?

  16. If it's a true writer's conference, not just a meeting, then there are usually at least one or two agents or editors available, looking for projects to represent. They'll be advertised as the attendees. But, yes, the smaller conferences definitely don't attract the variety of industry representatives that the larger ones do, so do your homework on who will be on the faculty at them, and base your decision on attending or not on who is there if pitching is your major agenda for attending.

  17. Hi Eileen,
    That helps tons! I will have to really do my homework to see which agents and editors will be at the conferences. It sounds like we have a better chance at conferences to make those connections, but that it is still really hard to get representation. If they ask you to send your proposal and then you do, you'll still have to wait for them to get around to reading it. But like you said, the chances they'll read it are higher when they've met you than when you're a complete stranger!

    Thanks for all your advice today!
    And BTW, I finally think I developed my brand. I'll have to email it to you and get your opinion!

  18. Your list looks right on to me. I can't help but suspect that a person with a face means more to an editor than just a query letter. I really want to go to a conference this year. Maybe I'll see you at one? :-)

  19. Hi Jessica,
    I hope you're right about the face vs. query letter! Although, I'm sure they see SO many people, it's hard to keep them straight! So, let's see, how can we make sure they don't forget our faces. Tatoo with our novel's name across our foreheads? :)

    I would love to meet you at a conference! Wouldn't that be cool!

  20. Humble confidence might not scare them like a tatoo across your forehead might. LOL

    If you create a one-sheet, be sure to put your photo on it and include it with your proposal. If your name doesn't jar their memory, maybe the photo will.

    Signed, me, the one trying to envision my next scene and procrastinating by blog hopping.

  21. Hi Jody -

    I'm blessed to be within an hour of the Philly conference, which eliminates flights and hotels. Since it's one of the larger events, it draws a wide range of editors, agents, and authors.

    Most of my writing assignments have resulted from meetings at writers' conferences. If you factor in the workshops, they're quite cost effective.

    Susan :)

  22. Dear Jody:
    YOU MUST GO to one of these. It will change your life! Just being with other writers is nourishing and uplifting, and at a Christian one, the competition is not the #1 item; it's encouragement and friendship, and sharing joy when a fellow writer says, "I just pitched my ms. to Boo-Boo, and he wants to see it!"
    At the last conference I attended, one of the editors said "I am much more likely to buy an article from somenone I've met face to face." I think this is true of book agents as well.
    Yes, the cost is an issue. I have been saving, and since I have a day job, that helps. Many of them have scholarhips you can apply for; other, smaller conferences are not as expensive.
    My best advice? Pray. The Holy Spirit cares more about your writing ministry than you, or anyone. He will lead you, provide for you, and help you get there.
    Blessings to you, dear lady,

  23. Hi Eileen,
    Yes, I think putting our picture on a one page sheet is much more practical than a tatoo across the forehead! Although, maybe I could make up a teeshirt to wear that includes the proposed cover of my novel and its name. :) Seems like that would be less work than the sell sheet, the proposal, the elevator pitch, the table pitch, and who-knows-what-other pitch!

  24. And Eileen, Get to work!! Oops, I guess you should say the same to me!! :)

  25. Hi Susan,
    Yes, you are so blessed!! My migration will take much more effort and time and money! But in the end, I'm sure I'll enjoy it and get more out of it than I can even imagine right now!

  26. Hi Jeanette,
    Thank you so much the encouragement to pray! If I'm trusting that the Lord's walking beside me each step of this journey, than I can be assured he's not going to leave me at the conference! He'll be there beside me too, guiding me exactly where he wants me to be!

    It's good to hear your enthusiasm and joy about conferences! Since I'm at the point of trying to pitch my MS's, I'm having a difficult time seeing the other benefits of the conference (besides meeting with agents and editors). So thank you for sharing your experience! It makes me want to be apart of that too!

  27. Looks like you have some great advice and thoughts here from your readers. I have never been to a conference, either. I wouldn't think that it means success in anything, but I do feel that if it's accessible and within your budget you should go. I might go to one this year, but I almost don't feel that I am ready. Nor do I have the money at the moment.

    I think polishing my work right now is probably more productive.

    Can't wait for more info tomorrow!

  28. i'm going to ACFW this september...really looking forward to practicing making my pitches on my husband to get ready for it. :) looks like i'll be seeing some of you there and finally meeting you!!

  29. Hi Lady Glamis,
    I definitely wasn't ready for a conference last year. I only had one novel ready and it wasn't polished yet. So, I think we do have to know when is the right time to start going to conferences, just like we have to know when to start querying. If we do either before our MS's are ready, then we could actually hurt our chances more than help them.

  30. Hi Jeannie,
    What a great idea to practice pitches on your husband. If I did so with mine, he'd be a smooze! He thinks everything I write should be a Pulitzer! I'm still not sure which conference I'm going to, but ACFW is in the top ranks! We'll have to have a blogging friends party for all of us who do go!

  31. I'm going to ACFW this year as well. Last year was my first year, and even though I didn't get a "request" It was a life changing experience. I would HIGHLY recommend you going!

    I ditto what Eileen said about researching your agents/editors that you meet with. I didn't do a good job of it last year, because I was VERY green and didn't know what I was doing. That was probably one of many reasons I didn't get a request. I didn't pick the right people! I'm excited about this year, because I have my first one under my belt, and, even though I'll still be VERY nervous, it won't be quite as daunting as last year I think.

    The distance isn't an issue for me really. I originally planned to go to the blue ridge conference this year, but I couldn't go to both, and I just kept feeling the pull th ACFW. So, here I go:-) The expense is a lot, but I view it as an investment in my writing career.

  32. Hi Krista,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It looks like this year at the ACFW you will only get one appointment with an agent and one with an editor. I'm not sure if that's how it was last year, but if that's true of this year, then we will REALLy need to do our homework! It doesn't seem like a total of two appointments is really a fair way to meet the right agent or editor. So I hope I read the information wrong!

    And you're right about the conference being an investment. I just want to make sure I'm ready to make that big investment and that I will be able to get some sort of return from it!

  33. Jody,

    Actually, you can request to have 2 agents instead of the 1 editor/1 agent. Also, last year when we got there many of us got a "surprise" additional appointment, so I actually met with two agents and one editor.

    For the agents/editors you DON'T get to meet, you always have the opporunity to sit at their table during lunch and pitch to them there, or just to network with them on the side as well. I met one agent and chatted with her in line to get my hotel room:-)

  34. Thanks Krista. I still don't like the idea that we only get a total of two appointments! But I guess that means we really have to try to network in other ways while we're there. I wonder how many agent/editor appointments the Write-to-Publish conference in Chicago has? I'll have to check into that! Maybe that will help me decide which one to go to!

  35. So, take this as second-hand gossip and worth very little, but it looks like the Write to Publish is a *sign-up* basis once you get there (that part is on their website)

    But, I've heard good and bad about those kind, including the "everyone pushing and running to sign up first" kinda scenerio, which would SOOOOOoooo not be a Krista thing. I'd stand in the back and wait for the crowd to die down and then go and probably get the last itty bitty spot left with Joe Blow agent who picks his nose throughout the entire pitch session. *grin* I'm overexaggerrating of course!

    Anyway, that's one of the reasons I liked ACFW, because you pick your top so many and they assign them for you, so takes the 'competition' element out. might not be so bad the other way either. Again, I've not done it before, so take this with a grain of salt. *grin*

    In the end, the biggest advice would be to PRAY tons about it, which I know you are doing! God will point you in the right direction:-)

  36. Hi Krista,
    I'm not good at the pushing and shoving either! I'd probably stress out over it and end up not sleeping the night before, then fall asleep in all of my interviews, ruining my chances! :)

    OK. I'm praying harder!! And harder!! Thanks for your input!! Your the best!

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