Conferences: How To Know When To Go?

In talking about the benefits of writers' conferences this week, I can't forget to mention they are an excellent place to network with editors too. In fact for authors without agents, conferences might be one of the only ways to get a manuscript in front of large traditional publishing house editors who otherwise don't accept unagented materials.

Several blogging friends got requests for partials or fulls from editors while at ACFW. It's not uncommon for writers to get contracted this way and then go on to acquire an agent as a result.

I was able to meet with Bethany House editor, Charlene Patterson, during the conference. Even though she isn't my "assigned" editor, she knew EVERYTHING about my work--my proposals, books, and future plans. I coveted her honest feedback and direction for my next book. And I gained a greater appreciation for editorial teams and their ability to work together with an author.

Aside from meeting other writers in real life and networking with agents and editors, are there any other benefits of a conference?

What about going to a conference to learn more about writing? I'm always reading one writing craft book or another. And I figure I don't need to spend $500 to go to a conference to learn more about how to be a good writer when I can spend $25 and get a couple of new books that can teach me just as much or more.

Of course, while I was at the conference, I tried to take full advantage of workshops. Some offered me new information, and some were--well, let's just say I sneaked out early. In other words, I wouldn't recommend going to a large expensive writer's conference if your main reason is to learn about the craft of writing. Save your money, go to smaller, less expensive conferences, and then head out to Barnes and Noble and splurge on craft books.

We hear a LOT of hype about attending conferences. But honestly, not everyone needs them or is ready for them. Before this fall, I'd never attended a writer's conference, not even a local one. I'd never been at a place in my writing career where I was truly ready to reap the benefits of a large conference. Until this year. . .

So, how do we know when we're ready to go to a conference and spend more cash in one weekend than most of us make in a year with our writing? Only each of us can truly know when that moment is.

However, here's a good test: Ask yourself if your writing is ready to submit to an agent or editor. Could you sit across from them in an appointment and proudly display your work? If yes, then maybe it's time to think about going. If no, then why not put the money to better use? Hire an editor instead.

Of course, this is all my opinion and some of you might feel differently. What's your opinion? How does a writer know when it's time to go to one of the large expensive conferences? How did you know it was time for you to go?


  1. I think I'm going to have to agree with you here. Excellent post! I'll be linking to you in a future post of mine, if you don't mind?
    And that's awesome how Patterson knew about you. :-)

  2. I knew I was ready because of the exact reason you mentioned. I'd honed my craft and edited my three stories to a point where I WANTED editors and agents to see my work I felt relieved when they asked to take a look during my appts. One agent (I think you know her) gave me an awesome tip, then told me to submit my ms to her. W/o the conference, I would have sent it to her as is, which most likely would have garnered a rejection. Going to a conference gives us opportunitie to get feedback from agents/editors, something they just don't have time to do outside of conferences.

  3. No matter your stage, I think it's always a good thing to attend conferences to rub elbows with other writers and industry experts. 'Course, if you're an overworked mom who's trying to find time to write any.thing, a getaway's always welcome.

  4. The one I go to isn't nearly as large as the one you went to, but part of my reason to go was personal accountability. I knew if I spent the money and the time out of my schedule to go and sit in an all day meeting (which is very hard for my attention span) - it would force me to remember to be diligent about what I do. There were other reasons to go - many of which you talked about this week, but one was to be accountable to my craft!

  5. I think, Jody, that is the exact reason I knew this conference wasn't for me. Although I would love to meet many of my cyber friends face to face, I had no real career reason to attend the conference quite yet. Next year, however, I'll be ready!

    Your take on workshops was interesting as well. I was afraid that might be the case. I'm sure there are some great workshops at conference, but I bet they are hit or miss, and I would hate to spend that much money just to attend workshops and find they are a miss.

    I've enjoyed the information you've brough back from the conference this week. Thanks!

  6. I completely agree. I think you need to be ready to submit your work and be out there looking for an agent/editor. Although I'm sure the work shops are great, there are other less expensive ways to learn about writing.

    Great Post Jody :)

  7. If there was one to go to around here I would. I am thinking of flying over next year for the one you just went too. Maybe get to meet some of you great girls :)

  8. You know, these posts of yours have inspired me to be in serious prayer/consideration about trying to attend the next ACFW conference.

    And I've been thinking of raising money on my blog for it (kidding)...really though, thanks for the insight. Until next year. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the online conference I'll be all about in a few weeks.

    ~ Wendy

  9. I'm of the mind, each to their own.

    I definitely wouldn't stress if you can't afford a conference, but if you're dying for some interaction with other writers, wanting to just talk to another human being struggling just like you are and can find a cost-effective conference near by, then I say that's reason enough to attend.

    Definitely when your writing is nearing publication level is time to really consider attending for networking with editors and agents, if at all possible.

    But between submitting to contests or attending conferences for feedback on your work to help you get to the next level, contests is the way to go, and it's much cheaper.

    For those who aren't confident though, Jody, attending conferences is helpful. Some of us need to ease our way into the publishing world, in small doses too.

    I so wish I had your confidence, girl!!! Oops, that's envious, and I know God wouldn't like that--so why doesn't He give me some then already? Okay, off to pray...again!

  10. I don't like conferences, actually. :( But I think I may have to go to one or two in the spring--my publishers are there and I need to go and be friendly.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  11. Hi Jody,
    Good thoughts. It's definitely a personal decision because it's so expensive to go, especially if you have to fly. For me, deciding to go to my first conference was really tough because I'm definitely an introvert. In fact I made my husband come with me that year so I wouldn't have to fly and get to the hotel on my own. BUT it was the best decision I ever made - I was able to meet so many fellow ACFW'ers face to face, the teaching was amazing, and even though it was terribly nerve-wracking meeting with those agents and editors, I forced myself to do it, and I actually survived! Now, a few years on, I go for the fellowship. It's a great networking tool. Of course the teaching is very good but half the time I'm so tired I don't take in too much!! I was so sorry to miss this year and will hopefully be going to Indianapolis next year. But going to a conference does not by any means make or break your career, especially if you have an agent already. I think it's great for the beginning writer because you see first hand just what you're up against and you have to decide if you're willing to put in the time, effort and money into becoming a published author, and no guarantees that it will happen!

  12. It has not been a difficult decision for me not to attend a conference yet. My work is still in the infant stages. I plan on nurturing it more over the next year, and giving special attention to the books on craft that I have stockpiled in my closet.

    When God does send me that way, it sounds like this would be a wonderful experience.

    Blessings to you...

  13. I'm still iffy on conferences, but your posts have been extremely informative and helpful. I think I would pick and choose very carefully before spending money i this way.

  14. I think the decision to go to a conference is a very subjective one. The time to go is different for different people. One of the best ways to make sure you're getting all the benefits of going to a conference is to make sure you have more than one goal in mind. I go for the teaching, but also for the networking and for the chance to pitch. Plus, this is my one getaway for the year.
    If you're not ready to go to a big one, many places have one or two day conferences that might be closer to home. It's a great way to get your feet wet and do some networking on a more local basis.

  15. Here's another thought: how to justify such an expense to a spouse or someone else who might question it. A fellow author friend said to me quite a few years ago that the conferences and workshops and seminars we attend on the writing process or simply to network are similar to someone going back to college in a new area of study. We are lifelong learners of our craft and the business, so I don't think there is ever a waste in attending something outside of ourselves. We always grow from being engaged in the outside world. These events are our educational setting, in part. So, I think there's always something to be gained. It doesn't mean we won't get a job without a certain degree, but every bit of education or engagement brings us closer to the interview (pitch).

  16. Another thought, if you're not ready for a large writer conference, there are other ways to connect and mingle and learn from those in the industry, and they're often free. Keep an eye on college campuses, libraries, community centers for Author talks, Editor evenings, that sort of thing. In the past few months, Wally Lamb and Candace Bushnell spoke nearby, and Alice Hoffman and Stuart O'Nan are scheduled for the near future. All great writing resources sharing their insights.

  17. I think a good way to know if you ARE ready to submit your work is to attend a writers conference, Jody. Sure, an editor can help you, but to understand the broader picture of the publishing industry and where you might fit, I think a conference is necessary.

    Besides the connections with other writer friends and networking with editors and publishers, you'll get feedback--direct feedback via face-to-face comments, from not one but many sources. For me, a writers conference is absolutely worth it.

    Also, I think there are "dream writers" out there--people who dream of becoming writers but don't understand the level of work and commitment required (not to mention the level of perserverance). I think a conference is an eye-opening way for someone to discover if they've got what it takes.

    Obviously conferences are not required...particularly for highly talented and committed writers like you, Jody! But I still think they are highly beneficial.

    Having said ALL this, Jody, I've been on the fence about attending yet another conference (I've attended several). I LOVE your idea of working with an editor and am prayerfully considering it.

    (The official END of your longest comment EVER.) :)

  18. I haven't been to a conference yet, but I'd like to. I've enjoyed your posts this week about the benefits of conferences. Thanks for sharing.

  19. I agree with you about craft. It's probably a better idea to either take classes (online or at a nearby college) or invest in some good writing craft books.

    But I would say a conference might help a not-ready-to-submit author gain more knowledge of the business so she will be better prepared when she does submit. And it's a huge boost for new-ish writers to be surrounded by people succeeding at their dream.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  20. I'm hoping to be ready to go next year! I couldn't justify spending the money if I didn't have a finished product to hand over :) These posts have been really helpful! Have a lovely weekend!

  21. Hi Jody -

    Your points are well taken. If money is an issue (like ACFW was for me), it's not a disaster.

    I go to one large writing conference per year. While I've only been writing fiction for four years, I've made excellent contacts for my non-fiction writing. I've also gone to some of the more specialized clinics that teach indepth.

    Great post, Jody.

    Susan :)

  22. I'm glad you posted this. It's how I felt, but was worried that, being a newbie, I was ignorant on the issue. Thanks.

  23. Krista’s unexpert opinion: it’s never a BAD time to go to a conference. Sometimes the workshops are “miss” is because a.) you’re beyond the level they were teaching to or b.) it just didn’t work for your genre. At least, that’s how I felt anyway. Last year I felt I got SO much more out of it… but I also had a TON to learn too. This year I got a lot of out some of them… and a few were a little more “been there/done that” kind of things.

    And reading craft books are great, but to be able to raise your hand, ask a question, and hear it, apply it, discuss it… for many people that is really helpful, especially beginners. This year I skipped more classes than I would have liked, but my intent was more on the networking/friendship/agent/editor side this year than it was last year.

    But you’re right. It’s a lot of money and some people just can’t afford it. In that case, go to a smaller one to get initiated into the conference scene. But I think regardless of your stage, a conference is really helpful.

  24. I agree Jody! Even though I enjoyed the RWA conference I attended I was NOT ready to go. I thought I might be by the time the conference came around, but I wasn't. I'll wait for my next conference when I have something all ready to go:)

  25. I had thought I wasn't ready to go, because I'm definitely not ready to pitch. But after seeing all the pictures of you ladies all together having fun, well, I sure wanted to go! I think it is all subjective. If you want to go, then go. If you feel you need to wait, then wait. :)

  26. I've been wanting to go to a conference for a long time, but I've never felt ready. And I still don't think I am. I think my current project needs to feel more finished before I'm ready to sit down and chat with an agent about it.

    It sounds like you had a great experience and I look forward to going to one. I think I'm going to set a goal to get to one next year.


  27. Good post, Jody. You bring up many valid points.

    For me, going to a conference is good because it forced me to come out and meet and greet. I'm the typical introverted writer, more comfortable at home or in the company of children than in a big crowd of adults. But that's exactly why I needed to go: I need to be meeting editors and other publishing professionals (along with our agent! :) and I knew the conference would "force" me to do that.

    I'm planning on going next year, but to none in between. As you said, craft books and online resources are a great substitute for classes--I go for the personal meetings.

  28. Jody,

    Thank you for your comment on my blog. I'm having SO much trouble with blogger. When I click to publish a comment, blogger eats it! I just wanted you to know that I surely approved it and am very sorry it doesn't show up. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you will again...and I hope blogger is full for awhile, and will find no more reason to eat my comments. :)

    Have a great weekend, Jody.

  29. Hey Jody! I really appreciate your thoughts in this post - especially on whether a person is ready to go to a writers conference or not. That's something I've thought about myself - whether it's worth the monetary investment for me right now or not. Thanks for your opinion on this issue.

    Hope you have a great weekend!

  30. I've been to three. I think they all try to offer something for everyone. I've met people that couldn't write at all, (I mean dreadful), that found out the hard way, but they still found the experience beneficial.

  31. Although I had a finished novel, I didn't pitch anything at my first conference. I enjoyed the writerly ambiance -- inspiring speakers, more workshops than I could fit into each day, the commercial exhibits (where I spent way too much money) -- and making connections with other writers. I'm convinced there is never a wrong time to attend one, just different benefits to be gained depending on the stage you're at with your writing.

    Carol Garvin

  32. Jody: It's wise that you've thought this experience through from start to finish. No wonder you gleaned so much from the conference.

    I knew I was ready to go to a conference when God gave me the money--ha! Really, I had been resisting publishing a book because I knew what a ton of work it would require. After several years of "God hints" I finally surrendered, saying, "Okay, God, I'll do this if You want."

    The Holy Spirit then prompted me to call a friend who'd already publshed a book and she encouraged me to attend a conference. That's where I decided I wanted to "be a writer" not just write for fun.

    My life changed forever as a result of the two conferences I've attended in the last year.

  33. Hi Jody,
    Congratulations on all your success! I am so excited for you and for now am living vicariously through you.
    I attend my first writer's workshop in March and I went, looking back, fairly unprepared, although I went as prepared I could be given the homework I did prior to attending.
    I made some fabulous contacts with both aspiring writers and other professionals who were interested in supporting me as I navigate my way into the exciting but overwhelming world of publishing.
    I say go to get your feet wet and go even if you already know how to scuba dive!
    All the best!

  34. Hi Jody,

    Well, I'm a year late on this post but it's exactly what I have been searching the internet for for the last month. I am new to this crazy world of writing (working on my first historical romance) and everything I have been reading says "go to a writing conference", "it's never too soon".

    Aside from the fact that I'd love to go, I'm interested in the workshops and I really want to get connected with other Christian writers, I haven't been able to make up my mind if 2010 was the year for me to attend or if God was saying "wait". (I don't really like that word.) =)

    However, after reading this posting, I'm convinced that I'm just not ready yet. I have more work to do, more craft books to read and now I have one more year to spend patiently praying about where God wants me.

    I feel like this was written just for me!! Thanks!


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