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Is a Writer’s Conference Worth the Money?

Cindy Wilson, Wendy Miller, Me, Heather Sunseri
I just spent several days in Indianapolis at a national fiction writer’s conference. This is only the second writing conference I’ve gone to in my writing career. In fact, in all my years of writing, I hadn’t attended one until last year (after I had an agent and book contract).

How important are writer’s conferences, really? The costs are incredibly high for the pauper writing population. When figuring in conference fees, transportation, and hotel, we can easily spend $1000. Are there enough benefits to justify that kind of cost?

Like everything on this blog, I can only share my opinions based on what I’ve been learning. So make sure to chime in with your thoughts in the comments!

Benefits of a Writer’s Conference:

*Networking with other writers. The relationships we form with other writers are invaluable. They could lead to critique buddies, blogging partners, champions for our books. At the very least, the friends we form will encourage us, challenge us, and enlighten us. And if we already have friends, then it’s the chance to meet new people and broaden our scope and presence. Published authors can use the time to build their name and promote their books among the writing community.

*Learning more about the business. While rubbing shoulders with hundreds of other authors, we get to learn more about industry advancements and happenings. We learn new lingo, see who’s important, and see how it’s all done from the best. I had the chance to ask other published authors for their advice on book signings—what worked and what didn’t for them. And since I have a book release party this Saturday, I soaked in every bit of information I could.

*Growing through workshops and seminars. Often seminars are led by best-selling authors, agents, or editors. We get to ask specific questions and might even have the opportunity for one on one time. During the conference I just attended, I had the privilege of learning from James Scott Bell the author of my favorite writing craft books.

*Connecting with industry professionals. A conference is one of the only places where writers can schedule meetings with agents and editors, pitch their work, and have the chance to get a foot in the door—especially with those closed to queries. They learn our names, see that we’re taking our writing seriously enough to attend a conference, and perhaps might ask to see more of our work.

But are the benefits really worth the money?

In a day an age when we can do and see almost anything we want online, is a conference really worth the money and effort? After all, we can network with other writers through blogging, twitter, and facebook. With a little effort we can form critique groups, find encouragement, and broaden our online presence. Do we really need to go to a conference for it?

And same with learning about the business and growing as writers. We can rub shoulders with agents on twitter, read industry blogs, and stay up with daily changes. We can buy books about everything from writing scenes to marketing our work. Do we really need to spend hundreds of dollars to do that when we can do it from the ease and comfort from our desk chairs?

With webinars, online conferences, a plethora of blogs about writing, and all the information a click away for free, the internet has definitely changed the need for writer’s conferences. In fact, conferences can often have an “overwhelming” feel to them. Despite the camaraderie, invigoration, and fun, there’s an underlying fear and slight depression that comes from knowing we’re all striving after the same thing and that not everyone is going to get a gold medal.

Even so, I still think a writer’s conference adds something valuable to a writer’s career that can’t be gained anywhere else. As much as I love the internet and the friendships I’ve made online, there’s nothing that beats real life, face to face communication and relating. And to me, that’s what writing conferences are all about—REAL CONNECTIONS.

I think every writer should eventually give a conference a try. But there’s no hurry—especially when we’re young in our writing careers. I waited until I was at a place in my writing career where I was ready to meet agents and industry professionals. Before that I put the money toward other things like fiction-writing help books and freelance edits.

What about you? What are other benefits to writer’s conferences? And do you think the benefits are really worth the money?

P.S. If you're interested in entering this week's drawing for a free copy of The Preacher's Bride, all you need to do is answer a simple question! Go here: Trivia Question #3

45 comments:

  1. Jody, great topic for discussion. I have learned a lot about conferences only because I have taken the plunge and gone to a few now. It's only by going that you can develop that metric for what's valuable, and what's not. What I mean is that writers all have different goals in mind. So depending on what a specific conference has to offer, a conference may or may not make sense for them. If you're in the querying phase, you'll want to research the agents and editors attending to make sure they're appropriate for your purposes. If you're in the craft phase, you may find value in certain workshops. It's only through trial and error that you learn the nuances of conferencing. Then you can better discern what a particular conference has to offer for your purposes.

    No matter what, I've always learned something new and met wonderful people at conferences. I can honestly say for me, they're always worth it.

    Marissa

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  2. I haven't attended a conference yet. At this point in my writing and financial status, it just isn't worth it to me. I loved hearing your views on them, though. I would definitely like to try to attend one in the future.

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  3. Hi Jody,

    I have not physically been to a writer's conference. I do the ones that are free online and have found them to be quite useful. I sign up every year and the amount of information is staggering.

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  4. I just wanted to say that the picture with the post is really making me jealous! :P I hope you all had a fabulous time!

    And yes, if you go to a good conference (like ACFW), it is def worth your money!

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  5. They've been worth it for me. But I don't spend a 1,000 dollars that's for sure. I stay at friends' houses, I chip in for a hotel room one night and I choose ones that are reasonably priced. As in no air fare involved. But the real connections and the getting inspired is worth it - but not necessary!

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  6. I went to a small local writer's conference and received a great benefit. If you can afford it, I'm sure even one of those things is worth it! :O)

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  7. I so wanted to attend our local conference this weekend, but sadly even though it was in town, it was still financially out of reach this year. I've attended conferences in the past though, and found them invaluable.

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  8. I just went to my first conference this weekend. It was just a local chapter of SCBWI and although interesting I found I knew a lot of the things they were teaching, plus some. I think you need to be picky about the conferences you go to. Try to find some where agents that you're interested in will be, or the courses being offered are the ones you're struggling with.

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  9. Jody,

    This is a little difficult for me. I've been to two conferences and have greatly enjoyed both. If I could, I would go to more. The human contact with other writers is fulfilling. And part of me sees it as the best way to meet people that you want to get your work in front of.

    At the same time, the cost is prohibitive for me. The conferences I've attended were in my city, so I cut the hotel cost out. However, an out-of-town conference becomes an immediate challenge. Air fare is out of the question, unless there is something I can tie it in with. (There's a future conference in SoCal that I want to attend. My in-laws live in SoCal. The idea of a family visit works with my wife.)

    Still plugging away though and will do what I can when I can.

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  10. That picture looks fantastic! I hope you share all the fun details! I went to the BEA a couple of years ago. I remember being so overwhelmed at first and it was only for a day! I can't imagine being away from the family for four days. I would love to go to the ACFW to meet with friends sometime and take in the workshops.

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  11. For many, I think it's a great benefit. I personally am not in a place where I feel it would benefit me. I have a lot of work to do before I get to that place...

    It sounds like a wonderful experience for you Jody! :)

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  12. I agree with everything you say here, Jody. It's definitey a matter of weighing the hefty price of the conference with the benefits that you're ready to receive. The key word being "ready." I had a blast meeting and spending time with you!

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  13. Since writing is such a solitary business, getting out where people understand what your life is like is a great benefit. I'd recommend starting with smaller, close-to-home conferences if you can. Self-help books are one thing. Face to face is immeasurably more valuable.

    But 'ready' is also the key word. And only you will know what your particular 'ready' is.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  14. Jody..as I have not attended any writer's conference, I have nothing to contribute on that front, but I am sure it will be well worth the effort if one attends. Like you I believe there is nothing like meeting other writers and agents face to face.

    You must be both excited and nervous about your book release party this saturday. I am sure you will do great. All the best for it.

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  15. Love the picture of you ladies!

    The real benefit for me would be the connections. The Internet can never replace the appeal of a real conversation!

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  16. For me, they are always worth it. I just got back from the local SCBWI conference this weekend with an invitation to submit to an agent!

    Even besides the access to professionals, though, you just cannot get the same kind of inspiration and comraderie that comes from being in the same room with a bunch of enthusiastic writers and listening to uplifting speeches by "the greats." It's energizing and rejuvenating - something every writer needs.

    That said, they are expensive, and if they are out of reach financially, you can certainly get a lot, if not all, of the information online. I think that's one of the great benefits of being a writer today. There are so many ways to get connected!

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  17. I would agree Jody. There is nothing like meeting all of these people face to face. Although not possible this year, I plan to go to SiWC next year for the conference and to meet many of the authors I have met through social networking.

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  18. I usually attend a few online conferences which are fun in itself, but I always wanted to go to a conference in person. Financially if I plan way ahead then I should be alright, it's just travelling alone I'm not okay with. I'll just have to pick myself up and just do it!

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  19. I went to my 1st conference this year & I have to say that it is definitely worth every penny. The workshops, the meetings of minds & simply the knowledge that none of us toils alone is totally worth it. I can't wait to attend a few more next year.
    Patti Struble

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  20. So true! The face-to-face time is exactly why I go. Where else can I be in a room filled with aspiring and published authors?

    I think the workshops about the industry, rather than the craft, were more helpful, because like you said, most of the craft stuff you can find in craft books. It's the fellowship and networking that make it worth the money for me!

    Loved seeing you girl!

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  21. I'm going to go with yes, Yes, YES!

    Loved laughing with you.
    ~ Wendy

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  22. I just attended our area’s regional conference for the third year in a row, and agree that having real connections are important. There’s just something about being in the presence of other like-minded people that I find inspirational. I also believe that critiques (when offered) are an excellent way to learn more about your strong points as a writer, as well as how to improve your craft.

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  23. I've never been to a writer's conference so I can't say I know the benefits but I think connecting with other writers and other industry professionals seems like it would be really helpful.

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  24. Jody, first let me say that I JUST GOT PREACHER'S BRIDE IN THE MAIL! When I'm a little more presentable, I'll take a picture and send it to you. It was so exciting to open the package and see YOUR BOOK. Amazing stuff.

    Conferences...I've attended a couple of small ones near home, and they've been great. I do feel a little overwhelmed, even at the small ones.

    I wasn't able to afford to go SCBWI in LA, even though it's close to home. We just didn't have that kind of money this summer. But I wonder if the small ones intimidated me, how would a gigantic one affect me? Not sure.

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  25. Sounds like you had a good time:)

    I agree with waiting until you are further in your writing career to go. A bunch of us planned a trip to one before I had finished my MS, I was supposed to have it done by the time the conference came around. Anyway, it was nice to meet people and exciting, but it didn't further my writing career any. I wasn't ready.

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  26. Okay, I'm not a writer but I've been to a few conferences in my day and if you're a crap networker (like yours truly) then I often find them a waste of time.

    THAT SAID, what you said about all the information available online, I feel you! But something I've found interesting is that people (not just writers) are so much more prone to taking action when they pay for something. Should they pay $1,000? Maybe. Maybe not. But while you can find ANY information online for free, putting a monetary value on it makes many people more likely to actually DO something with that information.

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  27. I've attended conferences for no other reason than to meet people face to face. Worth every penny. Y'all look lovely, BTW.

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  28. I think Writer's Conferences are important. The connections, meeting your new friends you met blogging face to face, learning, listening, etc. Until you meet a blogging friend in person, they are just network connections. Once you meet them, converse with them, and establish a real friendship, then you know what they are like and you can call them friend. Not to mention, as you said, the meeting of editors and agents that you wouldn't otherwise get to know.

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  29. I've been attending the SiWC every second year since 2004, using the alternate years to earn money to cover costs. I'm already excited about this year's conference. I'm a terrible introvert and find it's way too easy to "meet and greet" people online and search out resources from my comfortable anonymous corner. The face-to-face encounters at conferences are part of my learning experience as an aspiring author and I know I need them. The enthusiasm gained from being immersed in a real time environment with fellow writers is invaluable, too, never mind the information I glean from selected workshops. Yes, I wish conferences weren't so expensive, but I'll definitely keep attending. I'm registered for James Scott Bell's master class this time, and also have a Blue Pencil appointment with him. That's priceless!

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  30. Jody: I'm so happy you got to attend this conference.

    I agree: meeting like-minded soulmate writers who get you is worth the time and money spent. And since I met my agent at a conference, I feel strongly about the face to face connections you can make to aid your career.

    I did not attend a conference this year, but I plan to save up for next year.

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  31. Hi Jody -

    I have the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference practically in my backyard. With no major transportation or hotel costs, and an occasional scholarship, I've been able to attend for the past six years.

    Like you, I've met both new and old friends. The workshops have sanded off some of the rough edges in my writing, as well as taught me new skills.

    Many of my non-fiction writing assignments have come via this conference. At the last conference, an agent requested a full manuscript of "The Moses Conspiracy."

    I'd say a writing conference is well worth the cost.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  32. This is awesome! Thank you for always sharing your wisdom!

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  33. I've really benefited from the few conferences I've attended but they were expensive since I traveled out of Alaska for two of them. The first one was heavy on writing instruction, the second on how the industry works. Back then I wasn't utilizing the internet as much as I do now. I think the conferences provided me with a good baseline of knowledge that I've built from on line and thru books.

    I'm more choosy now. If I lived in a place where I could go to a conference and not travel I'd take full advantage of that. Another way to do it is to try to plan a conference into travel you are going to be doing anyway.

    I'd really like to go meet some of the writer-friends I've made on line.

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  34. Amen and amen! I can't put a price tag on meeting you lovely ladies in person.

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  35. I'm behind on the times. Your book is out? Hooray! Look at all the photos of people enjoying their copy. What an amazing time for you.

    Meanwhile, I attended the Blue Ridge Writer's Conference in 2004. It was great...and my mom footed the bill so we could both go!

    Would it be worth it if I paid the tab? Sure. I think they're informative and you can make some great connections. However, one every now-and-then, is enough.

    ~Britt

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  36. That picture made me smile! And also made me want to Sharpie my face into it somehow :) These are all fantastic points, Jody. I'm so excited for my first conference in October, for all the reasons you listed, but mostly for that one-on-one contact with people who share my dream.

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  38. Absolutely it's worth it. I attended my first conference this past February (the Christian Writers Guild "Writing for the Soul" conference), and yes it was expensive, but I learned more in 3 1/2 days than the weeks and months spent researching online and reading books.

    I also got to know the associate editor of The Upper Room, which has led me to a possible publication (waiting to hear if it makes the final cut). She also spent time AFTER the conference (via email) mentoring me on tightening up my writing for their magazine. I don't know many editors who would take the time to do that. I'm confident that door would not have opened if I'd never met her face-to-face.

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  39. I have not had the opportunity to attend a conference yet, but based on my teaching conference experiences, I would say they are most definitely worth the money. I always walk away from a teacher's conference geared up and excited about returning to my classroom. If I left a writing conference with that kind of new knowledge and exuberance, it would be worth every penny. :-)

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  40. Wonderful post and I couldn't agree more.

    When I go to these conferences I am very pro-active in gathering business cards of writers, agents & editors and passing out mine in order to connect on Facebook and Twitter and to discover new Blogs.

    Although you meet quite a few folks only briefly, you can nurture these relationships for a year until the next conference.

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  41. Writing conferences have made all the difference to my learning trajectory about the craft of creative writing. Meeting agents and having them critique my opening pages was huge in teaching me what I was doing wrong.

    If I had not attended these conferences, Backspace in particular, I would have sent out my work, been rejected and had no clue what I was doing wrong. I probably would have learned to get it right, but it would have taken me much longer.

    Attending writing conferences definitely shortened my learning curve and I can't recommend them enough! Backspace in New York is especially effective. If you can get there, do so. You will not regret it.

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  42. I totally encourage writers to attend a conference as soon as you have written THE END. The cost of a really good conference like RWA or ACFW has to be budgeted over a year to make it affordable. And when you have children at home it can become tricky but still doable with long range planning. I used to ask for money for conference fees and airfare for Mother's Day, Christmas and my birthday.

    What you get face to face, sitting at the feet of experienced authors and industry professionals cannot be obtained in any book or online workshop. Period.

    There is an excitement and a buzz in the air that somehow helps to validate that writer world of ours. We sit day after day in a cave and our contacts are virtual at best. The only time I have with other writers is online and that which I carve out yearly to meet face to face.

    The fun part is coming home in that bubble of validation. I am a writer. These are my peeps.

    It is cannot be described in words..ha ha...this from a writer.

    The first time I heard Francine Rivers speak. Or James Patterson or a chat wit Nora Roberts...no one gets this but writers.

    Hey, and it's a tax write off. So scour the local writer conferences and find one near your sister or your mom and go...start small and work up to the big ones.

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  43. I have promised myself I will attend at least one in my lifetime. I will arrange for one in the UK when I visit family.
    They sound interesting, thanks for the info.

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