Why Attend a Writer’s Conference?

In my blog of May 25, 2016, I invited folks to submit ideas for future blogs. Today’s blog is to respond to Rebekah Love Dorris’s question: “As a busy parent of young children, I scramble to find time to even write. How necessary is it to attend conferences if I study the writing craft as much as I can here and there?”

I know it’s not easy to attend a writers’ conference. For one thing, it takes time, and many of us, like Rebekah, don’t have much time to spare. And it takes money. Something even fewer of us have. (Hey, we’re writers!) And then you factor in the stress of travel, the being around people for days on end, the being away from family and daily responsibilities…

I get it. Going to a writers’ conference is a big deal. But here’s the thing. Writers’ conferences aren’t just about learning how to write. They’re far more about learning what it means to be a writer.


Okay, let me break it down. Here are just a few of the benefits of going to a writer’s conference:

Time-tested instruction on the writing craft. The folks who teach at these conferences are professionals doing what you want to do. And then there are the people on the critique teams, who are ready, willing, and very able to help you with personalized suggestions for improving your writing. And they all are are there for one reason: to help and guide you.

A Reality Check. This is what I meant by learning what it means to be a writer. There’s no better way to gain a solid understanding of the realities of the world of publishing than at a writers’ conference. You won’t find sugar coating there, and that’s a good thing. You need to know the realities of what you’re getting into. But here’s the beauty of a conference: you’ll also find an abundance of encouragement, real-life tips and advice, and support there. Sure, some of the realities of publishing are hard to take. But hey, what better place to learn about them than with those who’ve gone there already and can empathize with and help you in your journey.

 Resources you will use for years to come. These come in the form of handouts, recordings of workshops, and reference books recommended by the above-mentioned professionals. Not because they make money on those books, but because they have used them and know they help.

Face-to-Face time with Editors and Agents. The obvious benefit of this is that you have an opportunity to see if these folks are interested in you and your work. But that’s not actually the greatest benefit of these face-to-face encounters. One of the best things you can do, if you want to be published, is get to know the editors and agents in the industry. As professionals, yes. But more than that. As people. I have treasured longtime friends who I first met at a writers’ conference. Yes, I acquired some of them when I was an in-house editor, and yes, I offered a few representation after I became an agent. But what I cherish most about them isn’t our publishing relationship, it’s the friendship we built on the foundation of our shared love of words.

Community. Let’s face it, we writers are a hinky bunch. We’re…odd. At least in the minds of the nonwriters out there. Many of which are our family and friends. But when you’re at a writers’ conference, you’re surrounded by folks who understand you and your “quirks,” because they are just. like. you! There’s something uplifting and healing in being with a community of likeminded folk. Especially writers.

So is it worth it to take the time and effort, and to spend the money, to attend a writers’ conference? Absolutely. And for a lot more than just learning how to write.

Your Turn

Now I’d like to hear from those of you who attend writer’s conferences. What makes it worthwhile for you to attend?



22 Responses to Why Attend a Writer’s Conference?

  1. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks August 10, 2016 at 5:09 am #

    I get how hard it is to attend a conference and I’ve only been able to get away once for a longer one. But there are often shorter regional conference that make it possible for a busy mom especially to learn something about craft and meet industry professionals. For years I’ve either attended our one day regional SCBWI conference or a local 2 day Christian Writer’s Conference. Just one event, every year, helps you grow so much and you don’t have to break the bank to go to something short and local.

    • Avatar
      Chaka Heinze August 10, 2016 at 8:17 am #

      I’m a busy stay at home mom with limited resources, but I found a way to attend two conferences this year and…wow! Not only did I attend incredible classes, clinics, and workshops, I made new friends and connections that continue to inspire me in my writing. Best of all, I found my new agent, Jim Hart, there. Conferences are more than worth the temporary inconvenience they might cause.

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    A. B. Lucian August 10, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    Good blog post. I appreciate the sentiment and I’d love to go to a writer’s conference, but it is especially hard for people outside the US to attend.
    And I don’t mean Canada. 🙂
    Any advice for european citizens who can’t afford to cross the Atlantic for a writer’s conference?

  3. Avatar
    Deborah Raney August 10, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    I can’t say enough about how wonderful writers’ conferences are for all the reasons you stated and more. For me, one of the most valuable connections is that I met my writing critique partner, Tamera Alexander, at the very first ACFW conference. As of this coming October, we’ve read and critiqued everything the other has written for 14 years now! I’ve also met other writers I now meet to brainstorm with, or do group book signings with, or have simply become friends with writing colleagues who now meet at our virtual water cooler online. The connections you have with online friends grow so much deeper after you’ve met in person and now have a real voice for those e-mails. (It STILL surprises me every time I talk to Tammy in person how SOUTHERN she talks. 😉 )

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    Kathy Cassel August 10, 2016 at 6:45 am #

    I think a big advantage is one you already mentioned. We get to feel normal for those few days. I am both a writer and mom to 8 (two birth, one step, five adopted, three of whom are from Haiti) so needless to say, only other writers or adoptive parents don’t look at me and shake their head.

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    Martha Rogers August 10, 2016 at 6:49 am #

    Whether a conference lasts for several days or only one, the benefits are worth the cost for all the reasons you gave. I honestly believed I was getting too old to have a writing career, but after meeting my agent at an ACFW conference and signing with her, I received the encouragement I needed to persevere. The encouragement of other writers I met at different conferences spurred me on. I’ve met so many of my favorite writers at conferences and learn from them and yes, I’m still in awe of them.

    I’ll never forget meeting you, Karen, at the PIW conference in Tulsa. You and Francine Rivers were so encouraging and friendly. Then we connected again at Mt. Hermon, and I cherished the friendship begun there. So many connections made and good advice got my career underway at the age of 73.

    If finances are a question, find a conference you’d really like to attend and start saving a little each week toward the expense for the next year. It’s well worth the time, effort, and money.

  6. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins August 10, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    Writing is a solitary job, but writers are communicators, so when we get together, we click. Some of my favorite people (like you) are those I’ve met at writers’ conferences.

    Of course I’ve also learned a lot at them and made professional contacts, too.

  7. Avatar
    Judith Robl August 10, 2016 at 7:17 am #

    Wonderful post, Karen! I love your perspective and second every one of your reasons. Time and resources are frequently a hindrance, but I try to make a conference at least every other year. ACFW 2014 and 2015 was a real treat.

  8. Avatar
    Christine L. Henderson August 10, 2016 at 8:02 am #

    I just returned from a 4-day Christian Writers Conference and feel it was the best money and time spent. My three critique groups at home are a mix of secular and Christian writers. Being around authors that write with a Christian theme was invigorating. We shared our frustrations, hopes and dreams. Some were new writers, others had multiple books out, but we all had a commonality of focus. The workshop instructors guided us and easily answered questions. The keynote speakers in the morning and the evening reminded us how important it was to point readers to Christ and his hope in the turbulent world we live in.

    Before deciding to attend any conference, I would suggest a thorough reading of what they have to offer. I had initially planned on attending another conference because it sounded like a fun learning experience. However, once I read the brochure for this one, I knew it had emphasis on writing I needed at this point in my career.

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    Lewis Jenkins August 10, 2016 at 8:22 am #

    This time tomorrow I should be on a plane headed to NYC for the annual Writer’s Digest conference. I have been given advice, including from the posts above, and have tried to prepare by doing two things: First, have a list of questions and stuff I want to work on (and add to that list as the conference progresses). Second, I have edited and rehearsed my pitches many times so I can deliver them with the same enthusiasm I have when I tell people I know (best way to avoid deer-in-the-headlights syndrome in front of strangers). I hope to see you there.

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    Ruth T. August 10, 2016 at 8:41 am #

    I attended the ACFW conference in 2012. I didn’t know it, but my writing was far from ready. The knowledge I brought home helped me change my manuscripts from amateur to ready-for-publication – in my mind anyway, we’ll see what the agents and editors I meet with this month think! 🙂

    Speaking of, I did get 2 requests for proposals after meeting with 3 agents, one being Lee Hough. Between the little bit of time I got with him at the conference (including a chance meeting in the lobby where he gave me some pointers) as well as email correspondence helped me appreciate agents as more than just ‘someone I want to pitch to so I can be published’. I believe a connection is vital, so the face-to-face meetings have a huge advantage over merely sending queries. So much more to be said. Sadly for us who remained, some of you know the Lord took Lee home a year later. He was an amazing man whose impact will stay with me forever.

    So, yes, busy mother (I am as well – full-time mother of 2 + a small home business), it is worth spending the time and money if you can scrounge. Even if the result doesn’t lead to getting published, you will bring so much back if you take full advantage of everything offered.

  11. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee August 10, 2016 at 9:55 am #

    Karen, I was in direct sales for 23 years and going to the conferences was a must for anyone who was serious about building her business. I look forward to Nashville and the learning opportunities that will be there! It’s my first writers’ conference and I am counting the days!

  12. Avatar
    Connie Lounsbury August 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    Hi Karen, I mentor young writers, many who have publishable manuscripts but cannot afford the time or money, or both, to attend writer’s conferences. I know the value of meeting the gatekeepers of publishing face-to-face because I met my publishers and my agent at conferences. Therefore, I am starting a scholarship for writers to help them attend conferences. It will be up on my website by next week. I started it with what I could afford, but I am looking for donations to fully fund the endowment that will hopefully be paying out scholarships by early 2018. If anyone can help, please check my website next week for more information. Thanks. ww.connielounsbury.com

  13. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson August 10, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    Attending a writer’s conference is like pouring chocolate over my ice cream. It makes everything better! I worked a full-time job of 60+ hours, took care of my mother-in-law who was on hospice 24/7, and pursued my love of writing during the midnight hours. Attending a conference with like-minded people was thrilling. People actually wanted to talk about “writing.” I highly recommend at least one writer’s conference each year, if not more. I’m now a full-time writer!! What more could I say?!?! I love it!!

  14. Avatar
    Jennifer Allen August 10, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    I am planning to attend my first national conference – ACFW – in two weeks. Preparing for my parents to take care of my school-age children, who will be in school, is as arduous as preparing for the conference. But learning from professionals and being able to ask questions that directly relate to my work is worth it.

  15. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris August 10, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    Karen, thanks so much for this post. It makes me that much more eager for when God gives the green light to attend a conference! I suspect, however, it’ll be after my infant and toddler twins are out of diapers. 🙂

    Until that time, I so appreciate my daily dose of inspiration on this blog. Surely it, and other blessings like Jerry Jenkins’ Writers Guild, are the next best thing.

    Finally, I have to tell you – I just discovered Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series. She dedicates the second book to you, and if ever an editor needed jaw-dropping accolades, you got it right there. Anybody blessed enough to have you as an agent or editor needs to get on their knees and thank God *now*.

    You’re welcome for the avalanche of submissions this comment elicits. 😀

  16. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris August 10, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

    Excuse me, I misspoke. She *acknowledged* two people for their assistance: her husband, and you. High praise!

    God bless 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Richard New August 10, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    For me, attending writer’s conferences is like growing your family. Yes, not all family is beneficial, nor are some of the folks you meet at these meetings. However, every person you click with is one more who understands you–or can relate to you. This can lead to lifelong friendships and writer helpers. A lot of them are folks ahead of you on the learning curve who can help and encourage you through your next bit of writer confusion.

    Plus, their nice people.

  18. Avatar
    Cheryl August 10, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    Karen, Although this will be my first ACFW conference, it feels like I’ve been waiting a lifetime to finally get to Nashville. I’ll be the “quirky” blonde toting a well worn, writing pad and humming (not a country and western tune) but a praise be to God song. I can’t wait to meet new writers and learn about this craft that I love. Thank you for your encouragement.

  19. Avatar
    Martha Rogers August 10, 2016 at 10:18 pm #

    Those of you going to ACFW for the first time, hunt me down, look me up or whatever so I can give you a hug or a handshake. I love meeting first-timers. Look for the oldest lady around and it’ll probably be me. 🙂


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