Get Thee to a Writers Conference

Guest blog by James Scott Bell

jamesscottbellJames Scott Bell is a bestselling thriller writer and long time friend. His most recent release is Don’t Leave Me. He is also the author of the #1 writing books, Plot & Structure and The Art of War for WritersIf you do not have them buy them today (He has five other must-have books on writing too.


I am asked all the time by ambitious, up-and-coming writers what they should do to get in the game. I tell them to do three things:

 1. Produce the words.

 2. Study the craft.

 3. Attend a good writers conference.

 The first is non-negotiable, of course. The most important thing a writer does is write. But that should be accompanied by a study of craft, because it does no good to put down words if common mistakes are being made and bad habits ingrained. You study by reading books and magazines and good blogs, and getting feedback from people who know how to help you. Sometimes you pay such people. They are called freelance editors.

The third item on the list is the writers conference. Here, the writer not only gets access to professionals teaching workshops, but can network with like-minded scribes and soak in the vibes about what it takes to make it in this roiling, changing world of publishing.

Select your conference with care. Look at the list of faculty. See what their credits are. Try to find a conference that is of longstanding reputation. I teach regularly at two: the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and the Writer’s Digest Conference (now twice a year, once in New York, once in Los Angeles). These are both highly reputable and you can count on getting your money’s worth. Smaller, more local conferences can be of benefit as well. Check out the comments of former attendees.

To gain the full benefit of a conference, one must approach it strategically. Let me suggest the following:

1. Plan ahead. Make a prioritized list of who you’d like to meet, what speakers you’d like to hear, and the workshops you need to attend (determine to work on your craft as well as your marketing).

2. Make appointments. Sometimes you can sign up for these in advance. If you’re polite and professional, you may be able to set them up at the conference. Do not expect to get every appointment you want. You can follow up with a polite email afterward saying you’re sorry you couldn’t get together, mention the conference, and include a short pitch.

3. Always remember the two cardinal rules for the writer’s conference attendee: Don’t be dull and don’t be desperate. You should be able to tell someone, in thirty seconds or less, what your book is about, in such a way that the person can immediately see its potential.

4. Talk to other attendees. Don’t only focus on the celebrities or the industry people.

5. Don’t come off as “me me me” all the time. Listen to other people. Ask them what they’re writing.  Let the conversation flow naturally.

6. Keep your tech at bay. Don’t spend most of your time getting email, texting, tweeting. Be with actual people in the actual moment.

7. Don’t invite people into your social networking world right off the bat. Get to know them first. Remember, true networking is based on what you bring of value to the other person.

8. Jot notes on the back of business cards as soon as you can. Remember the key information you’ve gleaned from the contact. Mention it the first time you contact the person.

9. Be a match maker. If you meet someone who might be interested in someone else you’ve met at the conference, get them together. Your estimated value to both will increase.

10. Treat everyone with respect, including the staff. Your reputation radiates outward.

What’s the old saying? Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You can get lucky that way at a conference. I recall two career-shaping conversations I had at conferences, outside the main hustle and bustle. One was with a fellow named Steve Laube, who was working for Bethany House at the time. That conversation turned into seven books with Bethany. The other was with Karen Ball, who gave me advice when I had a major publishing decision to make. She helped me make the right one.

I wish I knew where to find those two again. They seemed to know what they were doing.

So stop with the excuses. Save your pennies and get thee to a writers conference. The investment will pay off.

19 Responses to Get Thee to a Writers Conference

  1. Ron Estrada February 27, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    The best thing I did early on was attend the ACFW conference. I met more people in one weekend than I could have with years of social neworking. The face to face meeting is still essential. It’s easy to forget a twitter handle or facebook profile. This is a lesson I’ve learned in business outside of publishing. Save up the fee and go. It’s worth every penny.

  2. Judith Robl February 27, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    Jim, you are wonderful! I remember (blush) your graceful handling of the old lady sitting in front of you one evening at Glorieta. She was such a newbie in the business that she asked what you did, not recognizing your name or face. She’ll never make that mistake again.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom. But most of all, thank you for your gracious spirit.

    Grace and peace,
    The Old Lady

  3. Richard Mabry February 27, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    Jim, Wise words tempered in the fire of experience and validated by the success of the one who writes them. All kidding aside, your rules for a writer’s conference are spot-on. Not everyone can afford #3, although #1 and 2 are within the grasp of each of us, and I would hold that they’re both non-negotiable. And when #3 is within your reach, choose carefully and pay attention to this advice.
    Steve, thanks for always presenting great material, and this post is no exception.

  4. Jennifer Dyer February 27, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Thanks for the words of wisdom, Mr. Bell. I believe you were the keynote speaker at the first American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference I attended. I’ve been blessed immeasurably by every ACFW I have been able to attend. And I agree…Steve Laube and Karen Ball are full of great advice. 🙂

  5. Ken Farmer February 27, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Our first novel was published on Feb. 14, 2012. In April we attended the North Texas Book Festival and won Best Adult Fiction. In July we attended our first writers conference, Lexi-Con Writers Conference ( Great experience, met many authors, agents, publishers and were asked to speak on adapting the novel to the screenplay (that’s how we got started writing novels). One year after our first released, we had released a total of five novels, four in the military/action/techno genera and one historical fiction western. All five are in Amazon’s Best seller top 100. We credit much our success in sales to attending the conference and greatly expanding our network. Every little bit counts.

  6. Cecelia Dowdy February 27, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    All I can say is…WOW, so true. I doubt I’d ever have gotten published if it had not been for my writers’ conferences. The appointments and the friendships made have sustained me for years! Very good advice!

  7. Jillian Kent February 27, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Jim, you always make learning fun and I know that’s because you love the craft. So glad you are willing to share your knowledge. I suggest to writers who can’t afford to attend a conference to purchase the MP3s. Even when I go to ACFW I buy the conference on MP3. This helps me focus on the meeting with my agent, the workshops I plan to attend, and the new and old relationships I want to nurture and enjoy.

    The match maker opportunity is so valuable. I love doing that when it strikes. One of those God directed moments. So fun and so rewarding.

    Thanks for inviting this guy to your blog, Steve. 🙂

  8. Jeanne T February 27, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    These are great tips. I’m coming off an amazing five day writer’s retreat, which has been fabulous. As I get back into the groove of writing taking what I’ve learned I’m excited to begin putting words on the page for my next book. Reading craft books (including the ones you wrote that are mentioned in the post) has been very helpful. I attended my first ACFW conference last year and gained so much. The workshops and appointments were great, but it was also wonderful to meet other writers–especially those I’d met online.

    Your tip on not inviting people into my social network world right away was the one that stood out most in my mind. Seeing how I can enrich them is a great mindset. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  9. Meghan Carver February 27, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I’ve attended a small conference the past couple of years. It’s been a great training ground to get comfortable with conferences and get out of my shell. But I’ll be reviewing your list again and again before my first ACFW conference this September. Thanks, Mr. Bell, for your sage advice.

  10. Joseph Bentz February 27, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    Not for the first time, James Scott Bell is right! Writers conferences have been crucial for me as a writer, and I also enjoy teaching at them. Sometimes the best things that happen there are things I could not have anticipated, such as the people I meet, the writing ideas that come up, and the inspiration that is sparked.

  11. Marisa Shadrick February 27, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Your blog post was an encouraging reminder, Mr. Bell. I added a #4 for my own edification—Don’t Quit! Life’s unexpected setbacks can cause discouragement, but your advice for ambitious, up-and-coming writers (#1, #2 and #3) will immunize us from my #4. I hope I bump into you at Mount Hermon next month.

  12. Pat Jaeger February 27, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    Thanks for the guest blog. Great advice. Mr. Bell’s book was recommended to me and it is as helpful as Steve says. This September will be my first conference (Indianapolis, God willing)and I’m so looking forward to the experience. I like the MP3 idea from Jillian Kent and intend to do just that! What a blessing this blog site has been. Thanks for taking the time to share all the wonderful information with us.

  13. Rene D. Aube February 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Thank you SO much for this informational blog. I’m preparing to attend my first writer’s conference. The tips you provided will definitely be put to practice. Hopefully I won’t fumble and bumble my way through this. 🙂 As Megan said, I, too, will be reviewing this one over and over in my preparations. Thanks again! God bless

  14. Karen Ball February 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Isn’t Jim amazing? Love his blend of wisdom and tongue-in-cheek humor. So happy I get to see him in a few weeks at the Mount Hermon writers’ conference. If you haven’t signed up for Mount Hermon, check it out at It’s well worth the time and money–and you’d get to see both Jim and me there! I mean, what more could you want?

    • Jenni Brummett February 27, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      I’ll be at Mount Hermon, and look forward to meeting you both

    • Marisa Shadrick February 28, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      I’m registered and excited. Mount Hermon bound! Perhaps we’ll bump into each other.

  15. Carrie Turansky February 27, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Excellent Advice, Jim! Thanks for sharing these thougts with us. I atteand the ACFW American Christian Fiction Writers Conference each year, and it’s always a great experience. Great workshops and opportunities to meet authors, agents, and editors.

  16. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU May 22, 2020 at 9:05 am #

    Some of us have been so ignorant. Didn’t even know there were Christian Writers Conferences till I started plying your blogs. As I live in the UK, would you know of any I can physically attend? Meanwhile, your blog has been to me a kind of online writer’s conference but yea, I will take thy advice and seek for one.
    Thank you, Steve.
    God bless you.

    • Steve Laube May 22, 2020 at 10:23 am #

      Don’t know of any in the UK that are Christian focused.

      Consider joining The Christian Writers Institute and start listening to those lectures. It’s like a writer’s conference in a box.

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