The Right Conference?
As you pursue a writing career, one big question is how much time and money to devote to writers conferences. Conferences have many benefits, including the chance to meet face to face with editors and fellowship with writers. Some writers have plenty of time and money and love to attend conferences because the events get them out of the house and they enjoy meeting other writers. There is nothing wrong with attending conferences for these intangible benefits, and just for fun. But writers with more modest resources may want to ask themselves questions before choosing a conference.
Do I need to attend writers conferences to sell books?
No. Many successful writers have never attended a conference. Some aren’t able to break away because of family and day job commitments. Others can’t spare the money. Most agents accept submissions from writers they’ve never met, and editors often buy books from writers they’ve never met. And it’s possible to meet through other ways than conferences. So if attending a writers conference isn’t possible for you right now, don’t despair. Just keep writing and submitting your best work. The time and money to travel will come at the right point in your career.
Is it worth my time to attend a conference because it’s close to my home?
Not if that’s the only reason you’re attending. If the purpose of the conference is to showcase, for example, fiction when you write nonfiction, magazines when you write books, or ABA when you write for CBA, then you may be just as well off to spend that time polishing your manuscript. Granted, it’s always great to see other writers and meeting editors may lead to some unexpected work or development, but if you are focused on a certain type of writing, targeting a conference that is a good fit will be a better use of your resources.
My dream agent will only take submissions from people she meets at a conference. But what if I can’t go?
To my knowledge, agents will still consider referrals from their clients. If you have done enough research to determine you really want a particular agent, then you should know one or two of his clients. If no one is willing to recommend your work to your dream agent, find out how you can improve your work and try again. For the record, we at The Steve Laube Agency accept submissions from writers we have not met. You can find our submissions guidelines here.
Then how many conferences should I attend?
Start out with one per year, and make it the one you think will benefit you most. You can always increase travel as your career grows. And of course, as you become established, conferences offer more opportunities for you to defray your expenses if you can offer paid critiques, give speeches, and teach workshops. However, these positions are often difficult to secure because of intense competition, so don’t short yourself on your budget until you are confirmed as a member of the faculty.
How much should I budget for a conference?
You must consider room and board, conference fees, travel, and incidentals such as meals the conference is not providing. I suggest budgeting $1,000 for a major conference held at a high end hotel, plus air or car fare. Conferences held in more modest settings might demand closer to $500, and a one-day conference may cost less than $100. There are ways to economize, such as carpooling, staying at a cheaper hotel nearby, and sharing a room. You may think my suggested budget is too generous, but it’s better to be prepared with more money than you spend than to face an unpleasant surprise later.
How do I find out about conferences?
We have a great list of Christian conferences: (click here for the complete list)
Now that you have an idea as to how to arrange your travel plans, go and have fun.
1.) Share your favorite conference experience.
2.) What is your dream conference you hope to attend?
3.) What tips can you add?
[This post originally written for the ACFW Blog and was posted June 18, 2012.]
Debbie Lynne Costello
I have to say my favorite conference experience is the time I met with you. You were warm and welcoming and helped alleviate my jumbled nerves. I want to say thank you once again. Meeting with agents and editors can be a daunting experience, but you truly made it as painless as possible. Of course my favorite non-conference experience is when I got “the call” from you. ;o)
Tamela Hancock Murray
Debbie Lynne, you just made my day!
Debbie, I feel the same way. I will never forget meeting Steve at an ACW conference here in Houston. At first I was so intimidated by this great editor from a well known publisher who had just spoken to the group. Then when I met him and he was so warm and friendly as well as helpful and encouraging, I felt like I had met a friend. That was back around twelve years ago, and now I’m so thankful and privileged to be a part of his agency with Tamela as my wonderful agent who never gave up on me.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Martha, I have been swamped and am just now revisiting this post. Thank you so much! You made day today! 🙂
I’ve attended LOTS of writers conferences. Currently, I don’t attend as much because of financial and family obligations. But, when I was single, I attended at least 2 or 3 a year. I highly recommend conferences to those who are seriously pursuing publication. I received my first two book contracts as a direct result from meetings at conferences.
Plus, the fellowship at conferences is awesome! Being around all those writers, editors and agents gives me this huge burst of energy that lasts during the entire conference! 🙂
I attended ACFW last year for the first time, and I loved it. There was something magical about being surrounded by so many Christian writers. For those who’ve never been, I highly recommend it. I will be in Dallas next month.
I also like to attend one local conference every year, ACW or our local, secular conference, OWFI (in Oklahoma City). At the local conferences, it is easier to have long conversations and really get to know some of the staff and the other writers, whereas at ACFW, there are so many people, it’s hard to focus on any one at a time. One of my favorite memories was at the ACW conference in 2011, where I met Steve Laube and Rene Gutteridge. It’s such a blessing to get to know people in a more relaxed atmosphere like that. And like you say, the smaller conferences are more affordable, too.
I’ll be attending my first conference (ACFW) next month in Dallas. I’m excited, nervous and eager all wrapped up into one package. I’ve attended a couple of retreats hosted by My Book Therapy, and those have been wonderful. The small group and teaching has helped me learn so much as a writer.
I dont’ know if I have a dream conference, but I hope I can one day attend the BRMCWC and the Mt. Hermon conference.
I don’t think I can add any tips. You’ve brought up a lot of great thoughts, Tamela. 🙂
Kimberly Rose Johnson
I think my favorite conference experience is getting to see my online friends in person. I also enjoyed tagging along with a good friend to Mall of America and getting a chance to visit with you.:)
I loved attending Mt. Hermon this year and I have the ACFW on my radar for the future. Just FYI, I direct a smaller conference in Spokane, Wa held in March each year. It’s not pricey and we have great workshops, publishing professionals and a keynote. Dr Dennis Hensley will be our keynote for 2013. Website is http://www.inlandnwchristianwriters.com. I think attending conferences is so important for writers and so much fun! I could be a conference junkie if I had more time and money on my hands. 🙂
Thank you for the link. It has been added to our list of writer’s conference in the Resources section of our web site.
Thanks so much!
I’ve only been to one small local conference, but I’m heading to Dallas for ACFW next month and couldn’t be more excited! I’m nervous to pitch to editors and agents, but so extremely jazzed about meeting everyone in person that I’ve only met online.
One piece of advice I was given: don’t judge the success of the conference based on how well pitch sessions go or on whether you secure an agent or editor. There are so many other reasons to go, and agents/editors will notice someone who keeps returning/persevering. So that was encouraging to me and took some of the pressure off!
Patti Jo Moore
Great post, Tamela. 🙂 The ACFW Conference is the only one I’ve attended, and each time it’s been a wonderful experience for me. Dallas will be my 4th time attending, and I can’t wait! 🙂
I’ve made a point of attending at least one conference a year for several years now. Lately I’ve been branching out and trying the bigger ones: Mount Hermon, Writer’s Digest in New York. I think my goal conference for next year is ThrillerFest. James Scott Bell recommended that one to me and a lot of my online friends attended the latest one. Looks like a great networking opportunity and loads of fun.
Great article! I’ve been to one regional conference and ACFW and really loved ACFW [the regional one wasn’t fiction focused]. Definitely love the cost saving tips and second them. Last year, I carpooled with one local friend [but only about 3 hours]. This year, I’m carpooling with 3 friends. Both years, I’ve had three roommates – which means we each pay for one night basically. And it’s gals I love so getting to spend more time with them is a definite bonus!
And it’s NEXT MONTH! Can’t wait!!!
Johnnie Alexander Donley
On the way to my first major conference, I prayed God would give me a friend to eat lunch with. He blessed me with four, and we became the Kindred Heart Writers. That was the Florida Christian Writers Conference in 2007 and a milestone for me on my writing journey.
Thanks for the post, Tamela.
Thank you so much for this list. I’m actually working on raising funds for a conference, just as a missionary would. My supporters want to help me and why not ask for help to pursue a dream?
If you’re interested in focusing on your novel only the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat could be the Retreat for you. The setting is outstanding. Faculty the best. Workshops for beginning or established novelists. No agent or editor appointments, no pressure. Time to learn and write. Contests and critiques are offered. Visit: ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/event/novelist or check out Resourses on this site.
I have so many awesome conference memories. ACFW in Dallas will be my sixth. Last year was one of the best yet because I had a finished book and my life wasn’t insane.
One thing I will never forget is pitching to you last fall, Tamela, in St. Louis. It was amazing and you challenged me to really think about my novel and my plans for the series. I left walking on air. Even though it didn’t work out and you had to pass on signing me with this one, it was still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
This is a great analysis and I appreciate the insight. I’ll need to reprioritize my conference selections and not pick them just for proximity and cost. Thanks!
@Jan Cline- I, too, could become a conference junkie. I love to learn! 🙂 For me, attending at least one conference per year supports, refines, and directs my writing.
So far, I’ve attended five conferences (three major ones, two smaller ones) and learned a couple things that have helped me alleviate some of the pressure. Perhaps they will help someone else, too.
1) Focus on hearing from God. If you feel God has called you to write, then trust Him with the process. No matter how it goes with editors or agents, I try to focus on listening to what God wants to say to me about my writing, instead of trying to “make something happen.” In the words of New York Times best seller, Susy Flory, “Trust the slow work of God.” When I do that, I come away encouraged and energized.
2) Focus on serving others. As a Christian, my call to serve others preempts all other “calls.” Focusing on the needs of other attendees is the “secret sauce” God uses to season my conference experiences with peace, joy, and satisfaction.
I’ll take careful listening over frantic “pitching” any day. (Been there!) So much more restful… 🙂
Nancy B. Kennedy
My favorite conference is the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s not the conference you go to for face time with agents/editors, but the speakers are outstanding. At the last one I attended, I heard Kate DiCamillo, Rhoda Janzen, Eugene Peterson, Wally Lamb, Mary Karr and Matthew Perry, among many other outstanding writers. Steve McCurry’s photography exhibit was breathtaking. This conference has a broad definition of faith — broader than many Christian writers would care for — but I find it refreshing. It is the one conference at which I don’t sense that anxious overtone of writers pursuing publication. We were all there just to revel in the atmosphere and converse with other writers. I can’t wait to go back!
My first conference was a small local one in which I received an honorable mention in the awards ceremony. At the time, I had only been writing for a couple of years and was shocked to say the least! Now that I have two more years of writing under my belt, I’m attending the ACFW conference for the first time.
Part of me wants to jump up and down while clapping my hands, and another part of me wants to throw up!
I look forward to participating in the workshops learning from the best people in the industry. I love Dallas and can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for me as I watch, learn, and grow.
As I haven’t attended many conferences the only tip I can offer is to be open to what the Lord has planned seeking His will as our own.
I attended She Speaks as my first conference last year and was not disappointed. It’s a fabulous conference for writers, speakers, and women ministry leaders. My dream conference is attend Mount Hermon. I’ve heard so many good things.
Forgot to ask, do you recommend going to the same conference repeatedly or visiting a different conference each year?