Tools from the Front Lines: Writers Conferences

Last week this time, I was sitting beneath towering redwoods, the warm sun tickling my neck, watching as writers from all over the country converged to learn and commune at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. And I realized that, over the 35 years or so I’ve been involved in the Christian publishing world, like Steve, I’ve attended close to 150 writers conferences! Now, admittedly, I don’t have to pay to go to those conferences because I’m always teaching. And I know that the expense of attending these conferences can seem overwhelming. But as I sit here, listening to the laughter and chatter and brainstorming taking place all around me, I just want to tell you that attending a writers’ conference, even if you only do so once a year, is one of the most valuable tools you have in your writer’s toolbox.  Here’s why:

Workshops. I’m always amazed at the broad range of topics addressed in the workshops at conferences, from craft to business to the spiritual side of writing. And these workshops are taught by people who have been there, who have faced the same struggles and experienced the same joys you have. They know it all firsthand, and their knowledge can help equip and encourage you.

Mentoring classes. There’s nothing like the hands-on, one-to-to instruction you get when you take a mentoring class. Having a skilled writer working with you on your story and overall craft is one of the best things ways to learn. Having professionals like Gayle Roper, James Scott Bell,  Jan Kern, Rene Gutteridge, Bill Myers, and so many others be willing to share their talents and experiences, to help you pinpoint areas you need to improve in and equip you to do that, is just one more reason I love this business.

Networking. The opportunities are everywhere! You can meet and talk with:

Other writers—whether they’re ahead of or behind you in the process, their experiences and insights can educate and encourage you.

Teachers—those who lead the workshops and seminars are there to help and serve you. To answer your questions, give you counsel and advice. They’re looking for ways to strengthen you where you need it, and encourage where you’re feeling discouraged. I’ve had countless people say to me, years after a conference, “you know, you said this one thing to me that just turned everything around!” I’m always so honored to hear that—and so humbled, because I can seldom remember saying what impacted them! But that just proves to me that God is the one saying it, not I.

Editors/Agents—where else can you have face-to-face time with these publishing professionals? And not just a quick “Hi, how are you?”, but time to actually sit with them at a meal or to have a conversation. This is one of the greatest benefits of writers conferences. Because few people have their finger on the pulse of publishing the way these folks do.

Teaching. I got my teaching and speaking “chops” at writers’ conferences. When I first started out, I was so nervous I used to throw up before every session! Now, speaking and teaching to any size crowd is as natural as talking with a good friend. I love it! And I loved learning and getting feedback from conferees and other speakers. The spirit of community and care infuses writers conferences such that it not only benefits conferees, but those who are learning how to be leaders as well.

Inspiration. Our keynote speaker this year was Robin Jones Gunn. When we weren’t roaring in laughter, we were fighting tears from the tender words of truth and encouragement she shared with us. She took us on amazing journeys that uplifted and breathed new life into our work. Every night at the main session, we sat on the edges of our chairs waiting for those seven words she uses to lead us into wonder:

“I want to tell you a story.”

And by the end of the evening, that’s what we wanted to do, too. Tell our stories. God’s stories. To His glory.

So there are are just a few of the reasons writers’ conferences are so valuable. When you add in the fact that they’re just plain fun—I mean, how often do you get to kayak in the ocean with sea otters or run a ropes course in the redwoods?—and that it’s wonderful to be surrounded by people of like minds and passions, well, let’s just say this particular tool is one every writer should use as often as possible.

So here’s hoping I’ll see you at a conference soon!


25 Responses to Tools from the Front Lines: Writers Conferences

  1. Avatar
    Doug Brown April 8, 2015 at 5:10 am #

    So glad I got to meet you at the conference last week. What a great experience and so many “God appointments.” Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

      Thanks, Doug. So happy you enjoyed your experience there!

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    Terri April 8, 2015 at 5:51 am #

    I’ve heard amazing things about Mount Hermon and hope to attend someday. I always enjoy my time at writer’s conferences. You are such an extrovert, something I admire, any tips for us introverts?

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

      Terri, I always tell folks to listen to their bodies. If you need a break from everyone, take it. The beauty of most conferences is that they record the sessions, so you can always get the CDs. Sometimes it’s in the “off” moments, when you take time away, that God can really get hold of you. So don’t worry that you’re not getting your money’s worth or that you’ll miss out on something wonderful. Just do what works best for you–God will take care of the rest.

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    Jeanne Takenaka April 8, 2015 at 6:20 am #

    I love writers conferences! And hearing Robin Jones Gunn at ACFW in 2013 was truly inspiring! How fortunate the attendees at Mt. Hermon got to hear her speak and share her stories!

    You bring up great points, Karen. I love each of these reasons for attending conferences. I’ve only gone to ACFW, but I would love to get to Mt. Hermon one year. It sounds a little more intimate.

    • Avatar
      karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

      Intimate is the perfect word for Mount Hermon. From the setting in the California redwoods to the more relaxed atmosphere, it’s a conference where you can find refreshment as well as great teaching and networking. And this year they introduced some new things, like kayaking in the ocean and doing a ropes course. Great ways to savor nature.

  4. Avatar
    Robin Patchen April 8, 2015 at 6:51 am #

    Karen, this was my first year at Mt. Hermon, and I want to go back every year. It was fantastic–by far the best conference I’ve ever attended. Between Robin Jones Gunn’s amazing keynotes and Allen Arnold’s gentle prodding to create with God, I felt the Lord speak to me like I haven’t felt in a long time.

    I agree entirely about conferences. Mt. Hermon was amazing, but I’ve yet to attend one that wasn’t valuable. I love ACFW, and I’ve learned so much even at our local conferences. I try to attend at least two a year.

    I didn’t realize the kayaking was in the ocean! Way fun–I might need to do that next year. But the ropes course was awesome.

    • Avatar
      Jeanne Takenaka April 8, 2015 at 9:59 am #

      Robin, they had a ropes course?! How fun!!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

      Robin, amen, on every count. Great to see you there!

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    Charles Franklin April 8, 2015 at 6:52 am #

    Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to be attending my first writer’s conference, Realm Makers, this year! I can’t wait to learn from and interact with the great minds that will be there!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      Charles, enjoy! I think you’ll see why I’m so keen on conferences. There’s just nothing like them.

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    Debra L. Butterfield April 8, 2015 at 7:06 am #

    I’m glad you got over your nervousness about speaking. That means there’s hope for me too! (I’m teaching this week.)

    I love attending conferences. Being around other writers is always encouraging and motivating because I know we are all striving for the same thing, and because I get so little face to face time with other writers.

    I’ve never met a group of people who pay it forward so selflessly as writers do!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      Hey, if I can do you, YOU can do it! It’s amazing how familiarity with something does away with fear. And amen on writers paying it forward. Great insight.

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    Janet Ann Collins April 8, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    I loved seeing you at Mount Hermon. Even if I didn’t learn anything new (of course I always learn a lot) I’d want to be there for the fellowship and inspiration. I always say when I’m at that conference the only way I can tell I’m not in Heaven is that I wouldn’t be exhausted in Heaven.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

      Hey, I ALWAYS learn something new. If not about writing, then about speaking or editing or just myself. God always has something to teach me at these conferences. I love that. 🙂

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    Sandy Faye Mauck April 8, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    At Mount Hermon—I thought, “A writer’s conference is NOT a retreat but an Advance. Like an advancing army.”

    I am not the spring chicken I used to be but I only missed one meeting. I kept hearing “change of direction” before the conference and that is what happened and it has been completely freeing.

    I even fell down the stairs and didn’t even have a bruise. Had a car crash into our lodge and the young local girl had done the very thing I had done at her age. And she had lots of Mamas to comfort her and connect with her. The conf. name was Connections. There were a lot of those.

    • Avatar
      Jeanne Takenaka April 8, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      Sandy, I heard that a car crashed into one of the dorms, but I didn’t know it was a young girl driving it. I’m sure having the support of you all in the dorm was a great comfort to her.

      • Avatar
        Sandy Faye Mauck April 8, 2015 at 10:14 am #

        Yes Jeanne, quite a story. I was the Grandma at the scene. The others were the Moms for her. She got lots of prayer!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

      Sandy, so sorry you fell, but grateful you didn’t get hurt too much. And HOLY COW! I hadn’t heard about the car running into a building. So glad you were all there to help the poor driver.

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    Tammy April 8, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    I will attend my first conference this Saturday in Portland. Should I bring my manuscript, a synopsis, or a proposal with me? I do not seem to find any details on the website except to send inquiries to the organizer. What tricks and tips do experienced attendees suggest? Are tablets helpful or cumbersome, do most people prefer notebooks, or are lap tops the way to go?

    I’d sure appreciate some helpful hints.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball April 8, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

      Tammy, that’s too bad that they don’t make that clear on their website. I’d take everything you listed, then find out when you’re there what, exactly, folks want to see. As for tricks and tips, the biggest one is what I mentioned above: listen to your body. Don’t let yourself get so exhausted you come home sick. And don’t have any preconceived notions about why you’re there. God’s plans are far beyond anything we expect, so just keep your heart and mind open for what He has for you. Oh, and have fun!

      • Avatar
        Tammy April 9, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

        Thanks, Karen. I appreciate the feedback. I read Steve Laube’s blog, “Four Tips for Surviving a Writer’s Conference” along with some 2012 blogs from you and Tamela on pitching.

        Here goes…

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    Melodie April 8, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    Great post, Karen. Mt. Herman is on my wish list along with a couple others. I’m attending my second professional conference this weekend, Called to Write in Pittsburg, Kansas. Last year I went to Cedar Falls and loved it.

    After reading your post, I went to Robin Jones Gunns’ website. I really like how she does her Instagram page. In my study of the publishing world and the craft, I’m learning about social media too. Without your post, I would not have found hers. Thank you! You inspired me. I’m glad you had a great time at Mt. Herman. Being with like-minded folk is valuable and refreshing.

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    Shirley Buxton April 9, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    I’ve been to many conferences over the years. This one last week at Mt. Hermon is one of the best I have ever attended. The place itself is a paradise. The teaching was stellar. The music glorious. Plus, my chance to see you and interact a bit added to the preciousness of the week. Blessings always.

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    Hannah Prewett April 9, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    This was my first year attending Mount Hermon, and it was wonderful! I’m so glad I got to meet you. It was great making connections with other people who have the writing bug. 😉

    Robin Jones Gunn’s messages were uplifting and just what I needed to hear each night. I’ve grown up reading her books, so getting to meet her and hear her stories was amazing.

    I think the thing that blessed me the most about the conference was the constant reminder of God’s plan and purpose for our writing. It was such a thrill to see God’s hand leading me every step of the way, from providing the funds for the conference to directing me through the whole conference experience. It’s such a comfort to know I’m not alone in this crazy writing journey. 🙂 He has plans for me, and that is an incredible thought.

    I can’t wait for next year! 😀

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