I've always avoided thinking about how great a writer's conference was because I knew I couldn't afford to go to one. I comforted myself with thoughts like, "I already have a contract. I have a critique group. I'm a good enough writer anyway. I'm doing good with my own networking."
But in my heart, I always envied everyone who went to one. I wanted to meet people, learn with them, bond with them--the kind of 'church camp' experience, only for writers.
Why, though? What are the benefits of going to a writer's conference?
First of all, a writer's conference has something for all levels of writers. (And of course, anyone can participate in these events, no matter what level.)
For the aspiring writer:
1) Writing contests. These are a good way to exercise your growing talent and stretch yourself, sometimes uncomfortably. And usually, there is immediate feedback.
2) One-on-one mentoring. For an additional fee, conferences usually have a 'writing lab' where you can sit down with a published author/editor and share something you've written. Make sure you wear your tough skin and take all of the advice/critique to heart.
3) Genre studies. You can learn about what genres are getting published now, as well as what makes a novel fit into these genres.
4) Workshops about pace, point of view, cliches, and everything you need to improve your craft.
For the writer seeking publication:
1) Writing contests. If you win, what a great thing to add to your resume! And if you don't win, you have another story to try and publish.
2) You will meet editors and agents. Some of them are book shopping at the conference. While you may not sell a manuscript, it's a good time to make an impression, help them to remember who you are.
3) Agent advice. Often there's a workshop by an agent, who will share with you what to do and what not to do when submitting.
4) Query workshops. What could be better than fine-tuning your query while an agent peeks over your shoulder?
For the newly published writer:
1) Professional networking! Bring your business cards. See how many you can collect. Get them autographed! Autograph them! Buying a book from an author you know is so much more gratifying than buying from an unknown author. You want everyone to feel that way about you. You are a friend; they know you. Looking for someone to write the blurb for your next book? This might be the place!
2) Marketing workshops. You have a release date, or a new book. You have some marketing ideas. Need a few more? A writer's conference will help you.
3) Website help. Every writer needs a website. Not ready to pay the money for a professional one? You might find a workshop that will teach you how to do it.
4) Making the most of launches. Booksignings can be successful--or not, and a lot of it depends on you. Learn how to the most out of yours.
For the seasoned writer:
1) Helping others learn from your skill. You might be the instrument that jump-starts a career.
2) Social networking. Okay, you've got your fan base and several published novels. Now's your chance to make new friends. Break into a new niche.
3) Broadening your market. Maybe you've always written suspense and want to give fantasy a try. Maybe you want something different but don't know what. A writer's conference will help you learn about other genres, maybe ones you haven't considered before.
4) Leaving your comfort zone. Don't write children's books? Take a picture book workshop. The knowledge you gain might give you something new to work with on your next book.
5) Ready to try to get your book onto the big screen? A conference may have the advice and contacts you need to make it happen.
6) Writing full-time. Sometimes forcing yourself to be creative on a schedule (and someone else's schedule, at that) can be difficult. Other authors share their tips for survival at writer's conferences--or at least, their common frustrations.
And the things that are beneficial to all writers:
1) Meeting other writers. I don't know if most writers are extroverts or introverts, but one thing I've noticed: we are all very willing to help. We want you to succeed. We know you want us to succeed. There is an instant camaraderie and friendship at a writer's conference.
2) Learning new things. Whether a new writer or a seasoned writer, we love learning. We are curious. And any little, "Huh. I didn't know that" can end up improving our writing.
3) Energy! We feed off each other, encourage each other, and come away ready to attack our manuscript again.
Of course, there's always the cost to consider. A conference is an investment, for sure. If you live right next door to the conference, you only have to pay the conference fee, which could be from $50 to $600. A hefty expense, but that does usually cover your meals for the duration of the conference. If you have to travel at all, you'll probably need a hotel room. Conferences often have rooms reserved at a cheaper rate. And if you really live far away, you'll have travel expenses. These days, flying or driving can be quite costly. But if you've ever started a business or know someone who has, you know that it requires a much bigger investment than one writer's conference.
The good news? These are all tax-deductible business expenses. So really, what have you got to lose?
Now you just need to find the right one for you! Check out comprehensive writer's conference websites, like this one or this one.