Or are they just another way for writers to waste their hard-earned money?
Writing conferences. If you’re a writer (like most of you reading this probably are), then you’ve at least heard of them. You’ve maybe even attended one or two, or, if you’re a published author, maybe even presented at a conference before. Conferences are a big part of any field — especially pre-pandemic — but are they worth it? I’ve attended my fair share of conferences since I was in college, and I fall firmly on the side of loving them. If you’re a bit more on the fence, I totally get it. When you’re a pre-New-York-Times-bestselling author, there’s a lot of services, classes, conferences, and software out there vying for your hard-earned money. Some writing conferences are quite an investment, and some of them don’t seem to have a good return on that investment, but that doesn’t mean that attending a conference isn’t worthwhile. In my humble opinion, there are many reasons writing conferences are worth your time and investment, including one final paramount reason that continues to direct most of my writing conference decisions.
You can attend a conference as specific as what you write
The great thing about writing conferences is that there are a lot of them out there! So many, in fact, that you can probably find a conference that is as niche as your writing. Not every conference is going to be enormous and have a long list of notable keynote speakers and editors in attendance, but every conference is going to have a targeted attendee, and you might just be the perfect fit. Some of these conferences are based on genre, some are based on location, some are curated for specific types of writers, but regardless, one thing is certain: you can find a conference that will fit what you’re looking for!
You can network with industry professionals
It’s all up to you how you network with said industry professionals, but writing conferences almost always will give you opportunities to talk to editors, agents, and writers who are further along on their journey than you. You might go to a conference where there’s a certain number of people you are dying to ask a certain question to, or someone you can’t wait to sit next to at dinner (when conferences get back to being in person, of course), or, if you’re like me, you might just see whose workshop resonates with you or which writer is exactly where you want to be in five or ten years. You can network as little or as much as you would like, but the opportunity at writing conferences to talk to agents, editors, and authors who are already working in the industry is hard to find anywhere else.
You can make friends who later might end up on the best-sellers list with you
You can argue with me all you want, but this is one of the things that I find most valuable when attending a writing conference. Some of the most bonding (and just straight-up fun) times I’ve had at writing conferences have been with pre-existing friends that attended with me or with new friends I met while at the conference. There’s a lot to be said for finding a few close writing friends to be there with you for your ups and downs in the writing world (and, of course, you can return the favor!) One romance novelist I follow on social media — Michelle Major, who I first found out about when attending a workshop of hers at a writing conference — posts often about her core group of writing friends who have stuck with her over the years. She mentions how they used to brainstorm for books before they were published and would support each other through all the rejection that comes with being a writer. This was all before they eventually made it onto various bestseller lists. Those are the kind of people you can meet at writing conferences, and they’re wonderful people to have in your corner!
You can find a conference that won’t break the bank
Some conferences are expensive, it’s just a matter of fact. This is especially the case for big conferences where uber-famous keynotes will be speaking (who don’t come cheap, I might add) at exotic locations. Going to a conference where you’ll have to stay overnight and pay for transportation isn’t cheap, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find an equally amazing conference that fits better into your budget. Some conferences are online, especially in the current pandemic era we are living in, which automatically cuts down on overhead for the organizers of the conference and consequently saves you money. Some conferences might be smaller scale and only a day or two rather than a four-day-long affair. Some conferences might take place in the very town you live in (or a town over) and you won’t have to budget for a hotel room. If you’re willing to look, you can find writing conferences in almost every range of budget out there, and many of them will offer scholarships or discounts if you volunteer or work up the courage to ask for help with registration fees!
You can refill your writing tank
This is hands-down the most valuable thing about attending a writing conference, in my opinion. Most of us don’t write for a living (yet) and must push through a lot of non-writerly things as we go through day-to-day life. Sometimes that means that writing takes the back burner, at least falls to the wayside temporarily. For me, writing conferences help change that. Or at least they help change my attitude towards writing. Attending a conference will put you in a room — physically or digitally — with your people. You’ll get to hear from writers about writing, talk to writers about writing, actually try your hand at practicing your writing, and escape from the mundane non-writing world for a few hours or a few days. It’s heavenly!
Are writing conferences necessary to become a successful writer? No — definitely not. But are writing conferences necessary to keep you inspired, typing, and happy as a writer? I would argue that yes, they are, in fact. Writing conferences won’t make or break you as a writer, but they’ll keep you excited about writing and keep you from burning yourself out before you have a chance to write your best work. The financial investment, and time commitment, of attending a conference is worthwhile because it’s something you do for yourself and your writing dream. I think we all need to do something kind for ourselves like attending a writing conference every now and then if we want to keep pedaling towards a happy writing future.