Should Pubbed Authors Go to Conferences?

If you’re an unpubbed/unagented writer, then you probably know that writers’ conferences are a great place to meet agents and editors. But today I want to make clear: There are plenty of other good reasons to attend a conference – even if you already have an agent and/or a publisher.

First, the workshops can be valuable. It’s like doctors and lawyers who are many years into practice but are still required to take a certain number of hours per year of ongoing instruction. You might be brushing up on some skills you already have or you might learn something new; you might get updated information on the latest trends in your industry; you may hear interesting discussions about the future and what to expect. You can gain new insights in your writing, and gather interesting marketing or social networking ideas. At the very least, you can get inspiration and encouragement.

Second, since writing is such a solitary endeavor, I find it helps when authors are reminded that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. It’s not a big scary impersonal thing, it’s a community populated by real people who are passionate about writing and publishing. When you spend most of your time sitting alone at your laptop, it helps to feel like you’re part of this community. Conferences are one of the best ways to become a part of it.

Third, and closely related, conferences are the best place to make real long-lasting friendships with other writers, and when you go back home, you can stay in touch via the Internet. Many writers don’t have anyone in their “real life” who gets it—who understands what it means to be a writer. It’s crucial to make those friends who can be there for you, year round.

Fourth, even if you have a publisher, never underestimate the value of ongoing networking with writers, publishers and editors. If you go to conferences repeatedly, your face and your name may become familiar to people in the business. And you never know what might come of that. One day your publisher might decide they don’t want to publish your genre anymore; being on a first-name basis with a dozen other editors can’t hurt.

Of course, there is some protocol involved. If you have an agent and you’re happily contracted with a publisher, you may socialize with other agents and editors, but you may not want to be seen in those one-on-one appointments with an agent or editor. (Except for your own.) Tongues will wag and your loyalty will be questioned and you may get a negative reputation. (Even if you’re looking for a new agent, this is best done discreetly.)

If you’re an agented author, it’s a good idea to discuss the conference with your agent before you go. She’ll let you know if you should be having meetings with editors, and if so, she can help you determine which ones to target.

One caveat: Authors always ask me if they “should” go to a conference. I say, first and foremost, take care of your family. If it’s a financial hardship, or it’s simply too difficult for you to be away for a few days, then DON’T feel pressured to do it. But if you (and your spouse) have determined that it’s a priority, and you can swing it, I recommend one conference a year for most writers. Some attend two or more. Some go to one every other year. You need to figure out what works for you.

I’ll post a list of some good conferences soon. Other than that… any questions about conferences?

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • BK

    >Why do they always schedule my appointments during the best classes at conference? *-) No, I do not expect an answer.

    I've been to 2 conferences in the last 6 years. My first, in 2004 was a whirlwind intro to the world of publishing. Had a terrific fiction writing intensive course with Jack Cavanaugh and took a million other notes besides.

    In 2008 went to my first ACFW conference and found my needs had changed. It wasn't about absorbing every detail from every single class, but about carefully choosing just a few classes, having appts, and absorbing writer energy. That 2008 conference was a real confidence booster for me.

    Although I have to say the major negative for me as an ultra-introvert is the rooms jam-packed with people. Even if they ARE all writers it's just too many people in one small space! 8-)

    No doubt whenever I go to my third conference, my needs and goals will change once again. But the conferences are invaluable on so many levels.

  • Chantal

    >I went to my first conference last year, and it was fantastic! I had so much fun and felt so inspired. Then I moved. I'm living in Hawaii now, which normally has a great conference, until it got cancelled earlier in the year. So now I have to wait a couple more years to move back to where there's a conference nearby. Oh well.

  • Marja

    >No questions Rachelle, just thanks for this post. I've been to a CBA conference once and I still have contacts! Your post made me think though… it's time to attend another one. I am waiting for your list!

  • Malin

    >I'm guessing your list will only include State-side ones? I'm bitterly envious of your closeness and numbers of conferences and I say to all you who has them at hand to enjoy them!

    So, question, are there any web-based conferences? And is there the one awesome conference that is worth the trip across the Atlantic?

  • Richard Mabry

    >Rachelle, last year I wondered about attending a conference since I was already under contract, so I asked my wise, wonderful agent. She gave me exactly the same advice you've written here. And you…I mean, she was right.

    Networking, meeting others, feeling you're a "part" of this fantastic, frustrating, unique enterprise to which we're called is worth the time and money.

  • Sarah Wells

    >Thanks for all the helpful points!I do appreciate your last comment on looking carefully at family responsibilies first.

    I'm going to my first writer's conference this October up in Mrytle Beach (or the "Redneck Riviera" as we call it down here in Charleston). I wanted to go to the ACFW's conference but with the distance, cost, and the large state of pregnancy I'll be in by then, I couldn't swing it.

    So when I saw the lower price and only-two-hour-by-car distance of the SCWW, I was intrigued. Then I noticed you will be there and I signed up! My kind husband has agreed to come and man toddler duty, despite the ridiculous number of medical conferences we've treked to already this year.

    I'm looking forward to your feedback during our appointments! You'll recognize me by my massive baby bump. And please, please don't judge South Carolina by Myrtle Beach. Visit Charleston first!

  • Johnnie

    >My online writing group first met at the 2007 Florida Christian Writers Conference. Our friendships have grown so close that we email each other every day. Multiple times.

    Since our beginning, we have individually won awards, been published in compilations, signed agent contracts, and — much cause for celebration — published a book, Outnumbered Mom by Laura Groves.

    These deep friendships, and the encouragement and assistance we've given each other on our writing journeys, made the cost of that 2007 conference worth every single penny.

  • CKHB

    >I highly recommend the Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace conference, especially for anyone in the Boston area.

  • Teenage Bride

    >You never can have to much knowledge.

  • Rosslyn Elliott

    >Great advice!

    I'm really looking forward to the ACFW conference. Because of the expense, I had initially planned to skip this year and wait until it came back to Dallas in 2011. But for all the reasons you mention, I decided that I just had to attend. I couldn't miss the opportunity to chat in person with my editors (and my agent!) and to meet more writers.

    Instead of eliminating the need for conferences, signing my debut contract made it more important to go to the conference this year.

  • Stephen Tremp

    >I'm self-published (looking for that mainstream publisher) and have been involved with a couple on line conferences. Met some terrific people and introduced by name and book to other authors, editors, and agents. I'd like to got to a conference soon. Take the family and make a vacation out of it. New York would be great.

    Stephen Tremp

  • Anonymous

    >It really depends on the conference, doesn't it?

    I went to SCBWI conf in NYC. The speeches by big name authors were terrific, but everything seemed very oriented toward unpublished authors. Most of the attendees I spoke to were not only unpublished, but many hadn't even actually written a manuscript yet. They just had an idea.

    It was fun, but I never went back. Too little bang for a considerable number of bucks. I gather the SCBWI conf in LA has more for published writers, but it's even more expensive.

  • Teri Dawn Smith

    >I especially love ACFW. I'm counting down the days and writing like mad to finish another book, get one-sheets done, etc.

  • Kelli

    >Hi Rachelle:

    I am new to your blog and I find it very helpful. I am in the process of putting together a book proposal and I was wondering your opinion as to using a conference to pitch my idea. Do you think it would be smarter for me to attend a conference and learn more about the whole agent/proposal/book writing business or is it worth a shot to wing it, finish my proposal and *then* attend a conference? I have some experience with freelance writing but this is my first foray into the book business and I want to do it the right way. Thanks for your help.

  • Sarah Sundin

    >I'm a conference junkie :) I attended for five years in a row as an unpublished writer, and am now blessed to be on The Other Side. I still find conferences useful for instruction, friendship, and networking – but one of the biggest benefits I've received lately is being there for unpublished writers. I benefitted greatly from advice during the rejection-letter years, and I love to encourage and offer advice. A conference is best when there's a good balance between unpublished & published writers. We all learn from each other.

  • Shelli

    >After reading so many published novels that are good, but not great (and some barely mediocre), I think it's a great idea to embrace every opportunity to learn and to grow. I wouldn't feel I didn't need it anymore once I'm published.

  • Kathryn

    >No questions, but I'm looking forward to a list of conferences! It'd be nice to find some that are more affordable though.

  • Kay Richardson

    >I like conferences. I like their free coffee and preponderance of chicks in glasses. Mind you, if I were published I'd be throwing piles of cash around in my bedroom, not attending conferences.

  • Rachel Hauck

    >Great list of reason, Rachelle.

    Conferences are great. Authors, pubbed or waiting to be pubbed, should put at least one conference on their schedule every year.

    Networking and building relationships is so key to this business, as in any business.

    The workshops get us back to basics in case we've forgotten. Keynote speeches inspire us.

    Love conferences.

    Rachel

  • Kristen Ethridge

    >Great post. I think it's also important for writers to remember smaller, regional conferences. If you can't afford a large, national conference like RWA or ACFW, the chances are there's a smaller conference near you. Many of those will have a few agents/editors in attendance, as well as great workshops from local published authors and other specialists.

  • T. Anne

    >I had the opportunity to go to the BEA a couple years ago when it was in L.A. I took a workshop with the wonderful James Scot Bell, and hung out with a slew of amazing writers. I was able to meet a lot of really nice agents as well. It was worth every penny.

  • mary bailey

    >Are there writers who attend conferences who do not have a manuscript ready to pitch? Is it OK to just come for the learning and community even if you're not ready for any major steps toward publishing?

  • Terri Coop

    >I have been to one conference and loved every minute. I couldn't go this summer, but am going next year if I have to hitchhike.

    The bens, even to the pubbed is the chance to meet and network with others in the biz, including at least one or two names that are probably way bigger than you.

    It's also a chance to let us unpubbed rabble breath the same air as you, get to know you, and learn from you.

    While it is NOT a place to "promote, promote, promote" (to quote the evil that is Publish America), it's a great way to continue getting your name out (who reads more than writers) and gain followers for your blog and twitter. Have cards or discreet flyers, I love swag in all its forms.

  • Deborah Raney

    >Excellent post, Rachelle! I couldn't agree more! I didn't attend my first conference until after I was published (sadly, didn't even know there WAS such a thing.) Now I attend several a year…wouldn't miss 'em! Like you said: continuing education. So valuable.

  • joanq6

    >I've attended the San Francisco Writers Conference, which focuses on the agent/publishing end of the business, and the Napa Valley Writers Conference, which is a small-group writing workshop. I would go back to Napa Valley every year (if they'd have me) because of the incredible learning experience — critiquing and being critiqued in a group led by a published author. I can see the value of networking at the bigger conferences; it's just not my thing.

  • Clarissa Yip

    >Great Advice! Conferences are valuable and great place to further education. Great post!

  • Mechelle Fogelsong

    >Rachelle: Why are conferences so expensive? Who gets paid? Do agents get paid or just keynote speakers, or what?

    And if I may be so bold as to address Mary Bailey's question, I just got back from the PNWA conference in Seattle. I had a completed and well-edited manuscript that I was ready to pitch to agents. But the majority of my fellow writers did not. So I think it's not only fine to come with an attitude of learning and nothing else, but I think it's the norm to arrive without a manuscript that's ready.

  • Krista Phillips

    >Ohhh, LOVE this! I'm still in the unpublished category, but I can totally see the worth for published authors as well.

    And even for us unpubbed, a HUGE part of it is going to be with like-minded people and to make other writer-friends. I went to ACFW the last two years and LOVED it! Am bummed not to attend this year due to my little one being in the hospital, but I'm believing she'll be MUCH better by next year and I'll be able to make it no problem:-)

  • geniawriter

    >I've been to a few conferences over the years. My first (back in 1990) was actually a workshop — the Antioch Writers Workshop, a full week of writing and reading and communing with my fellow writers. I went back in 2000 as an instructor (writing for television).

    Since then I've been to the South Carolina Writers Workshop for the past two years — going again this October, so Sarah Wells and Rachelle, I'm looking forward to meeting you both! (Met a bunch of agents last year, especially Janet Reid and Holly Root.) Love love love Myrtle Beach; just being that close to the ocean renews me.

    Next week is Killer Nashville, a mystery writers (and readers) conference that's closer to home. Very cool stuff planned, including a "crime scene" set up by the TN Bureau of Investigation!

    Conferences are wonderful ways to take some time for yourself and further your career. Love 'em!

  • Rachelle

    >Mechelle Fogelsong: Why do conferences cost so much? Let us count the ways.

    They take place in a hotel or conference center. Ever looked at how much it costs to rent out one of those places? Every meeting or banquet room that's used has a price attached to it. If there's audiovisual equipment, that's more money. Conferences usually provide breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's more than a hundred bucks per day per person. Many conferences pay for the travel expenses of their faculty. Thousands of dollars out the door. Then they need to pay their faculty, or at least their keynotes. Thousands more dollars. They have a staff that works nearly year-round making the conference happen. Ever wondered who designs and maintains those websites? Takes care of all the millions of registration details? Organizes the catering and the meeting schedule and the workshop schedule, etc? Printing up the conference program? That is a LOT of work, and all of it has expenses attached to it.

    I'm sure I'm leaving out some costs that even I haven't thought of. Bottom line, if you look at it realistically, a conference is a pretty good deal considering all you're getting.

  • Anonymous

    >Wary of conferences–they say not to bug agents or editors so what's the point? The pricey ones are snobby and elitist and the local ones don't seem to attract the top people…
    Why bother at all unless you're published and meeting your agent and/or editor or readers?

  • Jan Markley

    >I'm pubbed (unagented) and I still go to conferences. I agree with all your reasons to go. It's great professional development, networking, I've met writers I will be life long friends with and catch up with ones I know, and it is great to be part of the writing community and talk about writing non stop for three or four days!

  • Mechelle Fogelsong

    >Rachelle,

    I feel kind of foolish, now that you've explained it in clear-cut dollar signs. Thanks for answering my question.

  • Katherine Hyde

    >I have a question: Having been told at Mt. Hermon that my book is on the fringes of CBA acceptability (it has "supernatural" elements that the more conservative houses won't touch), and having received a regretful rejection from one less conservative house, would it be worth my while to go to ACFW, or should I concentrate on secular conferences?

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