Andi’s 10 reasons you should totally go to writing conferences

Hi, all!

Holy outta control calendars, Batman! It’s been a crazy two weeks but here I am with some MOAR TIPS!

As some of you know, I attended the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) conference in New Orleans toward the end of July. I try to go every year (though I have missed a couple since I started publishing) because literary/writing conferences provide invaluable opportunities for both writers and readers.

For those of you who are writers just starting out, make the time and save the money to attend at least one conference a year. Gatherings like that are invaluable aspects of your writing career. For those of you who have been at this a while, you might already know that you need to attend writing conferences. If you didn’t know that, well, here’s why:

1. Workshops, seminars, panels. Simple enough, right? There are lots of all of these dedicated to many things writing, such as: how to improve writing skills, aspects of publishing and marketing, the writing life, genre-specific panels. These are just a few of the things that you will be exposed to at writing cons. It’s important to up your writing skills and your game throughout your writing career. Conferences can help you do that.

2. Networking. All conferences, no matter the industry, provide primo opportunities to do this. Writers of all skill levels can benefit from networking at conferences. Maybe you’ll meet someone who can help you set up a reading somewhere. Or perhaps you’ll click with a colleague and you’ll do a project together. Maybe you’ll go to a pitch session and the publisher will want to read your work. Perhaps you’ll learn about calls for submissions that you didn’t know about. Or you might end up hanging out with a colleague or two who have great marketing tips. The on-the-ground face-to-face encounters with people at a conference are often much more valuable than an email or social media message. Writing is no longer an introvert’s pursuit. You have to be proactive in your networking.

3. Presenting on a panel. Doing this provides opportunities to network (see above) with your panel pals and audience members and it also serves as promo for you and your work. People want to know what your credentials are for being on this panel, and conference materials will include biographical info on your and no doubt your work will come up during the course of the panel.

If you’re just starting out in the writing world, you can still get yourself onto a panel at a conference. Maybe you can even suggest one to the conference organizers about being a new author and some of the things you’re dealing with. Contact other new writers you know and see if they’ll be able to present with you about being a new writer. Don’t think that just because your first story or novel isn’t out just yet that you have nothing to contribute.

4. Readings. Many writing conferences provide opportunities for authors of all levels to do this. So if you can, try to get on the schedule for doing one. It’s great experience in terms of speaking before an audience and learning how to present your material in exciting, interesting ways (which lends itself to helping promote your work). Also, go to some of the readings at the conference so you can watch authors at all levels. You can learn a lot about how to approach your own readings by watching others.
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As an aside, I had the unfortunate/fortunate distinction of reading at the GCLS right before the legendary Dorothy Allison (here’s an example of her reading from Bastard Out of Carolina, which is the book she read from at GCLS). I say “unfortunate” because after her incredible performance/reading, nobody remembered anything that came before. Throughout the conference, I was repeatedly asked if I had attended her reading because OMG it was so amazing. After a pause, I would say, “um, yes, I actually read right before her.” Heh. Maybe a little awkward. BUT, what that experience taught me was that you can actually turn a reading into a hell of a performance. It takes practice and it takes work. So the experience of reading before Dorothy Allison was also fortunate because I saw a true master at work and it made me think about how to improve my own public readings.

So even if you’re “lost in the shuffle” in a reading, that’s okay. Use the experience to up your game for the next time.

5. Signings. This is a chance for you to meet with readers. Some of them may already be familiar with your work and are excited to meet you in person. Others may not be, but they may come by your table and browse through your work and become a fan. So if you have books out, try to get on the conference schedule for signings, too. They’re a good opportunity for you to impart information about you, your work, and your brand, and they give you an opportunity to interact with the public.

6. Present a writing workshop. If you’ve been at this writing thing for a while and you’ve got some background in teaching/mentoring writing, propose something to the conference organizers for you to teach. Maybe you’ve got some great tips for writing dialogue. Or perhaps you’re known for your settings. Share your tips with others and do a workshop. I’m a believer in service as part of a writing life. To keep our creative communities vibrant, share your skills. It not only contributes to the literary world as a whole, but others will take your words to heart and hopefully share them and develop their own writing workshops. So put a workshop together and present it. Ask for feedback from colleagues who have done them if you haven’t. And even if you have, it’s always good to get some feedback from more skilled colleagues.

7. Discover new markets. Authors writing many different things for many different venues attend conferences. Through your networking/observations, you may discover a venue that you hadn’t yet considered for your work. BOOM! Give it a shot. Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 4.54.06 PM

8. Vendor area. Some conferences are larger than others, which means they’ll have a lot more vendors. But even for the small conferences, always check out the vendor room, because that’s often a hub of activity. The conference organizers usually have a table there, so if you have questions, that’s the place to go. Also, lots of publishers go and sell their wares, and often authors will have tables showcasing their work (more and more common in this age of self-publishing). Author signings may also be held in vendor rooms. Since most everybody in attendance at the conference will either have a table in the vendor room or will be in there at some point, this is an excellent chance to network and also to see what publishers and authors are up to.

9. You will learn about other genres. Invariably, there are always panels on genres you’re not that familiar with. Here’s your chance to find out more about them. And you may decide to try your hand at these other genres and discover a whole new writing world for you. Some writers’ conferences have contests in other genres. So why not try it out?

10. You could win cool stuff. See number 8, above, about entering contests at conferences. Some prizes might be money and some might be a critique of your work from a well-known and skilled authors. And if you win, that’s a feather for your query letters and writing résumé. Or you could win books or neato swag. Conferences always have some kind of giveaway and/or contest going on.

BONUS: You will have fun and with all the info and networking you’ve done, you’ll feel energized in terms of writing and probably marketing. Conferences are excellent ways to connect/reconnect to a larger writing community.
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So go get your writing conference on! Happy Monday.

MOAR links with MOAR reasons:
Writing World
Women on Writing
Write It Sideways
And: how to prepare for a conference

GCLS 2015 descriptions
Mary Griggs
R.G. Emanuelle

5 thoughts on “Andi’s 10 reasons you should totally go to writing conferences

    • Hi, there–

      I think perhaps a reader who does not write and who perhaps doesn’t want to write is better positioned to write such a blog.

      I say that because writers’ conferences are invariably geared toward writers, the business of writing, the craft of writing, publishing, and marketing.

      Having said that, readers do attend writers’ conferences because it’s where many favorite authors congregate and many readers may have an interest in writing and in how writing works. They’ll find things to interest them at writers’ conferences. Also, some of the panels may feature authors talking about their writing processes, and that’s interesting for readers, too.

      For non-writing readers, conference organizers are aware of that, and so they try to include some things that would be of more interest to readers. That usually includes things like Q&A with authors, signings, and readings.

      But for readers who have no interest in the mechanics of writing or the writing process or business of writing, I’d think that they’re more likely to derive more enjoyment and fulfillment out of big literary festivals or book festivals and events like comic conventions. For example, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Or Book Expo America (known as BEA). There are also lots of book events in every region of the country (and internationally) that cater more to readers than writers.

      Those are my thoughts on the subject. So if any readers out there who have either no interest in writing or a passing interest would like to report back to us about what sorts of things they enjoy at a writers’ conference, that would be AWESOME! Thanks!

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