December 6, 2022
by Kristin Oakley
As writers we spend a lot of our time at our desks writing, thinking, researching, procrastinating, editing, and writing some more. We often seek feedback from a critique group, critique partner or editor, so we’re not completely isolated in our endeavor, but most of us prefer the isolation. We tend to be introverts, content with having our creative minds for company. So the thought of attending a writer’s conference with fifty to one hundred or more strangers can seem daunting. Why put ourselves through that?
Honestly, if you’ve never been to one you’re missing out on something extraordinary. Here are six reasons you should attend a writers conference:
1. Writers Conferences Offer Community
Writers are generally misunderstood by the non-writing community. Nonwriters tend to romanticize us, assuming we get an idea, write the book, and get it published. When I posted on Facebook some years ago that I’d finished writing my very first manuscript, someone asked me where they could buy my book. I had to explain that they’d have to wait another year or two. Or three or five.
Nonwriters have no idea how hard writing can be. They don’t understand our process. It might seem like we’re just staring into space while we're sitting at our desks or in front of our computer, but what we’re probably doing is working out a scene or coming up with a plot twist.
At writers conferences you’re surrounded by people who understand what you do and are as passionate about it as you are. Even though many of us are introverts, every conference I’ve ever been to is full of excitement and energy. A pure buzz. Writers love to talk about their work to other writers, probably because they’ll listen. And writers love to hear what other writers are working on. We’re notorious for helping each other out, sharing tips, resources, encouragement, and inspiration.
2. Writers Conferences Give You a Chance to Hone Your Craft
Most conferences offer workshops on the craft of writing, including plotting, characterization, setting, dialogue, and more.
At next year’s Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference I'll be presenting a workshop on how to create unforgettable characters, including exercises to get your creativity flowing. Other workshops at the conference will cover how to use scene to best effect in your writing, plotting your story, and how voice can make or break your project. There will also be panel discussions that will give attendees the opportunity to learn how other writers tackle creating poetry and fiction, including best practices for getting the work done.
Additionally, many conferences offer the chance to have your work critiqued by instructors and/or allow you to sign-up for one-on-one sessions with an industry professional to ask them anything about writing.
3. Writers Conferences Give You a Chance to Pitch to Agents
Many conferences, including next year’s Let’s Just Write!, offer attendees the chance to pitch their projects to literary agents. If you’re planning on traditionally publishing your book, if your manuscript is finished and well edited, then pitching to an agent is the next step. You can always send out query letters or attend pitch wars on Twitter, but meeting an agent in person can be invaluable for many reasons:
First, when you meet an agent you realize they're human and they honestly want to see you succeed. They’re looking for their next big book and it just might be yours.
Second, agents are willing to give you advice about your project. They’ll let you know if your book needs more work and why. If your project doesn’t suit their needs, they might refer you to another agent who they think might be interested.
Third, you will learn that book publishing is a business. I know, I know, as an artist it’s hard to hear this, but it’s true. Agents want to make money from your book and so should you. Think of it this way: the more books you sell, the more money you make and the more people you reach with your message.
Fourth, you’ve made a personal connection with someone in the business. If they’ve asked you to send pages or your full manuscript, be sure to mention you met at the conference. If an agent doesn’t request pages or a full manuscript, you can reach out to them later when your next project is ready.
4. You'll Gain Valuable Resources at Writers Conferences
These resources might include recommendations of how-to-write books, podcasts, websites, agents, editors, marketing ideas, and hybrid or independent publishing information.
Workshops generally offer a list of resources related to their topic. Panel discussions often include recommendations and best-practice ideas. And other writers are more than happy to share information about what they use for the craft of writing, the names of editors and critique groups looking for members, marketing techniques, and publishing opportunities.
5. Writers Conferences are Great for Networking
At UW-Madison’s Writer’s Institute years ago, I met Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press and then hired her to publish my first two books. At UW-Madison’s Weekend With Your Novel I took a class from Tim Storm and learned so much I took every class he offered. He’s now my developmental editor. And at the Let’s Just Write! conference last year I was thrilled to have dinner with the keynote speaker, award-winning novelist Elizabeth Wetmore.
A word of advice: research the heck out of the conference you’ll be attending. Find out who the speakers are and what programs are offered. Attend the workshops you’re interested in, but don’t overlook the other presenters. You might want to pick their brain on something as well. If there’s someone you’re particularly interested in meeting, contact them well before the conference and offer to take them to lunch or for coffee during a down time at the conference. Be sure to introduce yourself to your fellow participants – you might find a critique partner or critique group, but at the very least, you’ll find a kindred spirit.
And don’t be afraid to approach the agents but be respectful of their time. They’ll spend most, if not all, of their weekend listening to pitches, which can be exhausting. Keep your interaction with them short and sweet.
6. Writers Conferences are an Investment in Your Writing Career
Many writers, especially new ones, suffer from imposter syndrome. Who do we think we are that we could write a book? But when you attend a writers conference you’re saying to yourself and the world that this is what you do. It’s the first step to taking your writing career seriously. You’re telling people, “I am a writer.” You’ll be surprised at how powerful simply acknowledging this can be.
Now that you know how valuable attending a writers conference is, I invite you to join me March 25-26, 2023 for the Chicago Writers Association’s Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference. I’ll present the Creating Unforgettable Characters workshop and will emcee the Live Lit Event. I’d love to see you there!
Kristin Oakley, a popular presenter at Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference, is the author of two award-winning suspense thrillers, Carpe Diem, Illinois and God on Mayhem Street. She teaches writing workshops, has critiqued manuscripts and has helped writers hone their agent pitches. Kristin is writing a soon-to-be released young adult thriller series called The Devil Particle Series.
Kristin Oakley is a Chicago Writers Association board member.
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