Top 10 Reasons To Go To A Writers Conference

I recently attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference (PNWA18). I had a great experience. Here are my top ten reasons to attend a writers conference:

Cover Writing the Breakout Novel10. Autographs – At PNWA authors can buy a table in the “bookstore” to sell their books. There is an autograph party where you can meet the authors and ask them to sign their books. The week before the conference, a member of my critique group gave me a copy of Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level by Donald Maass. He didn’t know Mr. Maass would be at the conference, he just gave me the book out of the blue. I took itMaass Signature with me and was happy to see Donald Maass signing at the autograph party.

9. The speaker – This year’s speaker was R. L. Stine. His speech was funny and informative. He started off by reading letters he had received from children and followed up with some great advice. He said to always say yes to everything. He probably meant within reason, but I’ll leave that up to you. After his speech, he did a book signing. My friend Stevie was so excited to get her childhood Goosebumps book signed. It was a choose your own adventure about a mummy. I didn’t know he had done choose your own adventures. Mr. Stine was very kind and let people come behind the table for pictures.

8. Author panel – During one of the desserts, Robert Dugoni lead a hotseat style question and answer session with Donald Maass, Julia Quinn, Cat Rambo, and Christopher Vogler. They talked about how they got started and their careers. Mr. Dugoni did a great job of keeping it fun and lively.

7. Pitch fest pitch practice – This is a great opportunity at the beginning of the conference to meet other writers and hear about the stories they’ve written. Each round table has a coach to give feedback on your pitch, so it will be ready when you get your chance with the agents and editors.

Cover Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell6. Question and Answer sessions in your genre – This is a great opportunity to hear agents and authors talk about working in your genre. I volunteered to moderate the literary fiction section. The three agents who were looking for literary fiction talked about how they find and work with their authors, their favorite recent titles and gave great insider information about the literary journals they read when looking for new talent. Hint: Start reading Tin House.

5. Classes – One of the reasons writers really like the PNWA conference is that it focuses on the craft of writing. There are many great sessions to choose from. I got a lot out of “A Novel in Four Drafts” presented by Lindsay Schopfer and “Words Matter. Writing the Literary Novel” with Robert Dugoni.Dugoni signature

4. The agent and editor panels – This is a very important part of the conference. Finding the agents and editors most interested in stories like yours will help you make a successful pitch. It’s important to research the agents and editors before going to the conference, but even when you’ve done your homework, hearing the agents talk about what they’re looking for specifically gives you a much clearer picture if they will be a good fit for your work.

3. Pitching to agents and editors – Here’s the actual professional work of going to the conference, pitching your novel. If your manuscript is complete and polished, or you will have it polished by next year’s conference, I recommend buying the early-bird tickets as soon as they become available. The ticket is less expensive and comes with two pitch blocks. I think it’s important to have two pitch blocks because there is less pressure and if things do not go well in the first block, you can adjust your pitch and try again. Make sure your pitch is about 90 seconds long so there is time for questions. Include a quick description of your main character, the inciting incident and the crisis of your story, but don’t give away the ending.

2. Inspiration / Filling the well – Writing can be a very isolating and introspective vocation. Spending time with writers at every stage of their careers, listening to their personal stories and the stories they’ve written, and going to the sessions all help to get your creative juices flowing. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron calls this “filling the well.”

And the most important reason to go to a writers conference is . . .

1. Relationships with fellow authors – I have met some amazing people at PNWA. Meeting other writers online is nice, but it is not the same as meeting in person. There’s just no substitute. Make sure to make business cards that not only express something about your novel, but also show your personality. Make sure to include all of your online platform information and hand those cards out to everyone who will take one. Be open and have fun meeting everyone. The joy of going to a writers conference is the concentrated evidence that everyone has a unique story to tell. It’s amazing.

Getting excited? A good place to start is heading over to pnwa.org and becoming a member. Not in the pacific northwest? That’s okay. You can attend the meetings online and the conference is open to everyone. If you would like to find a conference closer to your hometown, I created a map of US conferences to get you started in your search.

Remember to support your local authors.

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Working on your novel, or just dreaming about it? Plan now for next year’s writers conference(s)

Map of US with writers conferences by state and month

If you would like me to add your favorite writers conference to the map, please let me know.

I wanted this map, it didn’t exist, so I made it.  It took a little extra time, but I created what I wanted and there is a lot of information there. Enjoy (and site me).

Last post, I went into detail about some of my favorite aspects of The Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference. Now, I want to speak more generally to what you can get out of going to a writer’s conference. The main point being dive in and buy your ticket as soon as you can.

For a first time author, or someone only starting to write their first novel, a writer’s conference is a huge decision. There are a lot of costs to consider, not only monetarily, but emotionally, and physically. So that brings us back to my final notes from my last post:

Was going to PNWA16 worth the time, money and stress? Absolutely.

 

Let’s go into the details of why:

Meeting other writers – Everyone is at the conference for different reasons, but they all have one thing in common, they write.

Many writers spend the majority of their time alone and avoiding social situations. Spending time with others might be in critique, or in fear of critique, so the idea of a conference feels like throwing oneself to the slaughter.

Okay, I’m talking about me. I almost didn’t go. I imagined myself hiding somewhere. If I hadn’t made myself responsible by volunteering, I most likely would have excused myself and psycho-somaticly died of the plague. The moment I walked in, however, I didn’t feel a moment of nervousness. Not a moment of disrespect or why is she so weird or they are talking about me or why does she have that look on her face. I felt accepted, wanted, interested and interesting and it was AWESOME. I did what I needed to do and it turned out that I was good at moderating sessions. I made others feel strong and good about themselves. That is a great feeling.

Many of the sessions at writer’s conferences are about creating your writers platform on social media. I had done everything I could for my Gator McBumpypants books, but I had one true fan for my efforts (totally worth it) and it was the daughter of a person in my writer’s social group, not anyone from my social media efforts.

Social media is way more fun when there are real people you met and care about to read your messages. Who knew that a romance writer might be my best twitter friend and the Seattle Library Summer Bingo would turn summer reading into crazy discussion? Suddenly I want to be there  when before it was a terrible chore.

Also, it is a great way to meet people who will look at your work before you send it out and let you help them with their work which is a wonderful honor.

Pitching to agents and editors –

This was definitely the most stressful part of the conference AND the reason I was there. I thought it was the only reason to go to a conference and had prepared for my pitch for over six months.

I was surprised to find people that were there and didn’t pitch. Those people have a year up on me.

I was prepared. First day, I walked sheepishly into a room that said practice pitching. It was a round-table of people talking to each other, sounding very knowledgeable while waiting for me to get my nerve up. None of them shared their pitches. A wonderful older man joined us and shared his pitch.He had a good story, but it wasn’t a pitch. He was appreciated and given good feedback. I felt ready. I volunteered my pitch.

I was given praise. I was not asked much in the way of questions. I was told my pitch was awesome. I thought I was ready. I had prepared correctly.

I was not ready.

My months of research and all the nice people couldn’t prepare me for my pitch session.

I thought, I was told I’ll see four to six agents today, I’ll probably see everyone who’s interested in my work. I want to see these agents first, then I will go through the best on my list. From what I was told, I had the impression I might see everyone I wanted in one session.

I got shut down. I felt like I was hit by a truck.

Again. If I hadn’t volunteered to moderate sessions which was  stressful, I might have given up and crawled under a rock and died. But somehow, the writers sitting in chairs upstairs where I sat down to decide if I could take another second of thinking I am a writer or should just give up completely were so kind and accepting of my little breakdown, it was like all the horror never happened because one had been through worse and one wasn’t ready to try yet. So, you know, you have to get ready for tomorrow. They helped me decide to stay for the evening presentation. By the time dinner was over, I was ready to try again.

My point is, I thought I had made all the wrong decisions, but I hadn’t. The first day I found out who wasn’t my match and the next day I was ready for the questions that come after the practiced pitch like : Why did you write this? What happens next? What is special about your protagonist? And the best question I got all conference: So how does it end?

I didn’t get to the rest of the wonderful reasons why you should think about going to a writers conference in this post, there is too much to talk about and I have too much reading and writing to do, but I am happy with my info-graphic of possible conferences to think about.

Chuck Sambuchino wrote a great post about choosing a writer’s conference over at The Write Life