Are Writer's Conferences Really Worth It?

How important is a writer’s conference? Will I get anything out of it? Is it worth the money?

Everybody has their own opinion of the usefulness of attending writer’s conferences, and you know what they say about opinions. I’ve attended my share over the years.  And I’ve learned something new each time. Something to help the craft of writing…MY craft of writing…improve. Each time I’ve taken away another tool to put in my writer’s tool bag to help weave the next story. Or to use as an editing tool to improve a story I’ve already written. Or to help with social networking. Or to help write a better query letter. Or, or, or… The list goes on.

But now, I’ve experienced the writer’s conference from another perspective, as an author and presenter. I’ve just returned home from three days on beautiful Saint Simon Island, Georgia where I was a presenter at the Scribblers Retreat Writers Conference. With the exception of a two-hour thunderstorm blast, the weather was awesome the entire conference. And the weather was only bad during the afternoon sessions—and we were indoors so what did it matter anyway?

I met so many wonderful people AND I learned a few new things along the way, which I’m busy tucking away in my writer’s tool bag right now. The organizers and staff that put on the May 2011 Scribblers Retreat did a fantastic job and made me feel welcome and relaxed…even though my first presentation EVER was on Friday the 13th! I came away with a much better idea of creating an agent-grabbing query letter, building a character, and social networking, just to mention a few.

I made some new author friends at Scribblers, just as I do at each event I attend. Denise Tompkins, Ricki Schultz, and June Hall McCash, among others. I got to visit with some old friends and acquaintances also—Vic DiGenti and Jane Wood—author I have met at previous events. Most importantly, I met some young, and not so young, new writers trying to improve their craft. Their personalities and backgrounds as diverse as one could imagine but they all had that one thing in common—they love to write! And sharing time with them makes it all worthwhile.

Now for my selfish paragraph: I met a man whom I’ve admired for a long time. A man with fifteen New York Times bestsellers! Phillip Margolin. From the very first night, when several of the presenting authors and their spouses huddled around a table sharing stories until late in the night, we went from author acquaintances to author friends. My MUCH better half, Debi and I were fortunate enough to spend even more time with him. Phillip Margolin is a funny, charming, and witty man with an endless collection of stories. A man whom I’ve admired and looked up to as one of the great authors, I now call a friend. How cool is that!

So to answer the three questions I started this blog with:

  1. How important is a writer’s conference? It depends. Can you learn the craft without any input from anyone else? Are you so good as a self-study that you can never use anyone else’s advice? The importance of a writer’s conference depends on your own personal receptiveness to the advice that other authors have to give.

 

  1. Will I get anything out of it? Absolutely. Just this morning, Phillip Margolin told me that he learned something from one of the presenters about marketing of children’s books. Phillip’s first book was published in 1978! You’re never too old or too experienced to learn something new.

 

  1. Is it worth the money? To that I say: “you be the judge.” How important is it to you to improve your craft? Is a two-day conference worth improving your writing?

 

I believe you know the answer.

 

15 Comments

  1. Ricki Schultz on May 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Conferences are often my sanity savers! I just can’t get enough of them — the networking, the sharing. Totally worth the money. Even when I’m not speaking! 😉

    And that after-conference “buzz” is great, isn’t it??

    Nice post, Chuck!

  2. Rachael Dahl on December 2, 2011 at 6:15 am

    I’m attending my first conference in April and I’m really excited. Is there anything that I should bring?

    Oh and Congrats on Toymaker! The log line grabbed me right away and I was disappointed to see that I have to wait until Feb. 2012.

    • Chuck Barrett on December 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm

      Bring an open mind and an eager heart. There is a lot to be learned just remember that 70% of what you hear is probably crap but the other 30% is gold. Dump the crap and keep the gold! Eventually you’ll have a chest full of gold. Everyone has an opinion and what works or worked for them, might not be for you.

  3. Dean K Miller on December 19, 2011 at 12:57 am

    I’ll be attending my first this spring, hosted by Northern Colorado Writers, my home writers studio/group. Looking forward to absorbing the experience.

  4. Kerrie Flanagan on December 31, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    As the Director of the Northern Colorado Writers Conference, I am a little biased when it comes to conferences. I believe they are worth the investment, but I think you have to make sure you find one that is right for you. Plus the best way to get the most out of a conference is to do what you said and to keep an open mind. You can learn so much from writers of other genres and by going to sessions you originally thought did not apply to you. In addition, people should stay for the whole event and attend as many things as possible.

    • Chuck Barrett on January 6, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Thanks Kerrie. If you wouldn’t mind I’d appreciate you posting more about the Northern Colorado Writers Conference here.

  5. Patricia Stoltey on December 31, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    I’m a big fan of conferences as well as some of the wonderful mystery fan conventions. My favorites for learning new stuff and pitching to agents/editors are the Northern Colorado Writers Conference and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold.

    For writers of mysteries and thrillers, the small fan conventions like Magna cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana and Mayhem in the Midlands in Omaha are nice. The biggies like Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, etc. are really incredible if you’re a writer with a new book to promote.

    • Chuck Barrett on January 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Haven’t been to the ones you mentioned but I did attend ThrillerFest in NYC the last two years and it was a wonderful experience.

  6. Sheila Jeffries on May 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I stopped writing for ten years while raising a family, and totally lost confidence. I didn’t want to continue rusting in peace, so I went to the Winchester AWC, and it changed my life. Just getting shortlisted for a comp sent me running back to my room in tears, it meant so much to know that I could still do it. The courses and one to ones were inspiring and enlightening, and I particularly appreciated the wide choice and the bite-sized one hour sessions. I LOVED meeting other writers, felt like a dog in the park meeting other dogs .

    • Chuck Barrett on May 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      Thank you Sheila, for sharing that with us.

  7. G Thomas Gill on May 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I’ve attended several writers conferences, the most recent was Sleuthfest, and every one has been worthwhile. The potential to learn from the best of the best is invaluable, and the potential to meet your favorite authors is a huge bonus.

    Thanks for posting this, Chuck.

    • Chuck Barrett on May 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      Thank you for your reply. The writer’s conference is a worthwhile tool for every writer.

  8. Ann F on May 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for this post Chuck. I am a fan of writers conferences for a number of reasons, all of which you listed in your post. When I serve as book coach to first-time book writers, I constantly tell them to attend as many writers conferences as they can afford. I have yet to have one come back and tell me it wasn’t a worthwhile experience. Even the ones who attended without an agenda or goal reported success. Here’s to writers conferences everywhere…hip, hip, hooray!

  9. Jason Brick on June 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Absolutely agree that conferences are worth it — if you go with specific goals and pursue those goals while you’re there.

    Also want to add that writing conferences aren’t the only good conferences for writers. A martial arts conference I attended in 2010 got me some of my best writing gigs to date. If you attend conferences on topics/industries you find interesting, you’ll make great contacts — and you won’t be competing with a hundred other writers for their attention.

  10. Cheri roman on October 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Love conferences! Always worth it. Went to one last weekend – FWA Magic of the Pen in Lake Mary – with Rai and it was fantastic. You’re so right about there always being benefits. I keep hoping I’ll see you at the next one!

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