Getting the most out of a writer’s conference

If you’re a writer, attending conferences can benefit your efforts to be successful.

On this blog, we’ve talked about meeting other writers and the benefits of networking. Attending a writer’s conference brings these together – especially if you plan ahead.

Conferences generally offer a mix of professional development sessions in the forms of workshops and panels. Options generally range from the big-picture view of the writing business as a whole down to topic-specific. And offerings can be for newbie writers to multi-published professionals.

There are a wide variety of conferences available that cover all types of writing, so researching what fits you best is imperative. If you’re an animal writer, attending a travel writer’s conference probably won’t do you much good.

Once you know where you’re going and when, spend time preparing. You want to have questions ready for editors you’ll meet. Maybe you can even take advantage of pitch sessions, so work on a few pitches and take advantage of the opportunity.

Sometimes conferences will post names of attendees. You can start networking with people before you meet them by taking advantage of social media.  Connect with them, if you can, on Facebook or Twitter.

One important tip is to try not to plan to do too much. It can be enticing to want to pitch to every editor possible. But you’re only human. Focus in on 1 or 2, no more than 3 editors or agents you want to meet. And prepare. Know the person you will be talking to.

At the conference:

  • Ask intelligent questions. Show the person you are speaking with that you know what magazine or publisher she represents. Sincerity goes a long way to turning an initial contact into a long-lasting relationship.
  • Have your business card ready. Make a note on the back before you hand it over, noting the date and place of the meeting to help the person remember you after the conference.
  • Attend with an open mind. You make the best choices you when planning, but once at the conference,  you will (most likely) learn something new, find a contact that fits your goals better. Sometimes, the most successful meeting is the one you don’t anticipate.
  • Be real and know that you probably won’t land a contract or be asked for a full manuscript that day. It can and does happen, but know that patience is important, and developing relationships takes time.

After the conference (for me it takes a couple of days to come off the ‘high’ of being with other writers), there are a few things to do.

  • Go through your notes to (1) make sure you can read them and (2) address any items you starred or highlighted. If you made a note to e-mail someone, do it!
  • Connect with your new acquaintances, friends, editors, and agents through social media. You probably received a lot of contact information during the conference, use it!
  • Dig deeper into the publications, publishers, or agents that now have more of your interest. It’ll improve your queries and pitches.
  • Follow-up or connect with people in a professional, yet casual way. You want to build relationships that help you reach publication, so take care in how often you contact someone.

These are just a few pointers I can recommend. Writers conferences exist for everyone. I’ve always found Shaw Guides a great place to start my search.

What do you think? Is preparation a key to getting the most out of a conference? Do you have any other tips to recommend?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She’d be a writing conference junkie if her finances allowed it.  She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter


13 thoughts on “Getting the most out of a writer’s conference

  1. I agree, preparing really helps! I attended an RWA chapter conference earlier this year that featured 3 keynote speakers. One I was familiar with, but the others I wanted to know what they wrote so I looked up their books and read a few (plus they gave us a bunch of free books by those authors at the conference). I also looked up the agencies of the agents attending, and looked at the publishing house pages. I was still not ready to pitch but it was helpful to know the backgrounds of the presenters so I knew which panels to attend.

    This last one is a personal preference, but I’ve heard it stated elsewhere on the web: I focus on writing craft sessions at a writing conference and bypass more of the social media panels. I think if you have a decent handle on using twitter, facebook etc, I would skip those since you can figure any of that out outside of a conference, honestly. I’m more interested in learning how to write a book, and utlimately, write a GOOD book 🙂

    • Hi Steph – oh yeah! If you’re meeting authors, it’s great to have read at least one of their books. Great tip. I tend to attend craft sessions myself and skip ones that I might need “someday”. And social media panels are becoming more prevalent at conferences, you’re right. It all depends on what you feel you need to learn about — having a plan before arriving at the conference really makes a difference to how productive you can be.

      thanks for sharing!

  2. Most of my writing group have attended several conferences. They were expensive, but they are very high income professionals. I am a moderate income professional, which leaves me only one option – to forego the conferences. I wouldn’t expect a conference to change my stories, because what comes out of me seems intent on coming out regardless of what I think. My friends had great fun at conferences, and I am sure I would, too, but there you have it; for them, it was fun, maybe even a tax-deduction.

    I spent last weekend doing research at the river, and out of that wrote “The Swimming Hole Story.” The most productive thing I can do is write. Second after that may be reading the posts on this blog, which always make me think.

    • Hi Robert – great point – writers need to write and when you’re at a conference, you probably don’t have all that much time. I know I never work on WIPs while at a conference.

      I always enjoy writing by the water – river, lake, ocean. There’s just something magical and powerful about water for me. Bring a leaf or a stone or a shell home with me can bring me back to that writing time later on, which is great for the muse. 🙂

      Thank you for the compliment about the posts on this blog. It’s great to know you find them worthwhile.

  3. Fantastic tips! I’ve never been to a conference but I’ll be sure to put these helpful tips into action! Thanks! 🙂

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  6. Great post Lisa.. Although I’ve been writing my entire life, I will soon be graduating with my Master’s in Professional Writing and Rhetoric. I’m not sure which direction my writing will take, and so I could really benefit from a mentor and I think attending conferences would be a great way to meet others and gain some powerful knowledge. Any suggestions for a suitable conference for me?

    • Hi Stacey,
      I’d start with and search on conferences with your interests. See what comes up. One link will lead to another, and eventually you’ll find the conference that’s right for you. There are thousands of conferences available, so it really comes down to you: your interests, where you are in the process, your budget, location, and so many other things. 🙂

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