We are in the opening weeks of writers’ conference season, that period from spring through late autumn when the majority of writers’ conferences are held. While attending one is not a prerequisite for a career as a writer, these events do offer a wi

de range of programming and opportunities that can be quite helpful for anyone intent on publication or looking to expand their readership. And so, over several weeks, I am going to break down the benefits of attending a writers’ conference, what you might think about when choosing one, how to prepare, and how to make the most of your experience once the conference is underway.

Are you ready for a writers’ conference?

There are writers’ conferences that cater to all levels of experience, from brand new writers to multi-published authors. What you need to ask yourself is what you hope to get from a conference, and whether now is the time to achieve your goals.

Are you a newbie writer with only a few chapters under your belt, looking for encouragement? You might consider a class or writing group to start, since it’s far too early to consider the publishing advice that makes up a large portion of most conference schedules. But if you’ve finished a manuscript and maybe tackled some rewrites, then a conference could give you some additional tips on revising, polishing, and prepping your project for submission.

Have several manuscripts under your belt? Maybe collecting some rejection letters? By all means attend a conference. You’ll gain access to professional providing advice on how to jump some of those submissions hurdles, plus the chance to chat with writers who have been where you are now.

How do you choose a writers’ conference?

Writers’ conferences come in all shapes and sizes, and so you need to make some decisions regarding what you’re hoping to achieve, and what feels most comfortable to you. Ask yourself some basic questions and keep your responses in mind while you’re reading the descriptions of the conferences on offer.

  • Are you willing to travel? Conferences are held all over the country, but travel can be an added expense. Consider your budget in relation to the cost of getting to the conference as well as registration fees, etc.
  • Genre versus general? Are you emphatically a writer of mysteries? Romances? Then a genre-themed conference is probably an excellent place for you to meet writers, agents, and editors who focus on what you write. However, if you’re interested in writing more mainstream fiction or multiple genres, a writers conference that offers a mix of programming relating to various markets might be a better choice.
  • What is your primary interest? Is the main draw of a conference the chance to speak with editors and agents? Or are you interested in more educational tracks, with tips on plotting, character development, writing a synopsis, etc.? Looking to learn how to market your book and build your audience? Some conferences offer all of the above, while others focus more in specific areas. Consider the balance of programming and whether it addresses your needs.
  • Is it important for you to pitch to an agent or editor? The reality is that you can always submit to an agent per their standard submissions guidelines, but many writers appreciate the chance to pitch in person and meet an agent or editor face-to-face. If this is an important feature for you, check the ratio of agents and editors to attendees, and try to attend a conference where these meetings are a focus. You want a high number of agents and editors in relation to writers, and/or a large portion of the programming schedule devoted to pitch appointments.
  • How much are you willing to spend? No one ever said that writers’ conferences were inexpensive. Consider your budget in relation to the conferences that meet your other needs. If something costs a little more than you planned to spend, but offers everything you are looking for in a conference, you might want to wait a year and save up to attend. Alternatively, look for several less expensive options that provide only part of your desired schedule and attend one per year. You’ll meet a broader range of people and possibly learn even more.

Check back next Wednesday for the second installment of this series on writers’ conferences,

when I’ll be discussing ways to get ready for your conference — including how to plan for

the dreaded pitch appointment.

~Nephele Tempest

5/2/2012