Friday, December 13, 2013

Four Reasons I Wouldn’t Attend Writers Conferences

Writers' Conference
As a novice writer, it’s what you don’t know that’ll hurt you. Kind of like when my husband or son aren’t listening to me when I’m talking, and suddenly they perk up and say, “What?” My eyes narrow, and I ask, “What part didn’t you hear?”

There’s so much to learn about the publishing world. All writers experience hard knocks as they maneuver along this learning curve. As I mentor or have discussions with fellow writers, similarities emerge about their journeys. Beginners are often resistant to certain stepping stones to further their careers.


Fear of the unknown.

One avoidance in particular stands out—writers’ conferences.

Within this resistance are specific reasons for not attending. Again, nothing new under the sun. I say this because they were also my reasons.

I can’t afford to attend. This is a valid reason. I remember when scraping together $100 for a local day and a half conference was difficult for me. I couldn’t justify spending money that could be used elsewhere in the family budget. Even so, it also served as a mental crutch to avoid attending.

Practical solutions:
· Label an envelope “writers’ conference,” and every week put a few dollars in it. Add to it when you receive an unexpected windfall like birthday money or a work bonus. Tuck the envelope away in your desk and don’t touch it, no matter what. Well, unless the power company is threatening to turn off your power. J
· Christmas is less than two weeks away. My family complains they don’t know what to get me. They say I never want anything, and whatever I need, I can buy. If you’re asked what you want, don’t be shy. Speak up and say, “I’d love to attend a writers’ conference in 2014, but I need a few sponsors to pay the fee. A donation of any size would be appreciated.” Then, make sure the gift is tucked away in your conference envelope and not used to buy socks for your kids. J
· Garage sales are a great way to raise money. Or sell items you’re not using anymore on Craigslist. This is found money, not paycheck money designated for bills. Ask your spouse to agree for a percentage of the profit to be set aside for your “writing fund.”
· Look for free or inexpensive local writing workshops. The first writing workshop I attended was free and hosted by a local writing group at the library. Christian suspense author Lynette Eason was the featured speaker. We became friends through that workshop and subsequent e-mails. She was one of my first mentors. I learned a great deal from her about fiction writing and the publishing industry. I also attended a half-day workshop with guest speaker Cecil Murphey for only $15.

I’m an introvert. Another valid reason that’s also a mental crutch. Your thoughts may sound something like this: “I’d die if an agent/editor/published writer speaks to me. I won’t know what to say. I’ll probably babble something incoherent and blow any chance of getting a contract.”
I’m not sure if anyone has ever fainted in front of an agent or editor. If they have, no doubt everyone involved survived. And, look at it like this. You’ll make a lasting impression.J Yes, you’ll probably babble a little. I’ve done it and survived.

Seriously, very few writers are more introverted than I am. I prefer communicating through my keyboard, and it’s not just a case of being shy. God wires introverts to thrive in solitude, whereas extroverts get their energy from crowds of people. Conferences can be exhausting for both types.

Practical solutions:
· If it’s your first conference, your goal could be to simply learn and network among other writers. Unless you have a polished, complete manuscript, don’t plan to pitch to an agent or editor. However, if you do have a book manuscript in progress, have a basic premise memorized (a pitch) in case you find yourself at a dining table or standing next to an agent or editor, and they ask about your work. If you have a short pitch memorized, you have some hope of coherent words coming out of your mouth. I promise, as you mingle with writing industry folks, you’ll get more comfortable.
· If you’re attending a local one or two-day conference, use your break time to get away. Resist the urge to always network during this time. It’s called a break for a reason. For overnight conferences, I’ve used my lunch break to catnap to rejuvenate for the afternoon/evening sessions. Solitude is a must for an introvert or you’ll burn out. The last conference I attended, I skipped a session on teen writing because it’s not my area of interest. Instead, I hung out in my hotel room and worked on my current manuscript until the next class. Pacing myself enabled me to handle the rigors of the 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. day.

My work isn’t good enough yet. Okay, I’ve used this excuse myself. What if someone asks if I’m published? No big deal. There will always be writers ahead of and behind you on the writing path. If you truly feel your writing hasn’t reached the publishable stage, the education you get in conference classes is invaluable to honing your skills. This is actually a perfect reason to attend. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

There are other ways to get published. Sure, many paths to publication exist. But remember how I started this post? It’s what you don’t know that increases that time frame or might lead you into prematurely e-publishing a manuscript that’s not ready. Most published writers will tell you that attending conferences to network, gain writing education, and build friendships with other writers will cut your time tremendously to becoming published and help create an invaluable marketing platform that’s necessary for whatever route you choose to publication.

One caveat. Don’t network solely for the sake of networking. These are people you’ll build friendships with and receive support from on your writing journey. Christian writing is a ministry. You have “someone” with a vested interest in your failure. A support system to work against the negative is imperative.

I’m going to attend Writers Advance! Bootcamp at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in North Carolina in February 2014. I’m also working toward attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, also in North Carolina, in May 2014. My dream is to attend American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) national conference one year. Maybe the year it comes to Nashville (only five hours from my home). 

It's your turn. I want to hear about your plans to attend a writers’ conference in 2014. If you haven’t made plans, what’s your “dream” conference? If you’ve attended a conference, what did you learn from the experience you didn’t expect?

Happy Writing,
Laura J

© Laura Hodges Poole


  1. Great post! I needed the reminder that a conference is a goal to work toward, just like other goals I set for my writing life. I earned my first paycheck for a freelance writing project and I'm saving a portion for my conference fund. I would love to be at Blue Ridge in 2014.

    1. It would be great if we both made Blue Ridge next year. In the past, it's always conflicted with my son's school final exam schedule, and I didn't feel like I could be away for a week. He started college this year, so it shouldn't be an issue. I'm really praying it works out in 2014.

  2. Last summer I went to Proverbs 31 Ministries' She Speaks Conference (for writers, speakers, & leaders). I had all the same concerns that you mentioned but decided it was an adventure, a reconnaissance mission just to see what it was about. As a "tourist" I was able to take advantage of all the great information (wow! I learned so much from so many experienced folks!) without stressing myself out about whether I'm "good enough" to be there.

    One of the best parts was learning I wasn't alone. To meet so many people who are where you are, or who have been there, is so useful! And many of us stay in touch through social media, so it's a resource that can be tapped well after the conference is over. On a regular basis, just hearing words of encouragement from (or being able to offer encouragement to) my She Speaks sisters is exactly what is needed!

    1. Great to hear you attended a conference. She Speaks is one I've thought of attending but has never worked into my schedule. I'm glad you had such a good experience. The encouragement you receive through friendships made carry you through tough writing days. Thanks for stopping by. God bless.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Christa. I'm glad you stopped by and left a comment. God bless.

  4. I love this Laura. You have hit the nail on the head for me. Love what you're doing with your blog too! Great writing info!

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I thought this might resonate with some people. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. God bless.

  5. Laura, I love this post. I'm one of the timid, insecure ones. The first conference I went to was Vonda's writing retreat about 5 years ago. There were less than 15 of us in a mountain cabin, but I didn't know anyone and was scared to death. I brought everyone a little basket of chocolate and, as I gave the gift out, I said, "I'm not really that nice. I just wanted everyone to love me because I'm so insecure!" LOL! I decided if I addressed my demon head-on it would lose its power. And it did. I had a wonderful time. I'm praying about Blue Ridge too. Maybe we'll be there together :)

  6. I've used many of these excuses...this year I hope to change that. God willing, I'll be going to the 2014 Mount Hermon Christan Writers Conference.
    I'd love to go to the Billy Graham conference as well as the ACFW...maybe someday.

  7. I've used all of those excuses - even after attending several :p. I'm still not sure how I'm paying for this year's conference, but I've got some additional income coming in [and no Disney trip to pay for this year].

    The first conference I went to was a regional one and I knew people going and it was about 2 miles from my inlaws house so I had a built in place to stay. I had a complete break down the first night and almost didn't go day two but I did and ended up being glad I did. Of course, I've had a break down at every conference I've ever attended :). It turns out this one wasn't a good fit for me and that was part of the problem. It didn't focus much on fiction, what I write.

    I've also attended ACFW 3xs. I LOVE it there. It's a chance to connect with friends I only get to see once a year as well as get to know industry professionals. A chance to meet face to face with and pitch to agents and editors. It's exhausting being "on" for four days straight but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm looking forward to this year - and have been since about twenty minutes after I dropped my last car poolers off last year ;).

    I'm the one with the big bucket of cookies in the bar at night. Anyone can pop over, have a couple, and say hi if you're there :).