When I first started writing, I was writing alone. I worked on my novel in my free time, I researched on my own, I sought out resources to help grow my craft, I kept my work to myself. Then I joined a local writers’ workshop and my whole writing life changed. I started sharing my stories with others—I read out loud (this introvert’s worst nightmare) for feedback—and I took the critique to heart. I met other wonderful and talented writers, I heard about local author events. In short, I wasn’t writing alone anymore. And that felt amazing.
Then I learned about the group’s annual writers’ conference, DFWCon. So I went, and my writing life changed again. Next to joining a writers’ critique group, attending conference is the BEST thing I’ve done for myself as a writer. So, here goes. A few ways a writers’ conference can take your writing and publishing journey (at whatever stage of writing you are, but particularly if you’re a beginner) to the next level:
- Expand your community. Attending conference expanded my sense of the writing community and my place in it, even more than joining the workshop did. I learned how to come out of my shell and introduce myself to perfect strangers (who happen to be perfectly friendly fellow writers). We talked about our books, where we are in the writing process, what our publishing goals are. We swapped business cards and I followed them on social media and their blogs, and many did the same for me. I still follow them all year long, celebrating and sharing their successes, commiserating with them about their setbacks. It was a wonderful and unexpected part of my writing journey. Now I know I’m not alone, and you don’t have to be either!
- Fuel your creative writer brain and boost your motivation. Conference is like summer camp on steroids. You get together with a bunch of people who are passionate about the same things you are, and you talk about that stuff all weekend long. You learn new tips and tricks, you’re exposed to new perspectives, and you get ideas about how to use them to improve your own writing. By the time I leave conference, I want to dive headfirst back into my current WIP or write something new altogether.
- Meet industry experts and publishing professionals. One of the most exciting features of conference is that keynote speakers, agents, and editors attend specifically for YOU. That’s right, notable figures in the industry come to conference to share their insight, inspiration, and success stories with you. Agents and editors from some of the most well-connected literary agencies are there to meet with you in one-on-one pitch sessions to talk about your book. They’re looking for new clients and it’s your chance to make them fall in love with your story. Even if you don’t have a finished manuscript, you can often sign up for a consultation with an agent or editor. I’ve had two such meetings and both ended with invitations to query once my manuscript was finished. You can imagine I walked away feeling great about my prospects and fired up to work hard on my revisions.
- Start a platform. Do you know what author platform is? If so, you’re ahead of where I was as an new writer. I’d only heard the term once when I attended my first writers’ conference, but by the end of the weekend, I not only knew what it was, but how to take steps to build one even before I was published. In the contemporary publishing world, authors are expected to share responsibility for promoting their books and building a strong readership. And, lucky for you, conference is a great place to learn how!
- Learn about industry trends and expectations. I had some understanding of the publishing world before I went to conference, but hearing from agents in class and during critique widened my view. Do you know what agents look for in a query letter? Do you know how to research agents before you query them? There were a lot of little nuances about this and other aspects of the business I didn’t know before I went to conference. Now I feel confident that when it’s time to query agents about my novel, I can handle it like a pro.
- Grow your craft. Personally, this is the number one reason I go to conference. Every class I take gives me insight into new ways to grow my writing. Every person I meet challenges me to push myself as an artist. Every agent and speaker I visit with inspires and encourages me that I do have a future in this industry if I keep working hard, staying positive, making connections, and—most of all—doing the hard, day-in-day-out work of putting pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keys).
Have you attended a writers’ conference? I want to hear about it! Are you considering it, but you still have reservations or questions? Leave a comment and we’ll talk.