Why A Writer's Conference Is Important

by W. Terry Whalin

It's a personal investment to attend a writer's conference. Whether you attend for a full day or spend several days in another state, it will involve investing your time, energy and money. In these pages, I will explore some of the reasons to attend these meetings, links and helps to find information about where to find these gatherings along with other resources to help you improve your writing skills.

Like many other kinds of businesses, the writing business is relational. Talent, craft and skill does enter the consideration but it's also who you know. Possibly you are new to this field and you are crying, "I don't know anyone." That's OK. Everyone has to begin somewhere in this journey. You don't have to stay in that situation. Through writer's conferences, you can begin to form some editor relationships.

Almost twenty years ago, I began attending these specialized meetings. I worked on a magazine staff and we understood the benefits and accordingly we used our slim financial resources to send staff members to meetings. It helped their professional development and also helped improve their ability to work on our magazine. I've attended conferences for my own personal development and professionalism.

In recent years, I've represented publishing houses as an acquisitions editor at these gatherings. As an editor and an agent, the experience has been eye-opening to me and changed some of my perspectives. I've got some amazing stories about pushy conferees trying to convince me to purchase a particular manuscript. A pushy attitude usually backfires and makes the editor or agent want to run instead of listen carefully to your idea. Always remember that you want to make a good impression on the editor or the agent.

Even as an acquisitions editor, I continue to select at least one conference a year that I attend as a regular conferee--i.e. a paying participant and not someone who attends to represent a publisher or magazine and teach workshops. One conference that I regularly attend for my own development is the annual conference for the American Society of Journalists and Authors in New York City. The schedule is posted on their website and it is a broad reaching event. I've met editors at Ladies Home Journal, Woman's Day, Modern Maturity, Money magazine, and numerous mainstream book editors. Several years ago at the ASJA member meeting, President and Mrs. Carter came to the session. One of the ASJA members wrote a book with Mrs. Carter and they were invited. I managed to give President Carter a copy of my then new book, Lessons From the Pit. Such a connection came from attending a conference.

Conferences have been a large part of my writing career. Often at these conferences, editors and agents are inundated with the wrong material because writers haven't done their homework. So often writers will send the wrong material to the wrong place and wasted everyone time--the writer and the editor or the agent. At a writer's conference, you meet the editors face to face and realize that they are also real people. This process begins to form your relationship. Then when you send in your material, they recall your name (or you can recall it to their attention saying, "It was great to meet you at ______ conference..."

Three Pieces of Advice

1. Do your homework. Know who will be attending the conference and reading in advance what a particular editor needs and acquires (even the Writer's Market Guide is a good place to start). Then craft an idea, a proposal or something to start the conversation with this editor. Give them something they need. Editors read lots of stuff that they don't need at these conferences. Why? Because they are looking for the jewel in the stack, then they can publish that manuscript. It could be your writing if you do your homework.

2. Make a point to get to know different editors--even outside of your particular genre. What you write this year may change next year. Even if you've never written a book, get to know the book editors. Sit at their tables and talk with them about your dreams and hopes. And throughout the week, make little notes of things which strike you--then read your notes when you get home and follow through. You would be surprised how few people actually execute the necessary follow through work.

3. Learn your craft but also look to expand your writing horizon. This advice would be for newcomers but also for the veteran. I'd encourage everyone to take a class outside of what they normally take. If you don't write for children, take a children's workshop. If you have never written a personal experience article then take a one hour workshop on this topic. It might open a new door of opportunity in your writing life.

I've made some dear friends at writer's conferences and that's why I look forward to going to various conferences. It's my opportunity to help others and give back. I'm constantly learning new things as a writer--and a writer's conference is a place to soak it in.

Let's check on some key conferences around the nation. Use the button below:

Also check out these articles about conferences:

Four Keys For Success by Marita Littauer

Networking: The Writers' Conference Edge by Ellen J. List

Please check back on this page because additional resources for conferences will be added.

From my perspective, writer's conferences have been life-changing events and have been critical in my professional and personal development. I recommend you take the time, energy and resources to get to a conference.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and one of his recent books is Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets To Skyrocket Your Success (Morgan James Publishing). You can learn more detail about his background at: www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. For more than 12 years Terry has been an ECPA Gold Medallion judge in the fiction category. He has written extensively about Christian fiction and reviewed numerous fiction books in publications such as CBA Marketplace and BookPage. For five years, Terry was a book acquisitions editor for Cook Communications and Howard Books. A former literary agent, now Terry is an Acquisitions Editor at Morgan James Publishing. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in California.

© 2024 W. Terry Whalin

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