Author and creative writing tutor, Beth loves helping her students improve their technique.
Why Attend a Writer’s Convention?
Writing is a solo activity, and so it’s good to meet up with other authors. Attending a writer’s conference is fun and also useful.
- They can help improve your writing skills.
- They offer opportunities to network and make useful contacts.
- Don’t forget the all-important out-of-classroom sessions that allow you to socialize with your new buddies, relax and enjoy yourself.
Workshop vs. Conference
Is a writing workshop the same as a writer’s conference? Not quite. They are both useful, but there are some key differences between them. Workshops are about learning and practicing new skills. There is a teacher-pupil relationship between the participants and the leaders.
Writing conventions or conferences are more about the exchange of ideas as equals. You and the session facilitators are both there to network and gain momentum in your careers. However, both types of get-togethers have one thing in common; they are a chance to make new contacts and have interesting conversations.
A good place to find lists of upcoming writer’s conventions is in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. It is published in September each year with details of the following year’s events.
Getting the Most Out of Writers’ Conferences
1. Improve Your Writing Skills
Many writing conferences include either mini-competitions, such as writing a piece of flash fiction, or they will offer attendees one-to-one sessions with a literary agent or publisher. These are a direct way of getting valuable feedback on your work. However, they are not the main focus of a writer’s convention. One of the best ways to learn new skills at these events is to participate in discussions about the writing process.
Listen and learn from experienced authors as they discuss how they find inspiration and get through writer’s block. They can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. You may choose to follow your favorite novelist’s tips and tricks to getting published. Or you could attend a conference that specializes in your favorite genre such as horror or fantasy, and seek out new, young authors to learn how they got their break.
2. Network and Make Useful Contacts
Each day of a convention consists of a number of stand-alone sessions. These often take the form of a conversation between authors and audience, with a facilitator to guide the discussion. If you are a quiet, shy person, you may just want to sit and listen. However, as you gain confidence, the more you are able to actively participate, the more you will get from these sessions.
People who attend these conferences, be they writers, publishers, or literary agents, all want to help and encourage aspiring authors. They are interested in you as a person as well as your writing abilities. Be prepared to talk about what you enjoy writing about, as well as your preferred genre. Networking during the day is informal but can be intense. Don’t be afraid to miss a session or two to give yourself a break from the exchange of ideas. You don’t have to attend absolutely everything on the program.
A lot of socializing takes place in the hotel bar after the regular sessions have ended. You don’t have to consume alcohol, and for some people, it would be better not to. That way you will remember the friendly, supportive writers that you meet there. However, staying in the convention hotel can be expensive and so you need to weigh the benefits of staying close to the action, against the difficulty of finding your way home in a strange city if you decide to stay somewhere cheaper.
How much does it cost to attend a writer’s conference?
As well as the delegate fee you should factor in the cost of accommodation and transport. Some conferences offer reduced rates for low-income attendees, but you need to be able to prove hardship to make a claim. If cost is a problem for you, look out for conventions that are run on a not-for-profit basis as these can be considerably cheaper than commercially run ones.
Spring Break, Summer Holiday or Fall Vacation
There are thousands of writing conventions held every year. The experience is unique to each individual so I’m not going to make a specific recommendation about the best one to attend, although I do give some suggestions at the end of this article.
I like to go to a conference that is being held in an interesting location. Then I build a holiday around it; three or four days of writing and networking, then three or four days of sightseeing. They are a great opportunity to meet some wonderful people (like yourself) with a passion for writing and reading.
Narrow down your options by thinking how far you’re prepared to travel, and how much you can afford to spend. Think about your interests and what you are hoping to gain from the experience. Be open to listening and learning from unfamiliar authors and genres. Don’t look on them as a way to advance your career, just enjoy the atmosphere and the conversation.
Six Recommended Writer’s Symposiums
There are literally thousands of writing conferences held around the world. Here are a few suggestions if you are interested in crime fiction. My list only includes UK and US as these are the ones that I and/or my friends have attended.
Crimefest, where the pen is bloodier than the sword, UK
Bouchercon, events to grow and sustain the mystery community, US
Capital Crime, celebrates the crime and thriller genre, UK
Malice Domestic, celebrating the traditional mystery, US
Bloody Scotland, international crime writing festival, UK
Left Coast Crime, annual mystery convention, US
Before you decide which one to attend, check out your local writers' group. They may know of free or subsidized ones that are aimed at residents of your state. If you can afford one of the national conventions, research upcoming events online or in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. You will want to know the dates, location, and schedule, as well as the different session topics and who the celebrity guests will be. If the details pique your interest, go for it, and book your place!