January 5, 2011

Will a writers’ conference help you and your writing?

With the New Year and a new calendar wide open before you, it's a good time to check out writers' conferences in your area. Most writers benefit from a well-chosen conference for a variety of reasons:

On first arrival, you will most likely receive a hand-out bag with resources including basic information about writing and marketing your work to traditional publishing companies.

You can usually select the workshops, lectures, or classes that most appeal to you or directly relate to the type of writing you want to do.

As you meet other writers and “talk shop,” you'll discover diverse ways to go about researching, writing, revising, and marketing your manuscripts.

One creative idea often generates another.

Workshops on your favorite genre will help, of course, but you will also gain feedback and innovative ideas from group discussions in a class or around the table at meal-times.

At larger conferences, you will get a chance to meet editors, who talk about publishing trends in general and current needs in particular but who also seem less scary and more approachable than you might think, alone at your desk.

Also, editors often bring free samples of their book catalogs, magazines, and journals to give to you, which can help you to get acquainted with traditional routes to publication.

Book and magazine publishers who cannot send editors to represent their companies still might mail free copies of catalogs or other publications for you and other conferees to receive and study.

Although you can now get much of this information on the Internet, a writers’ conference provides a unique place to meet in person other writers, editors and, sometimes, agents.

If you have begun to build publishing credits and have completed a book proposal for your novel or nonfiction book, a conference can be a good place to find a literary agent who’s willing to represent your work.

A writers’ conference often saves time in the learning curve since you gain a wide range of information from experts in your field instead of having to learn by trial and error.

Even the best conference, however, is not for every writer at every stage. For example:

Some writers want to focus exclusively on expressing themselves or experimenting, which can be productive but seldom presents the optimal time to learn from peers, well-published poets and writers, or editors.

Some writers cannot afford to attend a writers’ conference. Even if the workshops or classes seem affordable, the hotel costs or time away might prohibit your attending.

Some writers live nowhere near a reputable writers’ conference. For example, I have resided in small towns or rural areas for most of my life, so the first writers’ conference I attended came with transportation, meals, housing, an honorarium, and an invitation to lead workshops in fiction writing and poetry. By then, I had placed hundreds of short manuscripts and several novels on my own with traditional publishers, but I’d also had to learn the hard way!

Can an independent route to writing still be taken with success? Yes, and, hopefully, you'll learn from my mistakes and successes on this blog, The Poetry Editor blog and The Poetry Editor website.

To encourage and inform your writing, I hope you will read previous posts you may have missed and subscribe to these blogs and articles for free. Also, if you need a professional critique or writing consult for your poems, book proposal, or children’s picture book text, I’ve provided those for years, but no, not for free. (You can find current pricing and information on The Poetry Editor website about what to expect from a critique, writing consultation, or edit.)

But the question is: What do you and your writing need?

That may change from one year to the next, so ask yourself if you need to spend money on a writers’ conference where you can learn about writing, revising, marketing, and publishing in general, or would you do better getting one-on-one feedback for a manuscript that’s almost ready but needs the boost of a professional critique? Some conferences offer both, whereas others charge an additional critiquing fee.

What's best for you and your writing depends on your stage or level of writing, your locale, and your income. So, whether you attend a writers’ conference this year or another, investigate those within your budget range, your travel range, and your range of genres too.

If, for example, you write for the Christian markets, visit Sally Stuart’s website to help you find a Christian writers’ conference in your region.

For poets and writers in general, the Poets & Writers website (and classified ads in their magazine) can introduce you to established writers’ conferences.

But maybe you have already attended a writers’ conference that you highly recommend. If so, great! Give us your recommendation in the Comments space below.

If not, maybe you will have the blessing of both a writers’ conference and a writing consult or critique in this New Year still opened but already filled with new possibilities.
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