Tips on Attending a Writer's Conference
Getting Your Foot in the Door
If you're a creative writer, and if you want to get your foot in the door, going to your first writer's conference can be an exhilarating and beneficial experience. Whether you write poetry, songs, short stories, novels, or nonfiction articles, there are a couple of things you need to know before you start planning your first trip. These tips can make things easier for you in the long run, too.
A writer's conference is another way you can land an agent, an editor, or all of the above, besides querying for fiction writers or sending clips and proposals for journalists and non-fiction writers. Landing a referral, if you're lucky, can help you too.
If you're interested in attending a writer's conference, you can find information online, from magazines like Poets and Writers and Writer's Digest, and from books like Writer's Digest Guide of Literary Agents. Every once in a while, you might get mailed information for an invite to sign up.
Some writer's conferences are also geared toward the reader with special reader-related events to meet and greet your favorite authors. Or get an autographed copy of their book, too.
This Year's Boucheron Is Set for St. Petersburg, Florida
Location, Location, Location!
Keep that one word in mind. If you attend a local writer's conference in your area, you don't have to worry about airfare and arranging a hotel room. If there's none near your home, try the nearest county or regional area.
For those writer's conferences that are out-of-state, long-distance trips can be expensive. If you don't want to travel alone, bring a friend or family member for support, who also might read, too.
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If the Price Is Right
Besides finding the right location to attend your first writing conference, you need to keep a budget in mind. Local ones in your area wouldn't cost as much, probably around $100-$300 and some might be lower than one hundred dollars. It depends on how long you want to stay for. Those that are out-of-state will cost you more than $300 and go higher, depending if you wanted to do the extra amenities. You would have to account the total cost in a couple of items on your list.
- Registration fee. For a single fee with no bonus amenities, some aren't free. But they cost you around $25 to reserve your fee.
- Airfare. You would have to reserve your own round-trip tickets, whether it's in-state or out-of-state.
- Room and board. You would have to reserve your hotel room, whether you want to sleep alone or share with a roommate.
- Meals. Most meals like breakfast, lunch and/dinner come with the package. Others you have to pay for, especially if you want to eat out in a different place.
Besides the basic amenities covered with your registration package, there are other fun stuff to do, besides meeting and greeting your favorite authors, and meet new friends who are fellow writers too.
- Workshop Classes. Most classes are free. But if they come with a fee, you would have to pay more, if you want to attend more than one.
- Extras. These will cost you some money, but worth the while if you want to improve your writing conference experience. Most writing conferences will have an award dinner or some other celebration, especially if it's sponsored by an organization like Romance Writers of America, International Thrilller Writers, and the Mystery Writers of America. They're optional and you don't have to attend.
- Manuscript Critique. This can be expensive, but getting feedback from an experienced editor or agent often helps to improve your craft. Those spots fill up fast if you want to reserve your spot in line.
- Agent/Publisher Pitch. If you don't need a critique and want to pitch your work to an agent or editor, this will cost you a little extra as well. Those spots get filled up too. If you don't have a manuscript, a query or cover letter will suffice.
- Contests. Entering your story in a contest can be daring and fun. Some entry fees are free, while others are under $25. Keep in mind, the more you enter, the more you have to pay. This is a good way to get feedback and criticism. If you're lucky enough, you'll win a prize. And that you can add to your query or cover letter as a publication credit. Many writing contests don't provide feedback.
Sometimes Less Is More
Besides location and price for the total package, you also have to take into consideration about how long you have to stay. If you have some spare time on your calendar, and if it falls in line with a writer's conference, then you get lucky. From what I've heard in the past about newbies who want to attend a conference this year, start small. In other words, less is more. Some seminars are a half-day or a full day if you want to get a full hands-on experience. Other preferable choices are weekend packages, which are only two or three days long. These are also inexpensive, while those longer than three days would cost more for the weekly ones.
When you request information or check their website online, some will have options for specific days. If you have time for one, give it a go. Most conferences that do happen once a year, (while some stay put in one location, others like Boucheron rotate to a new location every year), others have two a year, like one in spring and one in fall. So if you can't make one this winter or this spring, try the summer or fall ones.
All Set . . . Now Register Early!
Once you've got the basic information down on writing conferences, if you're interested, register early while you can. While most registration dates are open until it's filled, others have a deadline. So it's a good idea to do it. The same goes for hotel room reservations and the other extra amenities, too. The same applies to airline reservations when you want to get there early, like the day or night before, so you wouldn't miss any fun. If it's in your area, you can drive there in your car or take the bus or taxi to where you need to go. You can commute from your home and bypass airline and hotel reservations.
If you don't have any money saved up for the trip, there are other alternatives. For the past couple of years, I've attended a free online writers conference every mid-October--except for last year, when it was canceled—and registration is free. It's called the Muse Online Writer's Conference. It's a good experience to learn the craft and get your own foot in the door. There are chat rooms for chats on specific fields, forums for workshops in various writing crafts, and a special pitch chat room to pitch your story to agents and editors. (Sorry, only novels are allowed to pitch.) It's a great alternative to get the same experience as a real one. Unfortunately, it's been inactive for the past year or so. Maybe it would return next year.
A writer's retreat may be another option for you. It's also expensive when you can spend time writing and hone your craft, and have very little extra amenities to spend your money on. Some are weekend packages, while others are longer, like for a week. Try to stay away from writing residencies, which are held in college dorms and last for two weeks to a month.
All Summed Up
In overall, keep this tips in mind. Start local in location, save money on the price, and start small with half-day/full-day and weekend packages. Later on, you can go for the big bucks on the weekly ones. You would have to pay for the basic amenities, while others are optional and costly. Register early and have fun if you go!
One Final Tip
Another tip for those who are going is to take notes.Bring notebooks and pens or pencils, or bring your Ipad to type down everything you learn. Or even bring a portable tape recorder to record the session, if it's okay to get permission. If you want to go to two classes that's held at the same hour, sit in the back and quietly sneak out to go to the next class. Have fun, takes notes, meet new people and make new friends. You'll learn a lot in one conference!