Going to my first writers' conference was an act of faith. I was just starting to make some freelance sales when the members of my writers' group encouraged me to join them at a conference a few hundred miles away. The expense didn't seem justified to me. The cost was far more than I had earned through writing that year. But they convinced me at last and it proved to be a great investment. The benefits of a writers' conference are there for anyone who has a desire to be a better writer. Here are ten strong reasons why I think you should go to at least one writers' conference every year. I'll even add in an eleventh bonus reason which is a real winner.
1. You will meet other writers. I know that sounds obvious, but where else can you meet hundreds of people who are at varying stages in their writing careers? Wherever you are on the road to success, you will meet others who have been there before and who are ready to help you. I find that writers as a group are very supportive. If you make an effort to say hello and to sit at tables with people you don't know, it is easy to meet others who can help you take the next step in your writing.
2. You will find lots of practical information you can put to immediate use. You might attend a seminar on how to organize your paperwork or how to format a manuscript or how to send a query to an editor or how to do your taxes. Whether you are a newbie or a pro, you will definitely get some nuts and bolts knowledge that you can use to make your writing pay off better.
3. You will learn something. Part of the reason you write is that you love reading and gaining knowledge. You might have even liked English class. Human beings are hardwired to get excited about learning new things and writers' conferences are always full of ideas and insights about the craft. Sessions can be just as interesting as college classes. The only difference is that there are no tests.
4. You will get energized. There's nothing more infectious than a bunch of people all excited about the same thing. Remember those pep rallies from high school? The goal of those rallies was to inspire you and your classmates with a desire to see their team win. Being a successful writer is a far more important goal. When you're gathered together with hundreds of other writers who are all passionate about writing, you'll get the desire to write more or better than you ever have before.
5. You might win something. If the conference includes a writing contest, you should definitely enter. Whether you win or lose, you will still be doing some serious writing before you go and you will make sure it is your very best. With any luck, you will get a helpful critique which will be helpful to you. You may even take home a check. Plus, winning a prize at a contest looks great in a query letter when you send that manuscript out to an agent or editor.
6. You will learn more about different genres. A friend entered a writers' conference contest and tried her hand at confession writing. I don't think she would have ever thought of attempting that particular kind of writing if she hadn't planned on entering the contest. While she was a bit disappointed that she didn't win, she sold the story! At that same conference, she attended a session on creative nonfiction. Using the information she learned there, she made yet another sale.
7. You may find a new market for your work. Conferences attract all kinds of writers. Some of them will write for markets that you haven't considered yet. They might know of a magazine which uses the kinds of things you write. They may know of a publisher who is looking for a book like yours.
8. You will improve your professional effectiveness. Schoolteachers, doctors, engineers and lawyers all have to attend a certain number of continuing education courses every year. Writers' conferences are an excellent way to for you to continue your education and improve your knowledge about your craft. If you are serious about your writing, attending a conference will prove that you are committed to your chosen profession.
9. You will be inspired. If you go with an ear to listen, there will be speakers who seem to be talking directly to you. Some have overcome great obstacles in order to succeed. It's the rare writer who hasn't gotten a rejection letter or faced difficulties or hardships. Editors and agents also speak at writers' conferences. They may be able to give you hope or encouragement or that little push that you need. Either way, you will find the courage to keep on writing.
10. You will meet editors and agents. This is the ultimate payoff: editors and agents take time out of their busy lives to attend writers' conferences because they are looking for people like you who have a book or an idea that will make money for them. Writers really do find agents and editors this way. At many conferences, you can sign up for an appointment and find yourself face to face with a living, breathing editor or agent who wants to hear about your work. This is a thousand times better than sending out a manuscript that will almost certainly land at the bottom of a slush pile.
Still not sure you should go to a conference? Well, here's my bonus reason.
11. You will be able to write off the trip and entry fees on your income tax as a business expense. Uncle Sam will give you a tax break for attending this conference even if you haven't started making money yet. And that conference may get you so fired up about your writing that making money will be no problem!
[Editor's Note: First, a caveat: I am not a tax accountant. However, I have been told that one may not always be able to deduct educational expenses for a career that one has not yet launched, and a writing conference may fall into this category. If you are already a professional writer, such expenses are generally deductible, but if you have not yet begun to write, they may not be. Check with an accountant to be sure!]
I hope you're convinced. I have certainly convinced myself. I can't wait until next year's conference!
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Copyright © 2006 Susan Denney
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.