Monday, August 29, 2011

Are writers conferences worth it?

Typically there would be a writing prompt today, but I can't make the scheduling work. I studied my calendar and tried and tried and studied my calendar some more, before admitting I just can't do it. I'll be away from home for 13 days in September. I love doing the contests, but they require a lot of email, a lot of copying and pasting, and a lot of focus. With being away from my computer so much, there just won't be time for another until later in September.

One of the reasons I'll be gone this month is to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. This will be my third ACFW conference, and I'm very excited. Not only am I eager for writing classes, connecting with editors, and visiting with my agent, I'll also get to breathe the same air as writers I adore, like Susan May Warren and Jenny B. Jones.

Writers conferences are expensive, especially the great ones like ACFW's. On top of the registration fee - ACFW's ranges from $515 to $715 depending on membership and registration date - you often have to fly to conferences or drive a decent distance. You stay in a hotel, typically. Also, while most your meals are covered by your registration fee, a couple usually are not. And there are enticing extras offered sometimes, like paid critiques from published writers or bonus classes. It adds up. Very quickly.

I can only speak in my "I" voice here, but I say yes - conferences are worth it.

I've been to 5 and all have been beneficial in their own way. I won't bore you guys with details from every conference I've attended, I'll just highlight what made them worth my time and money:

Feedback from people who were not my parents or husband

I, of course, value and appreciate the opinions of these three people, but none of them are editors or agents or published writers. By going to conferences and taking classes and having my work critiqued, I was able to learn valuable things like don't write passively, cut adverbs, make your MC sympathetic, minimize dialogue tags. These are things non-writers don't know to tell you.

One-on-one time with literary agents and editors

Every conference I've been to has afforded me this opportunity. I never had much luck with query letters, but I've had a lot of luck with appointments. (At one conference I was hugely pregnant with my daughter. I think that helped. No one wanted to tell me no and make me cry.) Almost every invitation I've received to submit a manuscript to an agent or editor has been born out of a conference appointment. It's where I met my first agent, in fact.

Writing friends

Not only do you get to rub elbows with authors you admire (poor Susan May Warren - I practically tackled her after one of her classes because I couldn't wait to tell her how much I loved Finding Stefanie) but you meet other writers who are at the same level as you. When I met Erica Vetsch at the Florida Christian Writers Conference, we were both new to writing. When I met Roseanna White (pictured above) at my first ACFW conference, we were both on the verge of finding agent representation. (And both on the verge of giving birth.) These friendships have been so valuable. I had wanted writing friends for a long time, but I hadn't realized how much I was missing out by not having them.

And sometimes - as a bonus - you get to meet people before they become superstars. Like Sarah Sundin:


When I went to my first couple conferences, I had no idea how much I didn't know. I thought I was on the brink of publication loooong before I really was. Many of my technique classes were eye-opening, and I wouldn't be published today had I not taken them.

A lot of people ask me about self publishing, and if I think it's a good decision. It can be, but it's also a tremendous investment. I often find myself wishing - especially when it's clear that I'm talking to a writer who hasn't done much research on the matter - that they would instead invest the money in a writers conference.

Just something to think about. And, if you happen to be going to ACFW (since I know a few of you are members) I would love to hang out, so email me and let me know.


  1. Oh, I REALLY wanted to go to the ACFW Conference this year, but it just didn't work out. But I'm hoping/planning/praying/trying to go next year!!! :-)

    You'll have to tell your GTW Peeps all about the conference when you come back!!! ;-)

  2. Did you write this just for me? I was just invited to the American Christian Writers conference in my state and am trying to decide whether or not to go. At the moment I'm leaning heavily toward "yes" (even more after reading this!).

    Thanks so much for doing the prompt contest - I know it must take a lot of your time and energy. You deserve a break :)


  3. Hi! I was just wondering if we'd find out who won/placed in last time's contest before you went away? Thanks!
    And have fun while you're gone!


  4. Katie, I definitely will! Too bad, it would have been fun to meet you in person!

    Jordan, you're so sweet! Thanks appreciated, but not needed - the contests are fun for me too! I completely understand if money is a factor - that's why I usually only attend conferences every other year - but they're so valuable.

    Micah - absolutely! I'm waiting on one more judge to get back to me and then I'll be able to let you guys know. Thanks for your patience!

  5. I can't WAIT to give you a hug in person in St. Louis!! YAY! I missed last year's conference too. Hubby was laid off that year so when it came to "groceries and electricity, or conference" well....tough decision but God DID give me a toddler to provide for who enjoys her poptarts, lunchables, nightlight and TV, ;)

  6. I'd love to go to a writing conference! Perhaps I'll google it, find out if there are any good ones in Australia. Have fun -- it sounds like a blast!:D

  7. Someday when I have money to spare I'll go to one lol. It sounds like something I would really want to invest in, since I'm really not that interested in self publishing at the moment, and I probably never will be.
    That will be like... the last thing I do after I send stuff to agents/publishers.
    A writer can always improve. :D
    Have fun Stephanie! :D

  8. Stephanie, I hope you have a great time! I am so glad that I was able to attend the writer's conference I went to last month...hoping to go back to the same one or even ACFW one day. Like you, I'll probably do the one-year off thing, since there is school to contend with. Wish ACFW was in the summer! :)

  9. I can't wait to see you again at ACFW. When I think of that first writing conference I attended, I always think of you...and that campus! LOL

    We sure learned a lot in that class with Angela Hunt, didn't we?

  10. Betsy, I'm looking forward to that too! Is your husband coming this year? Seems like I sat with both of you in Denver, but that was before you and I had talked very much.

    Emii, I bet there are! There are lots of great writers in Australia, anyway. If there isn't, you should start one :)

    Jazmine, I'm digging your attitude!

    Rachelle, you won't always be in school, fortunately :) (Well, unless you're planning to teach, I suppose.)

    Erica, I think of you ... and my horrible room. I was afraid of the shower :) Her class was amazing. I should have mentioned her in my acknowledgments, since I know she played a part in polishing me up.

  11. I have a goal ofgoing to a conference next year but right now I'm not sure I'd circumstances will allow. I am praying they will :)