Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.
I am often asked by writers, "When is the best time to go to a writers conference?"
My answer is always, "Now."
Now is the best time, because no matter where you are in your journey, there are conferences that are a great fit for you.
Writing conferences are all unique from each other, but most offer a combination of teaching, socializing, pitching, and writing time. Some of the larger conventions like Comic Con have writing tracks as well. These days, many conferences even have a teen writing track or are specific for young writers, like the Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop, Teen Author Boot Camp, and OYAN Summer Workshop, for those who have done the curriculum.
If you've been taking writing seriously for a year or two, then I suggest starting with an inexpensive, close-to-you conference. I've gone to smaller conferences twice before and here's what my experience was like:
Conference #1: The first time I went to a writers conference, I was 17. It was hosted by a community college, and I took my dad with me. I didn't know a thing about what to expect, how I should dress, or what I should bring. I paid to go just one day, and that was perfect for my level.
What I got out of it: This was my first exposure to literary agents, editors, and other writers. I don't remember learning a ton in my classes (though I certainly had plenty to learn) but I did leave with this sense of, "This is a real thing. People actually do become professional authors."
Conference #2: At my next conference, I was 22, and it was a few hours away from where I lived in Orlando. This conference was a little bigger, and I was a bit more savvy. I knew I would be pitching to agents and editors, plus I had to turn in chapters ahead of time to be critiqued.
What I got out of it: One of the editors really liked what I wrote and invited me to submit to her publishing house. I was encouraged by many who were there, and I learned A TON about the craft of writing. I had thought I was ready to be published, but after a few hours of a fiction writing class, I knew I wasn't. I also met my first writing friend, Erica Vetsch, who has now published approximately a gazillion books.
After going to a multiple day conference on my own and surviving, I felt like I was ready for one of the national conferences. I wrote Christian fiction at the time, so I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and set my sights on going to Dallas the next year for their annual conference.
Which I did, despite being in my third trimester of pregnancy, and in the middle of a move back to Kansas City.
What I got out of my first BIG conference: I think it's beneficial to know how many other writers are out there, and being at one of the big conferences drives that home. When I wanted to slack off, I would remember how many other people had been in line to pitch to the same agent as me, or how the seats had all been full in the YA class I took.
I also met Roseanna White at my first ACFW conference, who has been my best friend for ten years now. (We were two of the youngest people there, plus we were sporting pregnant bellies and carrying around the exact same red leather bag.) Our friendship began with critiquing and encouraging each other and grew over the years.
I also met my first agent at that conference and signed with her several months later.
So the conference was definitely worth it for me, but unless one of these national conferences happens to be close to you, you should expect to spend at least a thousand dollars to go to one. The cheapest registration at ACFW this year, for example, was $575. That's if you are a member of ACFW, if you signed up four months in advance, and that doesn't include any extras like paid critiques or an early bird session. (Here's a full chart of their pricing.) On top of that, you're paying for hotel and travel, and probably several meals, although most are included.
When I was first starting out, my $99 day at the local community college writing conference was more than adequate for where I was on my journey. ACFW would have overwhelmed me, many of the classes would have been too advanced, and I wouldn't have been able to put to use the appointments with agents and editors, although I'm sure I would have found lots of value.
So if resources are limited for you like they were for me, I think it's best to save the big conferences like SCBWI, RWA, and ACFW until you have been writing several years, and you have a manuscript that you think is ready. Or is at least as ready as you can make it.
To figure out the best conference for you, think about your goals. Are you wanting to make friends with other young writers? Get critiques? Are you there to learn? To sell? To network within your genre?
And then turn to your good friend Google and start running some searches for writing conferences close to you. Or if you have an editor you like, check and see where they're going to be. There's a good chance you can find something close-ish to you that would offer some benefit.
Any questions about conferences that I can try to answer for you?