This week, the Romance Writer’s of America’s (RWA) 37th annual conference takes place in Orlando. Approximately 2,000 authors and industry pros (agents, publishers, vendors, etc.) are expected to convene for four days of networking, pitching, bonding, learning, growing, and inspiring. This will be my first time at RWA, but it won’t be my first conference. If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference, you should. Here’s why.
You Learn A Lot at Writers Conferences
While you probably already know a lot about your genre, publishing, networking as a writer (hello, has anyone seen how many Twitter followers you have!?), it’s impossible to know everything there is to know about writing. Writers conferences are invaluable for picking up:
- Insider industry insight
- Additional understanding of trends
- Scuttlebutt on who’s whom
- Building your brand as an author
- Publishing industry trends
- Pro tips on landing an agent in your genre
In addition—and perhaps more importantly, you get crash courses on improving your craft—writing. One of the best intensives of my life was Lynne Barrett’s workshop on plot in Miami in 2009. As writers, we all struggle with something. Back then, plot never really fell into place for me; however, after Lynne’s course on plot, I had a detailed understanding of the essential narrative component that helped me evolve into the writer / editor I am today.
Other ways conferences help you strengthen your skills in terms of writing:
- Character arc
- Genre style
- Plot (obviously)
- Setting, etc.
When selecting a conference, preview the lineup of topics beforehand to determine if what you’ll learn is worth the investment (it usually is). For example, this year’s RWA topics include:
- Audiobook strategy for indie authors
- Writing emotion
- Indie author legal issues
- Seducing your readers in chapter 1
- Goal, motivation, and conflict in your YA novel
- Sex in historical romance
- Decoding series
Be still my beating heart. The list of enticing topics for this conference goes on (and on).
You Meet Cool New People at Writers Conferences
Bonding with fellow writers – Let your guard down
In addition to learning a lot about your craft, the industry, the business, etc., you also meet a plethora of cool new people. The idea of writers as solitary figures with their characters filling the roles of BFFs is a silly stereotype. Sure, writers might tend to be more introverted than others professionals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy some interaction…especially when that interaction is with people who share their love and passion for writing. If you’re at a genre-specific conference like RWA, then it’s even better because these fellow writers understand exactly what challenges and joys you experience as a romance writer.
Of course, many writers are hesitant to get chummy with other writers because they perpetually suffer idea theft anxiety. If they put their ideas on the wind, then someone else will surely write them, publish them, and have a feature film made within six months.
- One, it will take someone else a really long time to actually write, market, pitch, land an agent for, produce, and publishing your idea (over two years, most likely).
- Two—and more importantly, even if some jerk did steal your idea, the chances of their story resembling your story to any identifiable degree is unlikely. Unless you happen to fully entrust a bad egg to whom you show your entire manuscript, it’s implausible that they will steal your story.
- Three is the fact that it is highly unlikely a fellow writer—especially one you meet at a workshop—will steal your idea. They’re there for the same reason you are…because their beings depend on them telling their stories. I assure you, they will admire your story and cheer you on, but they don’t want to write your story; they have their story to write.
So, really, use writers conferences as a chance to make some new writing buddies. You never know who will stick around to be a lifelong friend or even a collaborator.
Imagine it’s five years down the road; you have a great eBook, but you’re having a hard time breaking into a larger market. Your two (now close) friends you met at RFA also have books coming out. Your pal Rebecca has a much bigger fan base than you do, so when Rebecca invites you to put your book with hers and your other friend, Jonathan’s, as part of a promo offer, you jump on it. The payoff is that you build your audience for your writing (and hopefully, your story audience helps out Rebecca and Jonathan, too). That won’t happen unless you getting out there and befriend other writers.
Meeting industry experts – Don’t act like a groupie
You might also find that you click with some of the proverbial industry gods—agents, editors, publishers, etc. Writers can act a little silly when they meet these people because industry power figures literally hold the keys to a writer’s dreams coming true in their hands. If you do speak with an industry professional, here are a few tips:
- Act normal; they’re people, too, and they’re also there to network.
- Ask them about their jobs and what they do; ask what their pet peeves are in their jobs….this will give you insight into how you should conduct yourself as a writer when seeking representation
- Ask them about their lives.
Don’t give in to the temptation to ask for advice or to describe your book or ask for freebies (especially if the agent is hearing pitches later as a (paid) part of the conference. You don’t want to come off as desperate. Just be a normal person.
I was in journalism when I first came face-to-face with a real publisher. Ben owned a small publishing company. To me, Ben may as well have been St. Peter guarding heaven’s pearly gates. Thankfully, in a rare moment of non-groupie behavior, I interviewed Ben and then we had a nice chat. We ended up becoming real friends whose friendship has nothing to do with publishing or writing (other than the fact that we both have a mutual love for the written word and for storytelling).
You Can Practice Your Pitching
One of the biggest anxiety-inducers for writers—other than hanging out with St. Peter and his fellow saints, is pitching. Conferences usually have a few agents on deck and a designated time where you, hopeful author, can pay and pitch your latest work. This is great for a few reasons:
- You get applied practice condensing your story into its finest points
- An industry insider hears your concept
- You get instant feedback
- You can (depending on the nature of the pitch session) ask questions about the agent’s experience, likes / dislikes, how best to approach them, what they’re looking for in terms of their portfolio, etc.
Don’t expect, though, to land a book deal on the spot. Even if your pitch goes perfectly, at best, the agent or editor will ask to see a copy of your manuscript at a later date. It will feel like steps forward, and for a choice few, it is; however, it’s known that, editors and agents and conferences don’t want to reject authors in person, so they will ask to see a package or manuscript or query from a “pretty good” pitch.
Your most valuable pitching experience comes from getting comfortable summarizing your story and gaining insight on the industry. Don’t put too much pressure on pitching. If you just relax and enjoy the experience, you’ll get a lot of out of it, and you might even be one of the lucky ones who’s asked to show their work to the agent.
How to Pick the Right Writers Conference for You
Those are the primary benefits of a writers conference, but how do you pick the one best for you? There are hundreds of conferences out there. Select based on the following criteria:
- Your genre
- Your style (novel, novella, short story, etc.
- Conference focus / what you will get out of it (for example, I went to the workshop on plot because I wanted to do a plot intensive)
- Cost and access (keep in mind that as a professional writer, you can deduct these training and network experiences)
If you’re new to writers conferences, spend the next year to trying a couple out that seem like they’d be good for you. Find one you love and attend again the next year. You can keep things fresh by trying a new conference here and there. This will also help you meet new writers and industry professionals.
If you haven’t done a writers conference yet, make this year your year.
Attending a writers conference can help your career in ways you can’t imagine. Find a workshop that suits your interests and needs and check it out. You never know who you're going to meet or how that person can help your career.