Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hidden Values of Writers' Conferences

     Many of my writer friends have cut back on attending writers' conferences. And I know from comments I've seen by other writers, as well as from cancellations of conferences I've signed up for, that attendance has dwindled for many worthwhile ones. Yes, I know the state of the economy, and our desire to save money is largely to blame. But some things in life have values beyond what can be seen on their face, and I believe that conferences are among those items.

     I recently attended the Tallgrass Writers' Clinic in Emporia, Kansas, which is an economical, but valuable conference. They have many fine speakers there, excellent programs, and a fine atmosphere where they show the worth of learning the writing craft. I spoke to one young man in attendance there, asking him if this was his first writers' conference, and he replied that it was. I asked if he was enjoying it, and if he felt he was learning something. He told me, "This conference has changed my life."

     It seems that the young man was so inspired by the speakers and the atmosphere of interest in writing by the participants there, that he had decided he wanted to really work at becoming a writer.  
I recalled my first writers' conference in Kansas City, Missouri, and remembered the elation I felt on learning that more than a hundred people in attendance understood the feeling of writing something expressive and meaningful, knew how much knowledge and work it took to be able to do this, and were seeking to better learn how to do that. And, best of all, they were eager and willing to discuss any and all aspects of writing and any problems that were bothering others. There were no blank stares and awkward changes of subject when you told someone there that you were a writer, and you were working on a novel, poem, short story, or whatever. There were kindred spirits there who understood and encouraged a passion for utilizing the written word.

     I mentioned my experience in meeting with the young man at the Emporia conference in a post on Facebook. And I received a number of responses from people who were inspired by their first conference, who found new writing friends, and who made contact with an established writer who became their mentor. There are so many possible advantages to attending a conference that we sometimes overlook them.

     You can make writing friends who will encourage you, help you, and inspire you to write. You will learn various tips about craft that may help energize and improve your writing immensely. There are often editors, agents, and heads of publishing houses who speak about how the publishing business works, and who provide knowledge that will help you learn the system. You may be able to pitch your novel to an agent who will tell you to submit some chapters. You may meet an editor who is looking for your type of book series. And you'll definitely hear some amazing stories and wonderfully lively conversations from some of the most intelligent, interesting, and observant people you'll ever communicate with. Usually, the energy you take back home with you from attending a conference will carry you for a long time in your writing.

     I'll be attending two more conferences this year: The Public Safety Writers' Association conference in Las Vegas, 7/12-15, where my latest novel, The Sacrifice, will be launched by Oak Tree Press (Illinois), and where I'll participate in two panels, and the Kansas Writers' Association yearly conference in Salina, Kansas, October 5-7, where I'll make two presentations and be on a panel.

     And I know I'll learn some good writing tips, meet fascinating people in the writing world, learn some new ideas on promoting and marketing one's work, make some new friends, establish a few contacts with whom I can exchange ideas and suggestions about writing in the future, and just have a wonderful time learning, laughing, and having fun with lively and vibrant people.

    You can obtain all these hidden values and more from attending writers' conferences. Look some up at or at There should be some not that far from you at a reasonable price. Consider the many things you can take away from attending one, and then make your decision. There are a vast array of precious ideas, contacts, and inspirational messages you'll be attaining there. Save your pennies and treat yourself to a fantastic experience.


IC Enger said...

You are right, Mark, the economy has hurt conference attendance. I wonder if some will change to webinars combined with in-person attendance? Webinars allow real time participation from your computer, sights and sounds of the speakers and presentations, but not the "handshake" with other attendees. Still, might be coming. I'll look forward to hearing you at the PSWA conference in a few weeks.

Kat Hinkson said...

My first conference was Scene of the Crime in Kansas (it bounces between Topeka and Witchita). I started out as a wallflower, but conference attendees, speakers, agents and editors made sure I interacted with others and now I'm known as Iowa when I attend. I attend as many conferences as I can a year. I attend all that I can find around here and have traveled as far a Alabama to attend a conference. Stephen and I attend Killer Nashville. And plan to attend a workshop given by Debra Dixon on GMC in Minneapolis at the end of September. I recommend attending all you can and even volunteering to help if you can.

Stephen L. Brayton said...

I did Love is Murder in '07 and Killer Nashville for the last three years. I really enjoy meeting new people and making contacts. Plus, being on a panel is so fun!

Anonymous said...

So often writers feel completely alone. It's a solitary pursuit after all. A conference makes you feel that you are a part of something larger than yourself, and it's great to meet someone who knows your problems and feelings. It's nice to talk to someone intelligently about your profession who can respond specifically instead of just sort of nodding.

--John Brantingham

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I love writers' conferences and I always learn something. This year I've been to Left Coast Crime and in a little over a week I'll be headed to PSWA. I am skipping Bouchercon this years and Left Coast Crime next.

One thing about attending a conference, you'll be inspired to write more.

And like Stephen said, you'll make friends and get to talk about writing with people who understand.

Sunny Frazier said...

While generic conferences are fine, I prefer to spend my money on mystery conventions. They also have writing workshops and such, always a forensic track, but everything is geared to the genre I'm invested in.

Last year, Billie and I only attended one day at Left Coast Crime. I didn't want to be on panels and so we had time to do a bit of sightseeing with my friends down from Tahoe (there's a store in Old Sacramento that sells only salt water taffy!). I didn't sit in on any panels, but we stayed in the lounge area holding court, meeting the new OTP authors and listening to manuscript pitches on the fly. Still got a bookbag full of books, still touched base with all my peers, OTP got well-mentioned in glowing terms on many of the panels. Saved money going the one-day route.