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I think a writing conference is one of the best investments a newer writer can make. (The best other ideas? A class that forces you to write, reading great writers, and participating in an active critique group.) A writers conference allows you to meet other writers and find out how they do things. It’s a great chance to network with authors, meet editors, get introduced to agents, and discover what’s going on in the industry. Consider a writing conference an introduction to publishing — something that’s hard to get anywhere else. Talking with several published authors might be one of the most effective ways of learning the process of moving from pre-published to published. You’ll find workshops on specialty topics that you would be hard-pressed to find a book on, as well as people who have walked the path ahead of you. Besides, a conference is usually a fun time, hanging out with other people who love words.
There are good conferences all over the country, and spread throughout the year. Some organizations sponsor conferences (Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers have two of the best writing conferences in the country), many universities have writing conferences (check your local colleges), and there are plenty of independent conferences at hotels, retreat centers, and on campuses. Simply googling “writing conferences” will get you enough information to get started. I think every new writer will benefit from a conference.
Some thoughts on getting the most out of a conference… Plan out a schedule before you get there. Make selections about the workshops and classes you want to attend, and if it turns out not to be great, feel free to change to another class. Set some basic goals for what you want to accomplish at the conference — who you want to meet, what you want to learn. Make sure your expectations are realistic before attending. If your goal is “to sign with an agent and land my first book deal,” you might be setting the bar a bit high. (You can’t really expect an agent to sign you up after a ten-minute appointment.) Instead, think about taking steps forward — learning things, meeting people, improving your craft. Make appointments with editors and agents, but feel free to simply ask them to review your work and make suggestions for improving.
If you’re bringing a proposal to pitch, spend time polishing it. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make your words sing. The majority of stuff editors will see at a writing conference isn’t really done — it’s started, and the author assumes editors will be able to recognize true genius amidst the half-completed words on the page. You can stand out by having a well-done proposal and sample chapters. And by all means, when you’re at a conference go talk to people. Even if you’re the shy, creative type, make a point of introducing yourself to people at meals, talking over coffee, being part of the discussions in the classes. Finding like-minded writers is one of the best aspects of a writing conference.
Chip MacGregor created MacGregor Literary and has secured more than 1,000 book deals for authors with all of the major publishers in both CBA and ABA. Chip has written more than two-dozen titles, including two books that hit #1 on the bestseller lists in their category. During his tenure as a publisher at Time Warner, he helped the company grow into one of the world’s biggest providers of Christian books to the general market.