Writers Conferences – Worth the Expense?

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 10 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and What Follows After. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take long walks. You can connect with Dan on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest through his website at www.danwalshbooks.com, or get a sneak peek at all his books.
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I’ve got writers conferences on my mind today. Guess that’s because I’m preparing for my next one, the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Coaching Conference in Portland, August 4-7th. I’ll be sharing the final keynote message there, as well as teaching 3 coaching sessions and a workshop. My friend and fellow Novel Rocketer, Allen Arnold, will be the featured keynote speaker for the first 3 main sessions. Quite a few other Novel Rocketers will serve on the faculty. If you live on the West Coast or in the Midwest, you should seriously consider attending. I’ll spend the rest of this blog post explaining why.

Do you need to attend writers conferences if you hope to be published? Is it an absolute necessity? I’d have to say no. I didn’t attend my first conference until after I’d already signed with a literary agent and received a publishing contract for my first two novels. In fact, my first novel, The Unfinished Gift, came out the same month I attended my first conference (ACFW, Sept 2009).
Having said that, this is also true: I’ve interacted with countless writer friends who’ve helped me realize my publishing journey is very unusual (2 of the first 3 agents I contacted wanted to represent me; the one I picked had a contract with a major publisher within 2 months). But I’ve been attending writers conferences ever since that first one in 2009. Over the last 2 years, I’ve been invited to speak and teach at several of them. I’m now a firm believer in their value to a fiction writer’s career. I’ve listened to the publication journeys of so many writers who’d say a writer’s conference was directly responsible for getting their book into print. Many met their agent or grabbed the attention of an editor during one of those oft-dreaded “15 minute appointments.”
Benefits I See in Writer’s Conferences
  • You can read and get a lot of help from reading how-to-write craft books. I certainly did. But you can’t ask questions of the author like you can after every workshop or seminar you attend at a writer’s conference. I find the Q&A sessions to be some of the most valuable learning experiences at a conference.
  • You can’t get a personal critique of your work from a craft book or reading a blog. Many conferences offer paid personal critiques from published professionals. You send them a sample of your work, which they edit before the conference. Then you meet and go over their suggestions. Sometimes you can learn enough from these insights to fix problems laced throughout your book.
  • It’s hard to place a value on the specific kind of fellowship you experience meeting with dozens, even hundreds of other people who totally “get you.” Writers are peculiar people, fiction writers maybe even more so. We look at life differently than most, and feel this inner compulsion to express our thoughts and observations by telling stories. But we’re not content to simply tell these stories out loud. We must write them down. I find it very encouraging whenever I’m around others born with this same compulsion. There is an intangible benefit to this fellowship that, almost by itself, makes it worth the price of the event.
  • Critique groups can certainly be a good thing, but I would see them as a complement to, not a replacement for conferences. Jesus said, “If a blind man leads a blind man they will both fall into a ditch.” There can be a danger receiving input from someone who doesn’t quite know what they’re talking about, but imagines they do. At a writer’s conference, you will be taught by and surrounded by people who actually do know what they’re talking about. That’s a very valuable thing in itself.
I’d like to wrap up with one piece of “foundational” advice (if I have persuaded you to attend a writer’s conference). Don’t go fishing for compliments for your work; go with an expectation to receive correction and valuable advice. God honors that kind of humility.

Imagine that your work, even if it reflects your very best, is only 90% there. The missing 10% that will make it acceptable for publishing lies in the correction, advice and insights you will get from others. You will find that writers conferences are filled with people who can help you with that last 10%.

I’d love to hear from some of you who’ve attended writers conferences already. Share some of your stories, things you learned, fond memories, other benefits I haven’t mentioned, even things newbies should watch out for.