I’m a big fan of author education, and there’s no better way to further your book marketing and publicity success than taking a class or two. But even better than that is a chance to immerse yourself in your industry via a writers conference!
With writers conferences finally returning to in person, now is a good time to start planning your next event. And though I loved that many of these events still happened virtually, there’s nothing like meeting other writers and industry professionals in person.
Sadly, many authors attend writers conferences for the wrong reasons. I often hear authors say, “I’m going to land an agent.” And while it does happen that an author finds an agent at a writers conference, it’s rare.
What Should You Expect?
Well, that really depends on the event. So first, I recommend you review all the classes offered before deciding to commit to something. Some conferences focus only on craft, while others are more heavily marketing-focused, so it depends on the event itself. Don’t get pulled in by some flashy headline if the speaker tracks and content aren’t appealing to you. I suggest finding at least four sessions that you feel are worthwhile before plunking down the money. You’ll probably want to take more classes, but four is a good start. That’ll give you enough time to network, maybe take in an agent meeting or two (if that’s something you want to do), as well as attend keynotes and luncheon speakers.
If you’re attending an event just to meet an agent (or two), make sure that there are agents attending the event who handle your genre. That can be a big disappointment if you base going to the event solely on finding an agent, only to discover that none of them work in your particular genre.
Types of Conferences
As I mentioned above, there are literally as many writers conferences as there are genres (well, almost). There are romance-specific events, mystery and thriller events, and even writers conferences geared to lawyers who write fiction. And you’d be surprised how many attorneys we’ve worked with over the years who write fiction!
So first and foremost, start digging through some events and maybe even consider attending events outside your genre. Let me explain.
I’ve spoken for Romance Writers of America multiple times, which always puts on a great conference. And though I write in non-fiction, I always find their classes helpful. I know a lot of authors who attend events outside of their genre, like fantasy authors who go to Thriller Fest and on and on. The point is, though the sessions will be very geared to the specific event genre, you could glean a lot from attending these events if the tracks seem appealing to you.
How to Find the Right Conference for You
You can start on Google, but magazines like The Writer always have a monthly listing of events (and it’s pretty extensive). Also, any local writer’s group may be linked to events that may also appeal to you.
What Are Your Book Marketing and Publicity Goals?
A big piece of deciding on what kind of events to go to will depend on your goals. If you’re looking to sell your manuscript to a publisher, you’ll want an event with many agent appointments. But if education is your interest, you’ll want to identify what you want to learn. Do you need to get more versed in social media? Are you interested in getting more influencers to review your book? Want to know more about how to work the Amazon algorithm? Knowing what you’d like to learn will help you decide which event to attend.
Hybrid vs. In-Person (and why you want to purchase conference recordings)
Some events still offer a blend of in-person and virtual, though not all – and some have gone all virtual for the foreseeable future. So if you can’t afford to take time off to attend, that’s definitely another option. Though it’s such a great investment to attend in person, so I highly recommend it whenever you can.
Most conferences record sessions, and I encourage authors to get a set of recordings. Why? You miss stuff, even when you attend sessions in person. Also, you may hear of sessions that you didn’t get to attend, so it’s always good to have recordings to listen to later!
Now that you’ve booked your writer’s conference, let’s get ready to make the most of it.
- Join the conference Facebook group: This is a great way to start networking early and get to know some of the speakers, topics, and attendees.
- Bring business cards: You don’t have to spend a lot of money creating these, but bring something professional looking that you can hand out.
- Collect business cards: Also make sure that you note on the back where you met the person and briefly take down what you discussed.
- Be prepared to talk about yourself: I know this is tricky for many authors. We live in our world, and networking is hard, but the better prepared you can be, the easier this will flow. Here are a few things you should be ready to talk about:
- What kinds of books do you write? Get very clear on your genre; not knowing what genre you write in is the #1 way to look like an amateur.
- Describe them in one succinct sentence.
- If you’re writing non-fiction, what are your qualifications?
- Bring swag if you have it: Swag can be anything from bookmarks to character trading cards – swag is optional but if you have it, bring it.
- Hit the bar: Some of the best conversations happen after the last session, so be sure and stop by the hotel bar and don’t be afraid to tee up a conversation or two while you’re there – just don’t, you know, partake too heavily. This is a work event, not a vacation.
- Never sit alone: It’s easy to want to sit alone during lunch or dinner but don’t, and most events won’t let you anyway. You’ll be seated at a table of eight or ten, generally. Also, don’t sit with the same people all the time. Get to know as many other writers and speakers as you can.
- Don’t hog a speaker’s time: This is from personal experience. As a speaker attending events, I can tell you that being courteous to others who want to chat with a speaker, whether after a session or during a meal, will be greatly appreciated by not just the speaker but other writers who want a chance to ask some questions.
Writers conferences come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be a fantastic way to learn about your craft, dig into more book marketing and publicity, and network with other authors in your same boat. It can be both inspiring and career-building if done right!
Have you attended a conference you loved? Tell us about it in the comments!
Here are a few I love:
San Francisco Writers Conference
Emerald City Writers Conference
Southern California Writers Conference
(there are literally hundreds more, so this is just a small smattering of ones I’ve spoken at and really enjoyed!)
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