How to Choose the Right Conference

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

One of my favorite things to do for DIY MFA is go to writing conferences. I love meeting other writers, connecting with industry professionals and learning new things about the business as well as the craft.

These days, with so many writing conferences available, it can be tricky to figure out which ones you should attend. Before DIY MFA, my primary challenge when it came to planning my conference schedule was the budget. Writing conferences can be pricey and even the less expensive ones–or those with  à la carte options–can add up.

Aside from managing your conference budget, you also have to manage your conference time. After all, inspiring and valuable as these events may be, every day you spend at a conference is probably a day when you won’t do much writing. Taking a few days away from your craft now and then is not a big deal. But if you commit to several events back-to-back, losing all that writing time will put a serious dent in the progress that you make on your current writing project.

There are thousands of options available these days: workshops, literary readings, retreats, conferences, and trade shows. With so many choices, how do you know that the conference you’ve selected is the right one? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Figure out your conference goals.

Before you start signing up for events left and right, think about what you want to get out of a conference. Depending on where you are in a project or in your career as a writer, conferences can serve different purposes. Here are a few examples.

Do you have a manuscript that’s ready to submit? If so maybe a more publishing-focused event is the best bet because you’ll learn about the industry directly from agents and other professionals, and you may even get a few leads for where to send your book. Events that include a “first pages” workshop or pitch-slam session give you the opportunity to get your work in front of actual agents and get their direct feedback. While none of this guarantees publication, it can be a very informative experience.

On the other hand, suppose you’ve only recently started writing. In this case, a better conference for you might be something that will get you inspired and motivated to go home and keep writing. Look for conferences with inspiring keynote speakers, like the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Winter conference in New York. Or you may also want to consider a retreat-style conference where you get ample writing time and workshops where you get feedback not just from faculty but other conference attendees (the Southampton Writer’s Conference is a great example).

Some conferences are what I like to call “multi-purpose” events because they can serve writers with different goals. A great example of this is the Backspace Writer’s Conference (coming up in May) and the Writer’s Digest Conference (happening this weekend). These conferences have multiple tracks with two or three sessions at at the same time. This allows you to select sessions and customize the experience to suit your goals.

Consider the logistics.

I’m lucky in that I live in New York City, where many of the big industry conferences take place. This means that I don’t have to travel far to get to these events and in the evening, I can hop on a subway and head back to my home for dinner and sleep. For many writers, though, going to conferences isn’t just about the investment of the conference itself but of all the travel expenses involved as well. This means that you’ll want to consider these logistics in addition to the cost of the conference itself.

There is some good news, though: even if you don’t live near New York, don’t assume that there won’t be a writing conference in your area. Some big organizations like AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) and RWA (Romance Writers of America) move their national conferences from city to city each year so it’s possible that a big conference will come to your area sooner than you think.

Also, don’t underestimate the quality of local chapters and their events. Organizations like RWA, SCBWI, and other writing organizations  have local or regional chapters and many of these groups will conduct conferences or events of their own. This is a great way to get that conference experience but with more intimate groups, more individual attention and less travel.

Conferences are always more fun when you go with friends.

It’s so much more fun to attend conferences when someone you know will be there. Right now, I’m scheduled to speak at a couple of upcoming conferences. If you’re going to any of these events, let me know in the comments because I’d love to meet you! Here are the events I’ve currently got scheduled.

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