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Writing Conferences in the 21st Century: Are they worth the cost?

Yes. If you can afford it.

Recently, an author’s agent stated that each agent at her agency receives upwards of 200 queries per day!  Agents and publishers are now flooded with queries in epic proportions. The nice thing is that they acknowledge that it’s almost impossible to fairly assess a writer’s talent with just one query in a pile of thousands in one month.  So if you’ve received a form letter like this recently, don’t take it personally, and most certainly don’t throw in the towel.

Benefits of Attending a Writer’s Conference

Attending the right conference can get you a face to face meeting with an agent or publisher.  In person impressions is a very strong option to at least pitch your work.  It’s hard for an agent or publisher to take a chance on a random query in an inbox of over 1,000 in one week, as opposed to hearing your passionate novel premise in person.  It is even more difficult for someone to be as invested in your vision as writer if they’ve never met you.  So, if only for the reason of being able to meet agents or publishers in person, I’d say attending the right conference can be beneficial.

I was recently invited to attend an academic conference unrelated to my writing.  To my surprise, there were several vendors of small university presses selling academic books.  Though I hadn’t planned it, I took a chance, and  pitched my novel to one of the publishers. Right on the spot, I was invited to submit my manuscript to a publisher that accepts fiction by invitation only.  What did I learn from that experience? There are more roads to getting published than just one, and that ultimately, my fate as a successful writer is fueled by my own initiative, not solely depending on an agent to get me there.  

Conferences also act as a great way to learn more about the current writing market, although you can just as easily get this information on the internet or through writer’s magazines. At a writer’s conference, you can meet other emerging writers like yourself, and hear how they were able to get their debut novels published.  If anything, the social contact with other writers can fuel a great boost of motivation.  With the current market the way it is, it can be a hard road to publish without some kind of writing support from others.

Alternative to Not so Affordable Conferences

As far as the price of writing conferences…This week I researched the cost of upcoming conferences within my state of California.  The average prices are starting at $400 up to $1,300. These prices don’t include lodging or travel expenses.  Personally, I know very few writers that can afford this kind of investment, unless they are invited to be on a panel.  And for writers with families, attending a writing conference is almost impossible.  What is the alternative?

Start a writing group.  Take a few months to get an established attendance, then research to see if there are any literary agents or publishers in your area. Invite one of them to meet with your group.  I know this sounds unprecedented, but an established writing circle can accomplish many things.  Make it worth their while. Serve up a nice brunch. Or if they can’t make it out, offer to host a skype conference.  Be creative. You’d be surprised at how some of the more local presses may be willing to spend an hour or two to offer advice to serious writers.

Finding the ‘Right’ Conference

  • Go online to research each agent, publisher, & writer who will be presenting at the conference or hosting panels.  See if they are the kind of people who would even match up with your genre of writing. If you write romance novels, and the conference panelists represent sci-fi/fantasy or crime novels, you’ll have a better chance of finding a date than an agent (if you’re into the Lord of the Rings type of partner).
  • While checking the publishers or agents web pages, make sure that they are currently accepting submissions.  After meeting an agent or publisher, you may be invited to submit your work in person.  However, I have heard that many agents/publishers present at conferences, and then writers go online to submit their work post-conference only to find that these same agents or publishers aren’t accepting submissions. 
  • A few conferences have sliding scale and/or scholarships.  In order to take advantage of these options, if offered, you want to sign up sometimes months or weeks in advance of the conference dates.   

 If you want a career as a writer, and if you’re in it for the long haul, in this current market, one has to embrace ingenuity, and a sense of boldness to step forth in the world to be discovered.




I have made one huge deadline, and let me say, it is a feeling of exhilaration to have one project out in the world, and another peeking over the horizon. I have learned that the life of a writer means to never stop writing.  Of course there is the time to take a vacation, or a good break every now and then (I must say, I haven’t had a vacation for a long time). No matter, break or not, there is always a book pacing back and forth in the waiting room of my right brain, anxious for its name to be called forth on the page. 

It is important to recognize that there is a path to publication. For me, I’ve finished one book and it makes sense to keep writing. Publication is only one accomplishment.  A writer’s career takes discipline, focus, most often for many of us, sleep deprivation, and as I’ve stated earlier on, a since of fidelity. Fidelity to create a body of work that has meaning, and a body of work that has room to evolve in the quality and uniqueness of my own voice.  I have been fortunate enough to have veteran writers embrace my work which gives me the nod that my choice to be an accomplished writer is not a matter of chance.  Publishing is not that difficult these days.  The priority for me is to publish stellar work.  That is what longevity as a writer demands, a challenge I welcome with great joy.

Now that I have one book out of the way, there is the e-book to finish cranking out.  I’m excited.  And for those following my blog, thank you so much for your comments and dialogue.  I’ve made a commitment to keep this blog going for all of us.  Writers United!!

The Peak…

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it. …Buddha

The above quote I found in the spectacular book A Life in the Arts by the greatest creative inspirational teacher and writer, Eric Maisel. I say greatest because his writing was the first I discovered that spoke directly to artists who have to struggle to find their way, their voice. I found his book Van Gogh Blues in a tiny used Vancouver bookstore. I had no idea what the book was about, but it changed my writing life, my approach to writing, and most importantly, his words aided me to find my confidence and take ownership of my creative life, because if you don’t do it, no one else will. Many don’t realize how hard it is to do what we do. It takes a unique bravery to create a work from the ground up not knowing when or if we will have any sort of success. And if you don’t have an Eric Maisel art coach living with you, it’s an almost impossible feat.

Self-motivation is the trek up the mountain. But I hear the peak is awesome…

I have found that once a writer knows what it is they truly wish to express within their work, that’s when the work gets done. I think I’ve come to a place of liberation with my craft, where I can now let go of expectations, and just get the writing done with my own signature. I’m no longer attached to finding conventional methods of writing. I have my own quirky rhythm. Even though, since childhood, I’m naturally a night writer, adulthood has meant me having to shift my vampire schedule to write by day if the deadline deems appropriate (it always does). Thus, I have to re-create night as much as I can during the day. I write by day with a candle burning, curtains closed, headphones with appropriate soundtrack music, the Weather Channel is on mute on my television (don’t ask), and I have a sweet fruit drink that sits on a phenomenal writing desk whose construction mimics the complexity of the Star Trek bridge that I acquired at the local thrift store.

Odd? Maybe.

But since I’m not normally a day time writer, it’s a formula that I’ve stumbled into that works. If I write at night, I lose all sense of time. Night is the safest place to write. If it’s not a Friday night (I live in a college town), then night is the quiet time. No impending appointments. No bills to pay. No nudging feelings that I need to check my email every five minutes because no one is up emailing me in the middle of the night. No gardeners with loud leaf blowers. The dependent is in bed, snoring lightly. I light a candle. Say goodbye to the mundane, and hello to greet the magic of the muse.

No matter how unconventional the flow may seem, I’ve learned to embrace it. It is my own passion for my creative life that has gotten me to that awesome peak…that is the place you need to get, and then you soar.

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