Writer's Notes

Conferences: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Conferences by Laurel S. Peterson

Peterson Shadow Notes Cover compressedBy Laurel S. Peterson

First, thanks so much, Thonie, for having me on your blog. I’m delighted to be here.

The number of conferences available to writers is legion, and figuring out how to choose among them can be overwhelming, especially if you’re at all like me: an introvert who prefers the company of close friends and family, work and the big brown eyes of my Labrador Retriever! I offer the following comparison among three types of conferences as a way of thinking about what might work for you.

The Literary Conference
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) holds the mother of all literary conferences once a year, usually in the spring. It has grown so large that it now takes a convention center to host, and it brings in major literary writers from all over the U. S. Recent featured speakers have included Jaqueline Woodson, Azar Nafisi, and Colum McCann.

Its size makes it both intimidating and approachable. As an introvert, you can get lost in the massive crowds, going from panel discussion to presentation to book fair without anyone noticing—which can be either lonely or a relief. On the plus side, the panel discussions are often intimate, and provide opportunities to talk with both the writers on the panel and the conference attendees. Large conferences also offer fabulous speakers; it’s fun to listen to writers talk about their own work and to get insight into their creative processes. AWP also has an incredible book fair. Focused on small presses, it’s a football field’s worth of interesting books to explore by wonderful writers you might never have heard of. If for no other reason, the conference is worth this.

In addition to on-site events, there are lots of off-site readings and presentations, frequently hosted by MFA programs or small presses. The conference fee is cheaper if you join AWP, and joining gets you access to a great website with interesting articles and resources about writing, job postings in creative writing, editing, etc., and places to send your work.

The Genre Conference
Genre-focused conferences, like Bouchercon or Thrillerfest, are useful for genre writers, in the same way as the literary conference. They provide an opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise encounter, give you a chance to hear writers talk about their processes and publishing issues, and to peruse books by authors you might not see in your local bookstore or on Amazon. I have also found genre conferences to be much friendlier than literary conferences. The writers are more willing to talk to anyone—regardless of pedigree. Perhaps this is due to the difference in market; that is, the market for genre works is so much wider that genre writers perceive everyone as a potential reader.

Their panels are also focused specifically on the craft you are practicing, so the tips are immediately applicable to your writing efforts. while I’m often too tired to write during a conference, I do find myself jotting notes about how to approach my work once I recover!

The Working or Experiential Conference
My favorite conference is The Writers’ Police Academy, which is run by ex-police officer Lee Lofland. Everyone who attends is writing (it’s not a mixed fan/writer conference, like Bouchercon), so they are all interested in the information provided by the experts: firefighters, police officers, federal enforcement officers of various flavors—even canine officers—as well as forensics experts, psychologists, and so on. Because it is small and everyone stays in the same hotel and eats together, it is easy to make friends and to talk to the professionals, who join in with the festivities. Sisters in Crime (SinC) offers a discount to its membership, and SinC offers so many other benefits besides this that the membership is worth it whether you go to this conference or not.

Other conferences focusing on craft are also useful. Attendees are usually united in their desire to help themselves and be supportive of each other. My graduate alma mater, Manhattanville College, holds a Summer Writers’ Week that is grounded in a daily morning workshop. Afternoons are comprised of craft talks, publishing panels, and time to write before one returns to the workshop the following morning. Of the three, I find these working conferences the most useful, although I recognize that the other two are useful in terms of marketing one’s work once it has made its way into the world.

The other factor, of course, is money. None are cheap, and without employer support for professional development, I probably would not have attended nearly as many as I have. Even so, I always end up spending more money than I get back. So, the question is whether you get value for your money. I would suggest deciding beforehand what you want from the conference: is it to network? is it to connect with your market or a publisher? Go to AWP or Bouchercon (or its kin). Is it to work on your own writing or voice? Then an experiential conference is probably what you’re looking for. Being open makes a difference, as the surprise interactions, meet-ups, and discoveries are part of the fun. No matter which you finally choose, it’s an investment in your writing career.


Getting some great ideas about your next conference? Leave a comment, let us know!



www.utechristinphotography.comLaurel S. Peterson is a Professor of English at Norwalk Community College. She has written a mystery novel, Shadow Notes (Barking Rain Press), two poetry chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds (Finishing Line Press) and Talking to the Mirror (Last Automat Press), and a full-length collection, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer You? (Futurecycle Press). She currently serves as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s Poet Laureate. You can find her at, on Twitter: @laurelwriter49, or on Facebook.
You can purchase her mystery novel Shadow Notes here: Buy and her poetry, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? here: Buy.

Other useful links:
Writer’s Police Academy:
Sisters in Crime:
Manhattanville College Summer Writer’s Week:



Writer's Notes

Writer’s Notes: Conferences

By Thonie Hevron


Conference pic
Thonie at the 2014 Redwood Writers Pen to Published Conference

December is an exciting month. The anticipation builds all month of Christmas, Hanukah or whatever holiday you celebrate. Gift-giving, family traditions, religious celebration are all part of it. But there’s another side of December that most people don’t think about: writers planning career strategies. December/January is a time when most people set new resolutions to change their lives. Be it losing weight, asking for a promotion, or planning a new book, these days authors need to think about their futures.

What’s in your personal inventory that needs improvement? Do you have a craft issue? Afraid of marketing? Are you searching for an agent, editor, or publisher?

Finding the right writing conference could help you find solutions to your problems. Almost everything I know, I learned from other writers, especially at conferences. Where better to get help than from other writers?

If you’ve ever researched a conference, you know there are many kinds. Laurel S. Peterson (her post appears on 12/15) talks about the different types. Her perspective is as an introvert—aren’t all writers mostly introverted? You’ll definitely find something to help. On 12/5, Christina Hoag give an overview of the most popular events—coast to coast. When I read her post, I changed my plans. You might, too.


Redwood Writers Conference for 2018 will be on April 21st. Click on the link below for further information.

Donna Schachter (12/22) and Michelle Drier (12/29) will have something to offer as well. In January, Gil Mansergh, former Director of the California Writers Club Conference at Asilomar for seven years, has written an honest perspective of the realities of what conferences advertise, what they really provide, and what writers at different skill levels can learn by attending. Nancy J. Cohen will chime in as well in January with fabulous advice on how to choose the right conference as well as some resources.


Where to find conferences? Word of mouth, your writer’s community (club, critique group, etc.), online: Google ‘Writers Conferences’ but your best bet is peer recommendations. Even if you’re a new author, identify those in your literary community and let them guide you. They have a better sense of your writing needs than the internet does.

How do conferences work? A lot of conferences have “tracks” which are topics you can choose and follow through the event. For instance, popular tracks are “genre,” “craft,” “platform & promotion,” “the business of writing,” and “getting published.” It’s not mandatory to stay within a track for the duration, though you want to be sure about this before sending in your money. Some events are strict while others use it as a guideline.

They’re expensive, aren’t they? There are ways around spending a fortune at conferences, but I haven’t found them yet. Okay, you can stay at a less pricey hotel (or if you have friends or relatives in the area) but that detracts from the experience. There’s a comradery between attendees who sweat through the same pitch sessions or learn earth-shattering lessons from the same presenters. Plus, you never know with whom you’ll share the elevator. Ever heard of the elevator pitch? You won’t get the opportunity if you’re staying with Aunt Sally.

You must weigh the expenditure against the experience you hope to gain.

My first big event was the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was the big time—I pitched to Donald Maass and several other top tier agents. I prepared myself ahead of time by practicing my pitch. After attending my small Redwood Writers Conferences, I knew what would to expect. Attending an event with prominent professionals of the literary world was daunting but with preparation, there were few surprises. Okay, at the “Speed-pitching” event, the agent who specialized in film rights listened politely to my twenty-second pitch, thought for a moment, then said, “Hm, woman in jeopardy. It’s been done. Next!” His rudeness went into my arsenal for developing a thicker skin. I still have many professional relationships that began in San Francisco in 2011.

PSWA header4My favorite conference is smaller and more reasonable. The Public Safety Writers Association holds a 4-day event every year in Las Vegas. It’s where I met my first publisher. It’s intimate yet not cliquish. Welcoming and–well, you’ll hear more from Conference Director Mike Black in January.

I could go on and on about conferences but next Friday (in December and January) will begin presentations from seven other authors with their perspectives.

One last thing—do it. You may not get an agent or publisher, but what you learn should increase your craft and experience.

That’s vital in today’s publishing scene.


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