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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