Select the Right Conference for YOU

Sorry peeps, a very rough, and WRONG draft of this post went up this morning. No fear, here’s the right one, take a another look and enjoy.

You  might have heard, but in case you didn’t, I’m hosting my own conference in September. It’s super exciting to plan content, arrange speakers and think about all the aspiring writers who want what I too wanted about 17 years ago: to be PUBLISHED.

I am actually a bit of a conference nut. I love, love, LOVE going to meetings and workshops just to learn and to hang out with like minded folks that have words burning inside their hearts and minds (and who probably are a little nutty too).

But even though I go to a LOT of conferences, there’s a little process to selecting the right ones to attend that I wanted share with you. I mean choosing the right conference for you? How exactly do you decide to not only pay the registration fee, but the airfare, parking, hotel, food and a host of other expenses that can really start to add up?

I’m telling you, it is not easy. The other issue is that so  many conferences sound and look the same- if that’s the case, what to do then?

So, let’s go, here’s a look at things I consider before shelling out the bucks to attend any conference event, as quick as I can ( I mean I am a writer).

Cost – Okay, if you’re rich, this doesn’t matter at all, but most aspiring writers aren’t rich. And even if you are, you should still want great content and information for your whatever amount you’ll pay. Most conferences that are going to be one full day should be kept low, around 100/150 or less just for registration fees alone.

Now if they are INDUSTRY specific, that’s different. Take RWA (that’s the Romance Writer’s of America)- it has thousands of members, and approximately 2500 – 3000 women attend their ONE annual conference event held every year. The registration alone is around $ 500 bucks. I go when it’s near me because that is MY industry. Obviously due to mobility issues, I’m not traveling to Denver and Sacramento, where the conference site has been previously, but if it weren’t for that, I would go because I consider it the one splurge vital overall to my career.

That brings the next factor to consider….

LOCATION – This isn’t so much about distance for me because now a days I’m doing mostly local, for the rest of you, here’s a short list of added expenses (beyond registration) if something is not near you: lodging, meals, gas, airfare, parking, perhaps a rental car, and those pesky miscellaneous expenses like baggage check, tips and incidentals plus other expenses that increase your bottom line. At this stage, if it’s local I am going. But is that the case for you? Is it ultimately worth it? How much will you have to shell out? You need to figure this out before things really start adding up.
Another important thing I’m considering about any conference I will attend: WHO’S COMING? And what will the subject matter (content) be about? Currently with 8 books out, I’m really hard pressed to find a mid-level conference. There’s lots (tons) of beginner offerings and then the offerings seem to skip to those in the advanced level. I’m somewhere on the edge of beginning but not quite in the middle of my career and I find it really hard to get content around breaking out and getting to the next level. So I try to focus on what I need, which is marketing. I never stop learning about CRAFT of course- that’s important to build a solid story (because you have to market something good) but if it’s got a marketing something or other FROM someone who has actually sold a boatload of books, I’m going. If there’s not at least one session on marketing, forget it. Most conferences will have a marketing and promotion session and it’s never too early to think about marketing aspects. You can plan your book better if you think about some of that now!
Other thoughts that go along with content: did you do your research? Who are these people anyway? And where are you on the road to publication? I personally get annoyed by presenters who have yet to publish but are doing workshops (I guess we should learn about how NOT to publish too) but there’s no real experience there. If you’ve yet to publish, you haven’t been judged by the masses on the publishing platforms and had to deal with low sales, marketing, formatting, putting an actual book together, editing. Also, as a teacher, experience is what we’re teaching (and hopefully what you’re after).
In my own journey to success, I’m finding out everything I possibly can about the industry not only for myself but so I can relate it back to you and you shouldn’t expect any less from any other instructor particularly if you’re paying to have a seat. If as you consider any conference, people lack the credentials you want to learn about, why are we even here?
I realize some of this sounds harsh but at the end of the day, it’s your money and with so many conferences on writing available, you’ll need some real criteria in which to weed out the duds.
So those are my top three considerations. The next two are important but not as much overall.
The availability of NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES -Remember this is based on content. Are you looking to network with other aspiring authors, you can do that at the library or a writers group; or are you looking to meet someone (publisher, editor, agent or publicist) that can really help you get to the next level, whatever that is for you?
I love to meet people that can help me and my career get to the next level but what I’m NOT crazy about is all the smiling and talking that you have to do in order to make a real effort at networking. We’re writers, we work alone and if we don’t like what’s happening on the page, we hit the delete button or save and close. Being trapped in a large room with lots of different people can be torture for some of us.
But if you’re gonna go, you gotta make the effort and the eye contact. Here’s a prime example, I went to a conference I’ve been to for a couple of years and each time it goes down a tad in my estimation. I’ve always thought this event needed some umph, but here I was, I’m going to go again because at the end of the day, conference is part feed or ointment to my mental health, too. I use it as a refueling mechanism to keep going and to gain encouragement and to draw on the energy and the enthusiasm of those many ideas being shared and the camaraderie had.
So, at this one, I met the editor of a newspaper, she led a workshop, and either someone had told her about me and/or she mentioned that I was in the paper a couple of years ago for something small and of course I was like yep, I had been. Nice of you to remember…hee hee. (I’d like to be in in the paper again, I thought to myself).
We talked and I’m doing my stay engaged here thing and lo and behold I’m getting a feature in a local publication. Those don’t come by just sitting at home, you also have to be visible and get out and smile A LOT. Now this opportunity would not have happened had I not attended. This conference was also local, and it cost me nothing more than some gas, and my Saturday. Some networking opportunities and relationships are built but often start out very small.
If you get nothing else out of it, hob nob, schmooze, get some business cards and then follow up just to say hello. I admit, I am super awful at the follow up part but it’s a part of every sector of life, writing or not, and it’s almost unavoidable.
With that said, here’s one caution, IF you know you are not good at networking, skip it so you don’t leave a bad impression. But know that you can’t skip this part forever, it may be worth getting some coaching or some personal feedback through Toastmasters, a public speaking coach or what have you, to build confidence, know what to say, how to start a conversation and converse with others.
The final thing I consider about conferences is simply IS THIS MY GENRE? or a better way to frame that is How much of the content is about my genre?  This is last because it’s also something you should have already considered, and for me it’s part of the content AND the “who will be there?” that I already spoke about. IF ITS IN YOUR GENRE, Go, go and GO, no matter what. If that’s what you write and that conference has the name of exactly that in its title, um why are we even discussing this? Much like the RWA for me and my “romance” writing career, it’s just a duh!
Hope you learned some new ways to evaluate whether or not you should attend the next conference that pops up. Don’t forget, if you’re local to the DC, Maryland and Virginia area, come join me for my annual Publishing Summit this September 2018. Please check out our visiting faculty right here, and now you can decide (with these new tips) if this is the right event for you.


Below, a quick little something you can cut, paste and print out to answer some questions  in hopes this will help you zero in on the goals/costs/pros/cons and both desire-ability and necessity to attend the next upcoming conference (even my own) or not.

My genre Yes / No

Location near /far? Costs: _________________

Meals included or On Your Own -Possible cost if on your own?

Other expenses I’ll have to pay out of pocket


List three reasons you want to go?

List three reasons you can justify NOT going? Are those good enough

  1. __________________________________________  Good enough? Yes No Why?
  2. __________________________________________  Good enough? Yes No Why?
  3. __________________________________________  Good enough? Yes/ No Why?

List three things I want/need to learn

  1. __________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________

What’s a burning question I need clarification on?

Who is one person I want to meet and why

Who can I make contact with before I go?

Lastly, a few tips

  • Always see if you need to be a member of something else (usually another professional writing organization) to get the added discount – go ahead and join for a year if you do, if both the organization, and the conference aren’t that great, well you’re only signed up (usually, so check) for a year
  • There is often early bird pricing, don’t miss the deadline to save even more
  • Always ask about ride/room sharing on Facebook Groups that you may be part of or through the conference planners themselves or on other e-lists – who else is going – as you may be able to carpool, share a taxi/shuttle service or even a room if you know someone
  • Look for discounts/book early
  • Read the refund policy. Many of today’s registrations for events do not give you back all of your money unless illness/death/family emergency, so read the fine print, there may be administrative fees gobbled up before you get the rest of your refund
  • Knowing someone in the area you can stay with is always a plus that will cut down on expenses leaving you with only having to pay registration
  • Research, research, research, local eateries, sights, and other things to do while you’re there so you don’t miss out, And many authors nowadays are planning their own version of a Meet-Up, and also arranging speaking engagements and talks. It’s a good way to connect with local readers, find new fans and have people come out and bring their friends to chat, eat, sight see.
  • I always think any author with a book out should see about arranging a signing or doing a workshop in the area. There will always be down time so call and see what you can arrange ahead of time with the local bookstore, women’s group, school, etc. This is a little extra work sometimes but so worth it.
  • Consider introducing yourself to some key people a few weeks before the conference, give them a heads up, say I’m coming to this event, I’d love to meet you and talk about…? There is nothing worse than finding out all who were attending and then thinking “Wow, I missed them!”


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