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Are Writing Conferences Worthwhile? -- by Karla Brandenburg

Are writing conferences worthwhile?

The answer is an overwhelming YES!.

I have to tell you, I always enjoy going to the Chicago Spring Fling, and more recently, I attended the Writer's Police Academy. 

There are always fun little snippets that come out of the Spring Fling, from Sonali Dev talking about "heartgasmMe and Robyn Carrs, you know, when you heart engages and maybe triggers a little something down there..." to Robyn Carr talking about "I'm perfectly willing to write crap" (i.e., its better to write ANYTHING than nothing at all). One of my favorite lines was Molly O'Keefe, who was doing a session on how to write a sex scene. They'd moved her conference room and someone came in late, so she said, "this is the sex workshop. Are you here for sex?" The secret to a good sex scene, by the way, isn't in the mechanics, it's in the rest of it - why is it there and what's at stake rather than a gratuitous show of flesh.

But that's some of the silliness. Conferences provide interesting market views, pointers, and writing workshops. One group of authors shared their brain child, a model that no one else will be able to replicate, but it was interesting to see how they pulled it off. And then of course there's the networking. Meeting new people, rubbing elbows with some of the big leaguers, being with people who understand your journey.

Did I mention the publishers and agents? Most conferences offer "pitch sessions," a chance to speak to a publisher or agent of your choice (among those attending). It's an inside view into the industry and what works, what doesn't, and where your work fits (or doesn't). Because I'm starting a new series this year, I had something fresh to pitch, and whereas first timers are generally nervous and shaking in their boots, having been through this a time or two (yes, I was still nervous), I find myself asking more questions about who they are and what they can do for me. It was a fun conversation! (And yes, she liked my pitch, so we'll see what she thinks after reading more of the latest work in progress.)

Writers Police AcademyThe Writer's Police Academy is a hands-on, action-packed demonstration for writers of how first responders work. They stage scenarios (is this real? or is this for our benefit? It was hard to tell!) that show you what happens when there's a car accident. Who responds. What happens first? Then what happens? What happens during an active shooting? Policemen, firemen, EMTs, K9 officers, flight for life helicopters, private investigators, all of them are right there, available to answer questions and happy to do so. I learned how to do an IV, how to intubate, and got to crawl around SWAT vehicles.

Conferences provide a wealth of information, everything from fine-tuning your craft, to getting the details right, to publication and marketing. They are absolutely worth your time and effort, and if nothing else, they reinforce that you are not in this alone. These are your people. Your tribe. They get you in a way no one else does, and they support your journey.

Karla is the author of 10 romantic suspense novels, some of them with supernatural elements. To find out more about her work, visit her website at

Twitter@AuthorKarlaB and Facebook

Posted by Karla Brandenburg 4 Oct 2016 at 01:26
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Responses to this blog

Sunami 5 Oct 2016 at 03:08  

I usually go to a conference every two years. Yes, they are costly, but you learn so much that you cannot find in texts. Also, there is nothing like pitching your story or screenplay to people in the industry. When watching the panels of the workshop presenters, I always learn more of the particular industry I'm striving to be part of, as well as secrets that are never mentioned in journals or websites that are supposed to help writers.
I was at a conference this past weekend, and the Hollywood writer who reviewed my screenplay, gave me excellent tips, which I'm incorporating. The agent who wasn't too keen on my dialogue-only novella, gave me good ideas for alternative markets and who to approach next. A workshop presenter gave me a specific website that will help me researching my beginning novel. This is why going to a conference has its merits. Those are the only places we can tailor our questions that apply to OUR stories.

Not to mention meeting and talking to attendees feels so good because they understand why I've sacrificed so much.

Sunami Jones

Jsilver 5 Oct 2016 at 11:49  
You have convinced me. The is a crime writers workshop coming up which I was in two minds about. The last one I went to was run by a crusty old writer that lapsed into his memories of growing up. That was a disappointing waste of an afternoon, but it did plant the seed of a story in my imagination. I'm going to give it a go. What they heck right?
Karlabran 5 Oct 2016 at 14:37  
good luck, Sunami Jones! The information you can pick up is invaluable, as well as making new friends who "get you" and your journey.
Karlabran 5 Oct 2016 at 14:38  
Bowgaurd, workshops will probably be different from conferences. Conferences have workshops within them, usually many that you can pick and choose. That way if you run into a crusty old writer who isn't doing it for you, you can move onto another workshop that might be more helpful.
Rellrod 6 Oct 2016 at 16:55  
I'm interested, but I've never been to one. Is there a way to find out about conferences in your area?

Karlabran 6 Oct 2016 at 18:10  
If you have any industry mags, they usually have a section in the back. Or Google is always your friend (i.e., mystery writers conference, MyTown, MyState)
Sunami 6 Oct 2016 at 23:24  

Shaw's guide on the web is the best to find conferences, in every state and country. It also narrows it down to genres.
Desertphil 17 Dec 2016 at 16:06  
I have found that writer's conferences cost a staggering amount of money—- far more than this cowboy is paid. Santa Fe used to have two writer's conferences but they were both discontinued because few people could afford to attend.

The only reason to attend writer's conferences, as far as I saw, was to network with other writers; presenters seldom offered anything new that most writers did not already know, or could not find out for a tiny fraction of the cost of the conference.
Giglio 17 Dec 2016 at 17:51  
I'm interested, but I've never been to one. Is there a way to find out about conferences in your area?

Many universities have writing centers that sponsor conferences and workshops. Iowa is prominent.

You meet people. That's key. When I attended a one-day event in Madison, WI, it was intense and rewarding. I actually learned POV!

Aigerim 31 Dec 2016 at 11:34  
I am planning on going to one next summer. I think it's worth it if you're inexperienced still and want tips on writing. I prefer the ones that critique your work! c:

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