When examining the needs to improve your craft, the investment in conferences, intensives, retreats, and local workshops become important tools in career development. What stage are you in your work? Beginner (know nothing about the industry) Pre-published (been writing and need to deepen your knowledge of craft in characters, plot, dialogue, querying, submitting, etc.) Advanced Pre-published (had professional critiques, attended seminars and conferences, and are submitting manuscripts to agents and editors) or Published. Each stage requires different support and direction. A writer’s budget only has so much for education and you need to be very clear about your goals and writing education objectives.
These are typically smaller conferences (200 people and under) within a commute distance of where you live, perhaps put on by a nonprofit such as a university or SCBWI and done by volunteers, or another writing organization or group, or perhaps a for profit entity of professional writers, or literary agency. Pay close attention to the speakers, the topics, the ability to get a personal critique on your work, and the accessibility of speakers in casual events. Often at regional events, you have the ability to interact more closely with the conference organizers, the speakers, your colleagues and others that can provide guidance. Being one writer among two hundred writers for community and conversation can be better than one writer among twelve hundred writers.
These conferences are large, over a few days, and can be overwhelming, but the selection of speakers and topics are far greater than a regional conference. National conferences are also 5 – 15 times more costly as you may incur travel, food, hotel, and other expenses. At these conferences you have the opportunity to participate in focused topic sessions with a smaller group (25-50) for an additional fee, which provides you with an in-depth study of a specific craft topic for a half day or full day. Additionally, a critique at these conferences potentially exposes you to a broader range of editors, agents, published authors, and publishers. It’s best to come with a community such as members of your critique group or your local SCBWI chapter colleagues or associate with a community event held at the conference so you don’t walk the conference halls alone (unless you prefer that). Associating with others gives you the chance to share notes from workshops you were unable to attend (as no workshop recordings are sold or shared). Large conferences provide you with an overall market and trends update, plus you can observe the writing and author styles that appeal to you to follow.
Both types of conferences are helpful in your growth as a writer. Remember to plan your conference objectives, stick to them, and be sure to identify at least three take-aways from the conference that you will act on immediately in your work. Otherwise you’ll just end up with a stack of conference folders and an empty wallet.