Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Reasons to Pack Your Bags and Get Thee to a Writers Conference

by Sophie Perinot

I am a big advocate of attending writers’ conferences.  Being a stay-at-home book mama can make the world shrink to an unbearably small size—with all the depression and obsessing over minutia which that entails.  Packing away the yoga pants, packing up your professional duds and heading out to a conference plunks you right down in the big picture again—reminding you that you are not the only crazy nut writing a book and why you really do love what you do.  Need a little more persuading?  Here are three reasons you should be registered for a writing conference in the next 12 months: 
Conferences have more than pretty locations to recommend them

1) Conferences put the big-C in “C” Community.  It is a massive battery-recharge to realize that you are part of something bigger than yourself.  If you've selected your conference with care it’s like jumping into a pool of warm-fuzzies.  I am recently back from the 5th North American Historical Novel Society Conference.  That means I spent 3 days in the company of 300+ people who love reading and writing historical fiction as much as I do.  Um, I am simply not going to run into that many history-nuts at my local Safeway, or pretty much anywhere else.  Everywhere you turn at a writer’s conference you will find people discussing things that interest you and don’t interest 99% of the people who sit at your dinner table or otherwise know you in “real life.”  You will also find support—for your dreams and your work.  Think getting an email from a reader saying how they connected with your book or a good review from a blogger is great?  Well meeting that blogger and exchanging hugs in the lobby, or having dinner next to someone who tells you they just loved your book takes it to a totally different level.   Oh, and when you go (note, I say when not if), don’t forget to give as good as you get.  Be supportive of others—that’s what community means.

2) Even in a world increasingly dominated by virtual gatherings and social media there is no substitute for in person contact when it comes to networking.  We make a different kind of connection when we look people in the eye and shake their hand; a different kind of investment in them.  Much of what we do as authors on facebook, twitter, etc. is sound-bite driven.  Meeting in person allows long-form discussions and the building of relationships rooted in more than quips.  It can put a special sort of seal on relationships begun in the virtual realm.  Think this doesn't matter?  Think again.  When it is time to look for authors to blurb your next book, or when you receive a blurb request personal contact can make the difference between a yes and a no.  When I get a promotional opportunity (e.g. I am asked to present somewhere) I know that the more authors the bigger the audience draw, and who do I reach out to for those additional panelists—people I consider as friends as well as colleagues.  When you need a critique partner, folks you've met at writers conferences often fill the bill.  Three of my critique partners are authors I met at past HNS Conferences, and at the 2013 Conference I met a flourishing writers group formed at the 2011 event.

3) A good conference packs an educational punch.  The best writers conferences have content appropriate to all ages and stages of the book parent, from those looking to find a midwife (agent) to those juggling the demands of toddler books while gestating the next book baby.  I am not saying you can’t learn about the publishing business, craft, or industry trends in other ways.   I am asserting that you can get more information—often from top industry professionals and household-name authors in your genre—in a shorter period of time.  That’s because a good writers’ conference is focused on bringing attendees the information most useful to them and cramming it into two or three days of panels and speeches.  The conference planners have done a lot of your work for you—vetting panel topics, selecting speakers, filtering out the noise and nonsense and presenting you with the most up-to-date information possible.

Finally, a word about cost.  I know a lot of writers who have yet to attend a conference because conferences represent an expense (often a significant one).  If I were going to add a fourth point to my list it would be this—you are worth it.   A few years ago I heard an industry speaker (yes, at a writers’ conference) say that writers—and female writers in particular oh book-mamas out there—often hesitate to invest in themselves before they are actually earning money with their writing.  His point—writing is a small business and all small businesses have start-up costs.  You have to invest in your professional development to give yourself the best chance of making it in this tough business.

So get thee to a writers’ conference.  It’s going to be a transformative experience.  I promise.

Sophie Perinot (right) networking at a conference with book-bloggers
and fellow Book Pregnant author Nancy Bilyeau (2nd from left)
Sophie Perinot is the author of The Sister Queens(NAL/Penguin, March 2012) a novel of sisterhood set in the 13th century. Her debut was widely well-reviewed and made a number of “best of 2012” lists.  When Sophie is not chauffeuring one of her three kids or lint rolling the hair of one of her three cats she is hard at work on a new novel novel set in 16th century France. 


  1. Great post! The only conference I've been to before was AWP, and it just felt a little too big and overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions for which conferences are the best and where to find them?

    1. I think this really depends on your genre. If they are available I am a huge fan of conferences that break writers down in that way--allowing for more in common and more relevant market information. For historical fiction The Historical Novel Society bi-annual conference is "the" event. I believe a lot of thriller writers to to "Thriller Fest." Romance writers have RWA. Ask those you are in touch with who also write for your market niche--they should be able to advise you.

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