Why Go to a Writers Conference?

I just got back from a week at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference in the redwoods of Northern California. This was my fourteenth time there—I attended five years as a conferee (starting in 1998), then served seven years as a member of the manuscript critique team (five of those years I also led a fiction mentoring clinic), and last year I took over coordinating the critique team. Every single time I’ve been to this conference it’s been special … and this year was no exception!

Next weekend, I’ll be serving on the faculty of the Orange County Christian Writers’ Conference in Southern California. I am greatly looking forward to that too.

If you’ve never been to a writers’ conference, I would strongly encourage you to consider doing so. Yes, they can be pricey. They take you away from your home, your family, and your daily responsibilities. They also take you out of your comfort zone. (Writers tend to be introverts.) But the good ones are absolutely invaluable.

cherry blossomThe beautiful cherry blossoms at Mount Hermon Christian Writers ConferenceWhat can you get from attending a Christian writers’ conference? Let me touch on just a few of the tremendous benefits.

1. Education and training. Writers’ conferences offer workshops, and sometimes continuing sessions (at the longer conferences), that cover numerous valuable topics. Sure, you could find some of the information in books or on the Internet. But conferences offer the opportunity for more in-depth instruction that’s always up to date. And you can ask the instructors questions face-to-face.

2. Inspiration. Writers’ conferences have inspirational keynote presentations given by industry professionals. This can be a tremendous source of encouragement in the long and mostly solitary pursuit of writing for publication.

3. Networking. You’ve probably heard that it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. That’s true in a lot of areas of life … including the publishing world. You’ll meet all kinds of people at a writers’ conference who can help you get to the next step on your writing journey—including fellow writers, freelance editors, agents, and representatives from magazine and book publishers. You never know when someone you meet at a conference will be working on a project that you’d be a perfect fit for.

4. Friendships. Christian writers’ conferences provide a warm, cooperative environment where attendees and faculty members get together to share their love for the written word. These people will “get” you in a way that non-writers simply can’t. And the bonds that begin at a writers’ conference can continue through e-mail, Facebook, phone calls, etc. Many critique groups are originally formed at writers’ conferences.

5. Vacation. Taking some time away from your “normal” life can jumpstart your creative muse and infuse you with fresh energy and determination to fulfill the calling God has placed on you and your writing.

6. Publication! Connections made at writers’ conferences often lead to publishing credits, whether it’s a book or a shorter piece, either soon after the event or later on down the road. Many writers’ conferences offer attendees the opportunity to have one-on-one appointments with literary agents, editors from publishing houses and magazines, multi-published authors, and professional freelance editors. If you pitch a book or article idea to an acquisitions editor at a conference, and he or she likes your idea, you can submit with the invaluable words Requested Material in the subject line of your e-mail. When publishers see “Requested at Mount Hermon,” that submission goes to the “do soon” stack instead of the “slush pile.” And if you work with a freelance editor you met at the conference, you can be assured of having a well-polished proposal to send.

7. Praise and worship. Most Christian writers’ conferences spend a portion of the time in prayer, singing hymns and/or praise songs, and worship. The right conference can be a refreshing retreat as well as a huge step in your writing journey.

I would like to close this post by congratulating this year’s winners of the Ethel Herr Most Promising New Writer award at Mount Hermon: Gwyn Schneck and Lindsay Franklin. I sponsor this award every year, and there’s usually only one winner. But this year, at the faculty meeting where we discuss who should win each award, two authors were suggested: one who wrote fiction and one who wrote nonfiction. So for the first time, we had two winners of the Ethel Herr award. The each got a $250 cash prize, a copy of my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, and my brand-new DVD, Starter Kit for Aspiring Authors, which contains four videos, eight flyers, and my personal list of recommended resources for new writers. I’m really excited to see what God does in Gwyn’s and Lindsay’s writing careers!