The cost of attending writing conferences can range from my all-time favorite, FREE, to hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars. Additionally, a writing conference can last one day or multiple days, which, unless you live relatively close to the venue means a hotel room and meals out. How do you know which conference to attend in order to get the most bang for your buck?
I’ll be honest. When I first started my year of writing conferences, I had no idea what to look for to answer that question. I lucked out with my very first conference being a grant-funded (read: free admission) conference that happened to have amazing speakers and workshops. But after that, I ran the gamut of reasonable to ridiculous in pricing. And spending more money did not necessarily ensure a better conference.
So please. Learn from my mistakes. My lost money is cash in your pocket. Here are some tips I found useful when determining how to get the most for your conference dollar:
1. Do your homework.
Spend some time looking at upcoming conferences, the list of presenters, the schedule of sessions and workshops. Are there critique sessions? Pitch sessions? Networking activities? Who is the keynote speaker? If a conference costs $300 but three of the four sessions rank as an “eh” in your book, you’re probably better off at a different conference or waiting until next year. Not sure where to find conference listings? Poets & Writers has a database as does New Pages. In addition, START LOCAL. If you don’t need to get a hotel room, eat out as much, etc., you’ll automatically save hundreds of dollars. Check with your state’s writing associations, community and local colleges, bookstores, and libraries. That conference I mentioned above? The free one? That was run through a joint state and library grant program.
2. Know what you want to get out of the conference.
There are general writing conference, genre-specific conferences, writing retreats, pitch conferences… The list goes on. Are you looking to land an agent? Improve a specific part of your craft? Rub elbows with other writers? A little of everything? Knowing what your goal is can save you money and more importantly, it can save you time. There is nothing worse than feeling like you spent a day in a conference that wasn’t worth your money when you could have spent that time writing. So my advice is to look for a conference that best meets your needs. Just getting your feet wet? A general conference is probably the best bet. Looking to grow in your chosen genre? Check out conferences run by your genre’s organization (e.g., SCBWI, Romance Writers, Mystery Writers, Christian Writers, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers, etc.).
3. Consider add-ons carefully.
Many conferences have optional “add-ons” that writers may choose to attend or not attend. These can be extra sessions, workshops, one-on-one critiques or feedback sessions, and so on. I’ve had good experiences with the add-ons and not-so-good experiences. The difference? Careful consideration of the added value. They may cost a few extra dollars, but they can also make the difference between a wonderful conference experience and a “blah” experience. The best money I spent was for an add-on at an SCBWI conference – I got more out of those three hours than I did the rest of the two-day conference. But be cautious – not all add-ons are created the same. I researched before adding on that extra session at the SCBWI conference, and in fact did not register for the other add-on even though it was on the same day. I used that time to write.
Writing conferences can be a wonderful way to grow as a writer and to network with people who can potentially change your writing life. But unless you are independently wealthy, the cost of attending is something to carefully weigh against the benefit. I hope that some of these tips help when you decide which conference(s) to attend this year!
Do you have any other thoughts on how to get the most bang for your writing conference buck? Please share with us – we all like to spend money wisely!