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The Right Conference?

by Tamela Hancock Murray
Steve Laube Agency

As you pursue a writing career, one big question is how much time and money to devote to writers conferences. Conferences have many benefits, including the chance to meet face to face with editors and fellowship with writers. Some writers have plenty of time and money and love to attend conferences because the events get them out of the house and they enjoy meeting other writers. There is nothing wrong with attending conferences for these intangible benefits, and just for fun. But writers with more modest resources may want to ask themselves questions before choosing a conference.

Do I need to attend writers conferences to sell books?

No. Many successful writers have never attended a conference. Some aren’t able to break away because of family and day job commitments. Others can’t spare the money. Most agents accept submissions from writers they’ve never met, and editors often buy books from writers they’ve never met. And it’s possible to meet through other ways than conferences. So if attending a writers conference isn’t possible for you right now, don’t despair. Just keep writing and submitting your best work. The time and money to travel will come at the right point in your career.

Is it worth my time to attend a conference because it’s close to my home?

Not if that’s the only reason you’re attending. If the purpose of the conference is to showcase, for example, fiction when you write nonfiction, magazines when you write books, or ABA when you write for CBA, then you may be just as well off to spend that time polishing your manuscript. Granted, it’s always great to see other writers and meeting editors may lead to some unexpected work or development, but if you are focused on a certain type of writing, targeting a conference that is a good fit will be a better use of your resources.

My dream agent will only take submissions from people she meets at a conference. But what if I can’t go?

To my knowledge, agents will still consider referrals from their clients. If you have done enough research to determine you really want a particular agent, then you should know one or two of his clients. If no one is willing to recommend your work to your dream agent, find out how you can improve your work and try again. For the record, we at The Steve Laube Agency accept submissions from writers we have not met. You can find our submissions guidelines here.

Then how many conferences should I attend?

Start out with one per year, and make it the one you think will benefit you most. You can always increase travel as your career grows. And of course, as you become established, conferences offer more opportunities for you to defray your expenses if you can offer paid critiques, give speeches, and teach workshops. However, these positions are often difficult to secure because of intense competition, so don’t short yourself on your budget until you are confirmed as a member of the faculty.

How much should I budget for a conference?

You must consider room and board, conference fees, travel, and incidentals such as meals the conference is not providing. I suggest budgeting $1,000 for a major conference held at a high end hotel, plus air or car fare. Conferences held in more modest settings might demand closer to $500, and a one-day conference may cost less than $100. There are ways to economize, such as carpooling, staying at a cheaper hotel nearby, and sharing a room. You may think my suggested budget is too generous, but it’s better to be prepared with more money than you spend than to face an unpleasant surprise later.

How do I find out about conferences?

Here is a great list of links to Christian conferences.

Now that you have an idea as to how to arrange your travel plans, go and have fun.

Blessings on your career!

Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency is a full-time literary agent bringing to her clients her past experience as an award-winning novelist and twelve years of experience as an agent. A native Virginian, she holds a BA with honors in Journalism from Lynchburg College. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 28 years and their youngest daughter. An avid reader, Tamela feels blessed by the Lord to have a career in Christian publishing, where she enjoys long-term relationships with key publishing professionals in every top CBA publishing house. Tamela is committed to bringing the best writers to the most prestigious CBA houses. Tamela hopes to see you at the ACFW conference this fall!

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7 Responses to The Right Conference?

  1. Eileen Key says:

    Only conference afforded me the opportunity to MEET you and then become one of your authors. What a BLESSING that is for me. See you in September at the world-class conference.

  2. Great guidelines on attending conferences, Tamela. Could you add the Write to Inspire conference to your line-up? We host an annual two-day conference in Northern California that is only $99 ($79 for members). It is a great opportunity for writers to learn from an agent and pitch their projects. Here’s the link: http://inspirewriters.com/?page_id=3460 Thanks!

  3. Cindy S Huff says:

    great comments!Conferences are so essential. There are two points that I would like to add. Some conferences have work scholarships. If you live near a conference they often look for volunteers to help the faculty with various tasks. The past two years I have earned full or partial work scholarships to the Write-To-Publish conference in Wheaton, Illinois. Some conferences have scholarships available if you submit a written request.
    The second point that we often forget. We have a Great God. He has a cattle on a thousand hills. Two years in a row I attended the Writing for the Soul Conference in Colorado through God’s miraculous provision. Seeking His will regarding where He wants you to attend brings about amazing results. Don’t let your lack of finances stop you from considerng going to a conference.
    I strongly encourage anyone who is serious about writng to set aside money for future conferences and seek the Lord for His direction.

  4. Ashley Bazer says:

    Thank you for saying that a writer doesn’t always need to attend conferences. At every turn, I’m being told that I have to go to them – but I’m a pastor’s wife and mom of 3 kids all under age 6. It’s a little impossible right now! I find your words most encouraging! Thanks again!

  5. I look at conferences as an investment in my writing. And I’ve found some really good, small conferences within driving distance and that has cut down on the costs.

    And I got to meet you at a conference. A big plus!

  6. Thank you all so much for your encouragement and insights! Elizabeth, your conference has been added to the list. :)

  7. Pingback: The Writers Conference Decision | The Steve Laube Agency