by Chris Goff
A little back story.
In 1986, Summit County, Colorado was a lonely place to be a novelist. As far as I knew, there were no other aspiring authors in town—that is until Maggie Osborne moved to town. An award-winning romance writer, Maggie spoke at the local library one Friday, and by Monday I’d convinced her to teach me how to write a book. I paid her $20 for five three-hour lessons on plotting, point of view, dialogue, pacing and conflict; and I wrote one very bad romantic intrigue novel entitled FROZEN ASSETS.
Eventually she pointed me to a writers’ group, in Denver, an hour and a half drive from my home. By then I had written another very bad young adult mystery novel entitled MYSTERY OF PHANTOM RANCH, so I dedicated myself to my craft. I made the 142.2 mile round trip drive once a week for two years. In 1988, we moved to Evergreen, and I drove the 57.4 mile round trip for years.
By 1996, I had written two more bad novels—an adult mystery entitled WARMBLOOD and an adult thriller entitled STALKED—and I’d decided to give myself one big push to “make it” or I was going to quit.
|John Billheimer, Craig Faustus Buck, me, and Bill Fitzhugh|
REASON #1 — Writers’ conferences are where you meet people who get you.
My choice was actually a 10-day workshop. With classes taught by Alice Orr, an agent and writer I’d met once in Colorado, and Peter Rubie, a man who would in a year’s time become my agent, the workshop provided me a place to be a writer. Not a wife. Not a mom. Not a part-time bread winner. A writer! It was there I made some wonderful friends—like Roman White, who put a rubber rat under my pillow and taught me how to plot a murder. Writers are a quirky bunch. It’s because of the support of writer friends, many of whom I’ve met at conferences, that I persevered.
REASON #2 — Writers’ conferences help you to hone your craft.
|Me and Master Criminal #1|
I don’t care if you are a novice or a New York Times bestselling author, you can always learn new things that will make you a better writer. Attend classes taught by other writers. You’ll be surprised how many takeaways you’ll get by sitting in on a lecture or two. Take special courses to master special skills. At the Writers’ Police Academy, I learned how to set fires (arson), how to load and shoot a gun, and practiced apprehending criminals in a real-life police simulator.
REASON #3 — You’ll learn things you didn’t expect to learn.
Not only will you get tips to help you improve your writing, you’ll get tips on how to better live the writers’ life. Things like: how to organize your desk, tricks for keeping track of your characters, which are the best reference books, etc.
REASON #4 — Writers’ conferences can help catapult your writing career.
|Lee Child, with six of the Rogue Women Writers|
Once you have a book to sell, it’s daunting to tell others why they should go out and buy a copy of your novel. After all, there are hundreds of great books out there for people to buy. But sitting on a panel at a writers’ conference puts you in the spotlight, in front of a group of people who are interested in hearing about your work. I’ll never forget the time Lee Child moderated the Rogue panel at Bouchercon. 800 people attended. Of course, 799 of them were there to see Lee. But still, the room was full.
Perhaps more important is the chance to socialize with authors you admire. Conferences offer great networking opportunities. Maybe you’ll meet an author in the bar, one who’s willing to blurb your book. Maybe you’ll meet an editor who will ask to look at your manuscript, without insisting it be submitted by an agent. It was at writers’ conferences that I befriended Gayle Lynds. She’s the reason I’m a Rogue.
Granted, attending conferences is expensive, but for me the benefits outweigh the costs. What about you? How many conferences do you attend in a year? Why do you attend writers’ conferences? What do you appreciate most about the conference experience?