Writing Conferences and Festivals

A room of empty blue chairs demonstrates the size of a writing conference or festival

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I’ve been to a variety of different conferences over the years and tried to get the most out of each experience. Sometimes I had a better time than others, but I invariably learned something.

Types of conferences:

In-person writing conferences are where I’m usually in my element. There I meet and talk with different writers, learn more about the craft, and hear more about the latest promo techniques.

Online writing conferences can also be incredibly useful. What’s more, you don’t even have to leave your house (which is wonderful! I’ve even been speaker at some of these events from the comfort of my own home).  My favorite is the Indie Author Fringe conference, which runs online at several points throughout the year.  This year it will be held March 18, June 3rd,  and October 14th.  The best part is that it’s free and has experts in a variety of different writing-related areas.  More information here and see the event archives here:

For the first time, I’m actually part of reader-facing online mystery conference this week (which is why this topic was on my mind when I wrote the post).  It’s Mystery Thriller Week: If you’re a mystery writer or reader or are just interested in seeing how a fan festival could work online, take a look here. It’s designed to bring readers, book bloggers, and mystery writers together online.  I’ve got a few posts scheduled to run this week (they’ll show up in my Twitterific this Sunday), but here are a couple of links in advance:  My interview with Michelle Dragalin and   “Three Ways for Writers to Use Deadlines” (which will go live at noon EST today).  My books are also getting reviewed by different bloggers. This will be a yearly event, so if you’re a mystery writer, make a note to contact the organizers so that you can participate next year.

Book Festivals: The ones that probably make me the most uncomfortable are the ones that have me sitting at a table, hawking my books. I’m not much of a hawker. In fact, the last time I was at an event like this, I left my table and wandered around the building to see everyone else’s books and to meet other writers. Although I’m not really a shy person, I can be very shy around readers.  I know…leaving my table wasn’t the right way to sell books. Now I’m aware that this is not the kind of event I need to attend.  That’s also something important for writers to know–what is the type of conference or festival that’s more valuable for them?

That’s not to say that reader-facing events aren’t incredibly valuable. They can be. I think the most successful and rewarding ones, though, incorporate several different elements–speakers/panels of speakers, signings, and awards. For my genre, the Malice Domestic conference comes to mind.  That event combines all the above elements and the organizers even call it a ‘fun fan’ convention. Readers leave with lots of freebies and the writers all get buzz from the conference.

Here is a list from Sarah Nicolas at Book Riot of  US ‘reader audience festivals’ for 2017. 

Getting the most from a writing conference

Writing conferences can be exhausting, especially for introverts.  Carefully choose the sessions you want to attend and be sure to take notes.  Bring your laptop into the sessions to take notes (you won’t be the only one). Consider making arrangements with other attending writers before the conference so you’ll have someone to have lunch or drinks with (my temptation is always to retreat to my hotel room, but that’s not the best approach).  And remember to bring business cards with you, for staying in touch.

Getting the most from a ‘fan’ conference

As a past attendee at Malice Domestic, I know that readers are definitely expecting to bring home books and swag (and I will caution you that ‘swag’, judging from the laugh attacks my kids have had,  apparently means something different to US teenagers, so use the word with caution around that particular audience).

I gave away potholders with pigs on them at my last reader-facing conference,  since I had the Memphis BBQ series to promote at the time.  Swag is expensive, but I’ll admit I’m a lot more comfortable interacting with readers at conferences if I have something in my hands to give away.  So that’s my big piece of advice: have swag. Or really, even just candy. :)

My second bit of advice would be to have a ready response to the questions “what are your books about?” and “what are you working on now?”

More resources:

A post from writer Jeannie Lin on whether or not to have swag.

And a post from Robin Rivera on 7 Tips for Better Book Swag

Where to find conferences

Sometimes it’s best to start out small (and cheap) and then work your way up to a more expensive, bigger conference.  Here are listings of conferences of all sizes (some are online):

Insecure Writers Support Group (also includes retreats and seminars)

Shaw Guides 

AWP (which also has a way to filter your search)

Have you attended any conferences?  What type is your favorite? Any tips that I’ve missed?

Tips and Resources for Attending and Finding Writing Conferences: Click To Tweet

Photo credit: eltpics via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

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14 thoughts on “Writing Conferences and Festivals

  1. Hi Elizabeth – I’d be like you … toddling off to a corner – but can see the value and some of the points you mention are very valid … business cards, and those responses – what are your books about, and what are you working on now …

    Fun idea about the pig potholder … I’d have happily had one of those and talk to you … cheers Hilary

    1. I overlooked the business cards a couple of times and was very sorry I did! I had to keep writing my email address and name down a million times…

      I’d have liked talking with you, too, pig potholder or not! Hope you have a great week. :)

  2. I admit I’ve not attended a conference. I even missed a science fiction con I was invited to due to a previous engagement. Getting out in front of a bunch of people is not my thing.
    Thanks for mentioning the list at the IWSG. You listed one or two we might need to add.

  3. Thanks for these resources, Elizabeth! I think conferences, workshops, festivals and the like are important and valuable ways to meet other writers, publishing business folks, and readers. And I think it’s all too easy to forget how important it is to be in touch with those people. Writing can feel like a solitary business, but we do have to keep in mind that it’s really not.

  4. Not many conferences happen where I Iive, and I’m not yet at the point where I want to spend money traveling to far away ones. So I’m definitely looking forward to Indie Author Fringe this year.

  5. Great advice! I think I’d prefer the type where I can walk around and check in with other writers too!
    The swag comment cracked me up – as a teacher, I’m very careful how I use that word too :)

  6. Fab post! I’ve been to Bouchercon once and Malice twice, and they are both lots of fun! I love the fan enthusiasm, and my fellow writers (even the big name ones) are for the most part very approachable.

    I’m an introvert, so I do have to fight that run/hide/sit-in-the-back-of-the-room tendency….

    Two things that I find have helped me as an introvert in a big convention:
    1. seek out one-on-one conversations. Find that other introvert, and say hello. Rather than gushing about my stuff, I make myself a good listener. How do you like the convention so far? What are you working on?
    2. volunteer. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but I did it at Bouchercon and got to know a lot more people and learned my way around better. It was so much easier to chat with big-time authors like Stephanie Barron and Laurie King when I’m fetching water bottles and checking their mics than going all fan-girl and hyperventilating. Feeling helpful and valued is very empowering!

    I didn’t know about those online indie conferences. Thanks! I learn so much from you. ;)

    1. Excellent tips, Kathy! I’ve never thought to volunteer, but it does make so much sense. And you’re so right that listening well makes conversation so much easier on introverts. Thanks so much for coming by. :)

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