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The Benefits of a Small Writers' Conference
Attending a writers' conference can be both exhilarating and terrifying, but it's almost always rewarding. There's something wonderful about being in a room where everyone around you has the same passion, and no matter who you happen to sit next to, you know you have something in common. I always come away from a conference re-energized and ready to write, but I know not all writers share my enthusiasm about being around that many people.
If the idea of a large conference makes you nervous, then consider a smaller, local conference. These events can range from 20 to 250 people, with smaller workshops and a more relaxed crowd. Even better, local conferences are usually easier on the budget, but offer just as many helpful workshops and opportunities to meet agents and editors.
You'll be able to:
Meet local writers and form friendships and/or critique groups
Interact with authors and conference faculty in a more intimate setting
Network with people in your area, from authors to editors to agents
Build confidence to attend a larger conference in the future
Work on your "professional author" skills in a smaller, less intimidating atmosphere
Attend workshops and sessions from top industry professionals
Get a feel for what you want from a conference in the future
Even if you enjoy large conferences (1000+ people), a smaller conference can be equally rewarding, and a nice change of pace. I find a mix of sizes provides me with the best variety of social, networking, and educational options. Sometimes I want as many workshops and I can get, other times I'd rather relax and have fun.
Finding a Local Writers' Conference
In most cases, just Googling your state and "writers conference" will get you a list of possibilities, as most states have some kind of writers' organization. Many of these have one or two events a year, from conferences to smaller meet and greets to single workshops at libraries or bookstores.
If you write genre, try looking at the local chapters of your national organizations. For example, my personal chapter of SCBWI is Southern Breeze, and they hold two conferences a year, plus workshops and other events all year round. Most genre organizations offer events as well. Here are a few to get you started:
Romance Writers of America (RWA) with over 145 local chapters
Local conferences (a sampling, see more at their site):
Society of Childrens' Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) with over 80 regions around the world
Local conferences (a sampling, see the calendar for more):
Mystery Writers of America (MWA) with eleven regional chapters across the US
These are just a few of the organizations and local events, and there are a lot more if you check their individual sites.
Why You Should Attend a Local Writers' Conference
To get out and meet people: Most of us write in a vacuum. We sit in a room somewhere, typing on a keyboard or scribing in a notebook, and we don't mingle with our fellow writers. Maybe once in a while we attend a critique group or have lunch with writer pals, but for the most part, we're alone.
This can lead to uncertainty and doubts about what being a writer is all about and what's "normal" for writers. It's easy to feel that bout of writer's block means you suck as a writer when you don't have other writers telling you they go through the exact same thing and feel the same way--and that it means nothing beyond you happen to be stuck right now. A local writers' conference allows you to meet other writers and get a healthy perspective on this crazy profession.
To network: Besides being fun, you'll meet people who might be able to help you in your career, or those you might be able to help in return. There are great networking opportunities that will be valuable no matter what stage you're at in your career. Just because you're a newbie now doesn't mean you can't make friends and contacts for when you do publish.
To learn: There's only so much we can learn on our own, and a conference exposes us to different ways of thinking, writing, and being a writer. Aside from the workshops and sessions, it's an opportunity to talk with other writers and learn from their experiences.
Even if a small conference can have value and they're worth exploring. Check out what local conferences and events are in your area and see what they have to offer.
And if you happen to be a kidlit writer (picture books to young adult novels), might I suggest the upcoming conference from my own local chapter of SCBWI? Registration for Springmingle '15 just opened, and this is a wonderful, relaxed conference for those who write for children and teens. It's in Decatur, GA this year, so not only is it a great conference, but a fun weekend away--the downtown Decatur area is filled with shops and restaurants and things to do, and it's all walking distance from the conference.
What are some of your favorite writers' conferences?