Can you believe it? Next month, the Novel Marketing Podcast will turn ten years old! What should we do to celebrate a decade of Novel Marketing? (Let me know in the comments at AuthorMedia.social.)
Over the last ten years of hosting Novel Marketing, I’ve interviewed many successful authors. For most of them, the inflection point in their author journey was when they attended a writers conference. Some got their big break at a conference. Others transitioned from hobbyists to professional authors after attending a writers conference. Still others met a new friend who changed everything. At writers conferences, authors find agents, learn how to go indie, or discover specific skills or tips that get them unstuck.
You probably know that writers conferences are important and that you should attend one. But how do you determine what kind of conference to look for?
Hundreds of writers conferences are available, and they fit into seven different types of events. While each conference can be helpful in some way, you can waste a lot of time and money attending a conference that doesn’t suit your stage in your author career.
So, what are the seven different kinds of writers conferences, and how do you determine which is the best fit for you now?
1. Local Meetups
What makes meetups special?
A local meetup is typically a monthly meeting attached to an organization. Sometimes authors gather around a certain genre, but other times, they gather because they’re in the same local area. The meetings often feature a guest speaker, and the group size ranges from 12 to 100 participants.
I zoom into a lot of local meetup events as a speaker. At the in-person event, they usually make announcements, have snacks, and then gather to listen to the speaker.
Local meetups are probably the cheapest of all the writers conference options. Since you don’t have to travel, you don’t have fuel or lodging costs. It’s relatively easy to attend a local meetup, and over time, you’ll develop a sense of community because you’ll interact with the same writers every month.
Many small writers groups or critique groups have been born from local meetups. It’s important to remember that critique groups are typically smaller than a meetup, topping out at 12 members. But if you’re looking to start a critique group, a local meetup is a great place to start building that group.
Unfortunately, local writers meetups are hard to find, and you may not have one in your area. Guest speaker quality is also hit-and-miss. The quality of the speakers depends on how much effort organizers invest in booking and finding speakers and how big the organizer’s personal network is.
Local meetups rarely provide the opportunity to connect with agents or editors. If you’re hoping to be traditionally published, a local meetup isn’t the place to make agent and editor connections. You’re mostly networking with fellow authors in your local area.
One meeting per month is a slow climb up the learning curve. While some conferences feel like drinking from a fire hose, local meetups are like sipping from a straw.
I recommend starting with a local meetup or local conference if you can. The cost is low, and the benefits are high. If you don’t have one in your area, I have a guide on how to start one.
2. Multi-Track Conferences
What makes a multi-track writers conference special?
When people say “writers conference,” they typically think of a multi-track conference. Speakers at a multi-track conference tend to be mid-list authors, agents, and editors. The conference is focused on education over action. You won’t come to a multi-track conference to do large chunks of writing. You attend to learn.
At a multi-track conference, many workshops happen simultaneously. You’ll often find separate rooms or tracks for
- Nonfiction writers
- Teenage writers
- Indie authors
- Sci-Fi writers
- And many more, depending on the conference.
Multi-track writers conferences tend to have a great selection of speakers covering a wide variety of topics. You’ll probably find that one class you were looking for. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to write picture books for toddlers, there’s probably somebody teaching that class.
It’s easier to connect with agents and editors from traditional publishers at a multi-track conference. Agents and editors are there to meet authors, and between hearing pitches, they teach classes.
But every rose has its thorn, and multi-track conferences are expensive and long. The program features an overwhelming number of simultaneous workshops.
After just a few days at the conference, attendees will say it’s like “drinking from a fire hose” or “watching a three-ring circus.” The information overload is often called “conference brain.” Multi-track conferences are overwhelming. Authors and speakers need several days after the conference is over to physically and emotionally recover.
One conference I attended had early-bird sessions starting at 7:00 a.m. and night owl sessions starting at 10:00 p.m. It was nonstop, with very little time to sleep.
Another drawback is that not all agents and editors are good teachers. An excellent agent isn’t necessarily a great teacher. Some agents are excellent teachers, but some aren’t. Regardless of their teaching ability, the conference directors book them because agents draw writers to the conference. People still pack the room for any agent because they want to be friends with or sign with the agent, whether they’re a good teacher or not.
These conferences tend to be focused on traditional publishing. The conference directors may attempt to accommodate indie authors or create an indie track. Still, indie authors are often made to feel like second-class citizens at some (not all) multi-track conferences.
If you plan to publish traditionally and want a literary agent but don’t know any authors who can introduce you to one, a multi-track writers conference is a great way to connect and take your next step.
3. Big-Room Events
What makes a big-room event special?
As the name suggests, everyone gathers in one big room together. There’s one stage for one speaker at a time, which makes it somewhat less draining than a multi-track event.
Speakers at these events tend to be bestselling authors and industry professionals who are focused on education over action. Every talk feels like a keynote. Speakers encourage you to be ready to get to work after the conference is over. The information encourages you to get ready to start writing again on Monday.
The high production values make the event feel less like a circus and more like a concert, with one amazing band after another. The size of the events and production values vary widely. Some of them are quite fancy.
One speaker at a time means you’ll have fewer topics to choose from. The conference agenda will tell you whether the selected speakers will answer your questions.
If you’re hoping to publish traditionally, it’s important to realize that fewer agents and editors attend big-room events.
Big-room events are a little impersonal. You may find yourself amongst strangers, which makes networking trickier, especially for shy authors.
Some of these events are a long sales pitch for a big-ticket program you can buy, and they are common in the coaching world. Coaches (life coaches, health coaches, etc.) attend a conference to learn how to be a coach, but the entire conference sells a program the attendees must buy to learn to be a coach. If the price of the conference is too good to be true, realize that it could be one big, long sales pitch. However, I haven’t seen many conferences like that in the author world.
4. Writers Workshops
What makes workshops special?
Writers workshops are focused on interactive education and provide a balance between action and education and are one of the best types of writers conferences. You will learn new skills at a writers workshop, but you’ll also work on writing your book, editing your proposal, or building your website. The workshop teachers are available for questions, feedback, or encouragement. They will also challenge you.
It’s a much more interactive experience than the other events we’ve discussed.
Writers workshops tend to have fewer attendees in smaller settings. They are far less overwhelming and provide the greatest immediate outcomes of any event on this list. You’ll leave the workshop with an edited manuscript, a ready proposal, or a live website.
Workshops tend to be focused on what you will get if you attend. You’ll be challenged but not swamped. They’re a great place to connect with other authors who are in your same “graduating class,” so to speak. You’ll move through the stages of your writing career together, from beginner to journeyman to professional, with the authors you meet.
If the workshop is about how to write a book, it will attract a basic or beginning author. If it’s about how to improve your author website, it will attract a more advanced author. And if it’s a workshop on optimizing your Facebook ads, it will attract more professional and advanced authors.
Plan to connect with authors at your level rather than with industry professionals like editors or agents.
Workshops have lower production values. You won’t find a fancy stage, concerts, or DJs. They’re not a particularly great place to meet agents and editors. Occasionally, editors and agents will attend to hunt for potential clients, but industry professionals tend to gravitate toward big-room or multi-track events.
You’ll connect with authors at your same career stage, but you probably won’t meet people who are ahead or behind you on the publishing journey.
Writers workshops are less overwhelming but still provide a great education.
5. Writers Retreats
What makes a retreat special?
A writers retreat is a small gathering of about 12 writers who already know each other. Groups usually rent a cabin, Airbnb, or Vrbo in an inspiring location such as the beach or mountains. For convenience’s sake, some groups may rent something near the airport.
The goal of the retreat is to make progress on your writing, relax, and fellowship with other writers. It’s not focused on learning new information.
Retreats are the most relaxing event on this list. They’re small and intimate and focused on fellowship. These retreats are meant to fill up your emotional bucket. When you leave, you’ll feel fired up and excited because you’ve had energizing encounters with your book and fellow authors.
Retreats aren’t the time for expanding your network since you already know everyone. You won’t learn a lot of new information because people are typically chit-chatting or writing. But you can make deep connections with the people who are there and catch up on your word-count goals.
I’ve never met an author who regretted spending a weekend writing with fellow authors in a cabin.
The main reason authors don’t do a writing retreat is because they wait for someone else to organize it. Scheduling the retreat, securing the venue, and arranging meals requires a lot of time. Usually, all the writers split the costs evenly, so the organizer isn’t really compensated for their hard work.
If you attend a writer’s retreat organized by a fellow author, buy her a box of chocolates, get her a spa gift certificate, or send her a gift because it’s a lot of work.
6. Mastermind Retreats
What makes mastermind retreats special?
Mastermind retreats are sometimes confused with writers retreats because they’re similar. The group size is usually around 12, and they gather in a cabin in an inspiring setting. But unlike a writer’s retreat, a mastermind retreat is focused on education over action.
Each mastermind brings their best idea and expertise and teaches the other masterminds.
Mastermind retreats are small and intimate. You get exclusive training. Sometimes, people will share secrets or techniques they’ve learned that they won’t teach anyone else.
These events often feature a hot seat, where each person gets to talk about their work and where they’re stuck. Then, the group brainstorms ways to help each person get unstuck or achieve better success.
I’ve seen unbelievable breakthroughs for authors who’ve shared their challenges in the hot seat. Books and series have been birthed in the hot seat. Podcasts that now have millions of downloads came as a result of a hot-seat discussion.
Mastermind retreats offer the power of 10-12 people putting their brains together to solve your problems.
By the same token, that small group doesn’t allow you to expand your network since you probably know everyone at the retreat. Plus, it’s hard to find a good mastermind group. If you find one, realize that they tend to work best for authors who have already tasted success and can share their tips with those who have a similar drive to succeed.
If you are part of a mastermind group, attending a retreat is worth your time. If you want to learn more about how to create your own mastermind group, check out the following Novel Marketing episodes:
- How to Start a Mastermind Group
- Why Mastermind Groups Give Bestselling Authors an Edge and How to Start One
- How to Work with Fellow Authors to Sell More Books
- A New Social Network for Authors
7. Fan Conventions
What makes a fan convention special?
Fan conventions have the highest number of attendees and are focused on connecting authors and readers. They tend to have panels rather than presentations. Imagine multiple big-room events all happening at the same time.
A fan convention is lots of fun, especially if it’s focused on a genre you’re passionate about. It’s a great place to sell your book in person and offer SWAG to fans. You’ll have opportunities to connect with authors who wouldn’t attend a multi-track conference or teach at a big-room conference. Authors at a fan convention want to interact with their fans.
A fan convention is most beneficial for authors with large followings. If you don’t already have fans, you’ll just be watching other authors interact with their fans, and you’ll end up feeling sad.
However, if you’re there as a fan, you can fan-girl out and get as many autographs as you want.
It’s probably the least educational event on this list. You’ll learn more at a writer’s retreat chatting with authors than you will at a fan convention. Author panels will be informative, but the questions they answer will be from fans and readers, not from other authors.
You’ll also find them more focused on the fan experience than helping authors become better writers. While it’s a great place to expand your network with artists, actors, authors, musicians, producers, or comic book artists, you’ll also be competing for their attention because of the large number of attendees.
It’s easy to feel like a small fish in a big pond. Few agents or editors attend fan conferences.
If you’re just getting started, a fan conference is the least useful event for you. However, if you are a fan, these conventions can be fun. If you’re extroverted and good at networking, you may have a chance to meet some of your heroes. But if you do, remember that how you start a relationship can influence how that relationship progresses. You won’t be meeting your author hero as a fellow author; you’ll be meeting them as a fan, which will influence how they see you.
In the spirit of innovation and celebration of our tenth year, I am trying to create an entirely new writers conference category. It will be a cross between a big room event and a writers workshop, with elements of a mastermind retreat. But it will be unique in its focus on book promotion.
That right! The Novel Marketing Conference is in the works! We’ve secured the venue, and we’re almost ready to launch the Kickstarter. Assuming it funds, I’ll look forward to meeting you in person in 2024.
- WHEN: January 26-27, 2024
- WHERE: Austin, Texas
Registration is limited to 160 people. For comparison, Novel Marketing has twice that many patrons, so I expect tickets will sell out. We’re keeping our inaugural conference small because we’re trying new things. I want to host the first conference with a small group so I can meet everyone.
Please know this writers conference will not be like listening to a live podcast. Some podcasters host events where they record live episodes before a live studio audience. While that is cool, and I might try that someday, that is not what this conference will be. The Novel Marketing Conference will be super interactive and won’t be recorded.
To learn more, listen to next week’s episode or subscribe to the Author Media email newsletter for early access.
Becca Sheridan thought she knew what was up, but a series of mysterious events make her question everything. When her square dancing club is abruptly kicked out of their meeting place, and her rival from middle school gets involved with Conrad, Becca is thrown into a tailspin. Conrad’s strange behavior, his estranged relatives trying to take over the family business, the sudden death of his grandmother without a body to bury, and an uncle who vanishes all add to the confusion.
But it’s the discovery of a dead body in a nearby creek that makes Becca realize the truth is closer than she ever imagined. With the help of her friends from the Book & Mug coffee shop, Becca must piece together the clues to arrive at a shocking answer. If you enjoyed Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, you’ll love this thrilling mystery filled with powerful emotions.
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