Writer’s conferences: why I love them and why I almost didn’t

Authors Liz Tolsma and JL Crosswhite shivering under a blanket in a cold auditorium.
Authors Liz Tolsma and JL Crosswhite shivering under a blanket in a cold auditorium.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a writer’s conference. I LOVE writer’s conferences. Which may not be a huge surprise, but I am an introvert, so large gatherings of people can exhaust me.

Sixteen years ago, I would not have said I LOVE writer’s conferences. I sat in a hotel room in Houston, wondering if I had made a complete mistake by coming to this writer’s conference. I didn’t know anyone; I had a two-year-old and five-year-old at home. And downstairs, when I had peeked in the conference room after registering, the rapid chatter of voices made it seem like everyone already knew each other. I wanted to run back and hide in my hotel room the whole four days. But the trip had been expensive. And I had a book I had been writing. Finding time to write was hard with two little ones. Was it what I was supposed to be doing? It was time to see if it had been wasted time.

I left my hotel room and continued through the conference. I met some other writers in the same boat I was: knowing no one and feeling alone. I attended my appointment with an editor from my dream publishing house. And she liked my story and wanted to see more of it. And another appointment garnered me a potential agent.

That seemed like confirmation I was supposed to write.

I arrived home with renewed desire to write and improve my craft. Those writers I met? They became critique partners and life-long friends. I was blessed doing what I loved with good friends along the journey. I met Diana Brandmeyer. A few years later she introduced me to Liz Tolsma and along with Angela Breidenbach we have become the Pencildancers. A group of writers that help and support each other.
Liz was with me at the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, and we shared a dorm room. I think we talked nonstop for three days!

Writing is a solo profession. It’s a lot of time in front of a computer by yourself and with your imaginary friends. So when you can come out of that world into a world of others who get you, it can be energizing and refreshing. You’re not weird! There are others like you! It’s an amazing feeling.

So whatever it is you like to do, find your tribe. I’d love to hear about your tribes. Let me know below what kind of special events you like to go to to find your people. 🙂


  1. Logophile says:

    I’m looking into participating in the Atlanta Writers’ Conference in May 2020. It looks like it revolves around meetings w/ editors & agents to assess manuscript samples, query letters, etc. There are 6 or 7 activities along those lines participants can choose, ranging from $175 to $50 each. There is also a pre-conference manuscript edit which is due Feb. 17 and costs $75, which includes assessment of three things: the 1st 19 pages of manuscript, a query letter, and a synopsis. I have not yet finished my manuscript, though I’m aiming to do so by the end of June – that’s assuming I can get my ox out of the ditch and finish figuring out the story arc & whether I’m writing one book or several. Is it worthwhile to push myself to participate in this one (i.e., try to finish the manuscript between now & then), or would it be better to wait until the October conference (same organization)? It seems pretty expensive especially if I’m still very much in-progress with this project – will I just be throwing money away if I don’t have a completed manuscript? Any insights would be appreciated.

  2. Tandem Services says:

    Only you can truly answer that questions, but here are my thoughts. The price for the evaluations seems like a good deal, so it certainly can be worth having your work evaluated by experienced, fresh eyes. You can submit without having your manuscript done. You can write a synopsis, etc. (and often should!) before your book is done. So if you think you can get those things prepared in time, then it certainly could be worth it.

    Sometimes having an evaluation before you’ve finished the book can be great if it turns out that you are writing in the wrong direction or you can get an even better idea. So a good evaluation before you’re finished can save you a ton of time.

    Yet only you know how much it might turn your life upside down to get everything ready in time. If it would be too stressful, then there is certainly no problem with waiting until October.

    1. Logophile says:

      OK, thanks for your thoughts on that. Good to know that the prices they’re asking are not unreasonable! I decided not to try to scramble to submit something by Feb. 17 , but still considering about attending the conference in May or waiting till October. Again, thanks for your comments & helpful article – I have zero experience with writers’ conferences so this gave me a better idea of what to expect, how it might benefit me, etc.

  3. Tandem Services says:

    So glad I could help!

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