1. The classes. You can attend all sorts of classes, from ‘how to write’ to ‘how to market yourself’ to ‘how to get published’.
2. Networking. This is a buzzword, I admit, but it’s a useful one. It’s not a new idea, either, it’s just that in today’s society of distributed social systems, it’s harder than ever for people to make contacts in any industry – much less writing. On the other hand, writers tend to be helpful to others, sometimes even in spite of themselves. You never know who you will meet, and who will end up being a friend, confidant, partner, or publisher.
3. Meet readers. First and foremost, writers are, in general, readers. They love the written word. Since you produce the written word, you get to meet your target audience.
4. Have fun. Conferences are , by and large, filled with lots of social and goofy events. Depending on the type of conference, you can attend parties, costume events, music performances, and lots of other stuff. These all help feed the inner writer.
5. Exposure. The more contacts you make in the industry, the better. You learn the “who’s who” of your chosen profession, and that can help you down the line when you’re working to publish (or now, if that’s something you’re actively pursuing).
6. Meet authors. You never know when your hero, your favorite author, will walk through a door. I’ve gotten to meet two of mine so far, both times unexpectedly. It’s fun to be a fan, and it’s interesting to meet the person behind the book.
7. Get facts. Especially in today’s internet day and age, there’s a lot of information out there. That doesn’t mean all of it is accurate. It’s a lot easier to get a gut-read for facts when you’re there in person than it is online, and this is your opportunity to ask the tough questions. “What are working authors actually making at my level?” “How many times did it take you to get your agent?” “Do I really need an agent?” “Are editors really axe-murderers in disguise?”
8. Get new ideas. We stagnate if we don’t periodically freshen the water in our tanks, and one way to do that is to expose ourselves to the new and unexpected. By attending conference, you will be putting yourself in a place where not everyone will be like you or even agree with you – which is good for expanding your notions of what’s right and possible.
9. Pitch appointments. Some writers conferences offer pitch appointments where you can sit down with an editor or agent in your genre . If you have this opportunity, and you’re ready to submit to publishers, then by all means take the time to do this. It can be scary (it was for me), but it can be a way to get your foot in the door (it was for me).
10. Attend a national conference in your genre. These are not cheap, but if you can do it, they will net you rewards beyond the money spent. You will meet the movers and shakers in your particular genre, learn about trend, and have access to publishers, editors, agents, authors, and other in your genre who can teach you and help you.
11. Good regional conferences can also be of use, particularly if you, like me, can’t afford a national conference yet. Evanston Writers Workshop is working hard to become one such organization; others are run by national organizations’ local chapters such as RWA Chicago North’s Spring Fling. These are worth checking out because many times, they will have editors and agents as well, and certainly classes – sometimes even taught by local authors you may not have realized were in your area.
12. Marketing. It’s a simple fact of the new reality that authors are responsible for the bulk of their own marketing. You need to understand the lingo, and the methods, surrounding how to promote yourself. It’s not hard, but it is hard work . Learn how to budget your time most effectively to get the most bang for your marketing efforts – especially if it’s not your favorite occupation. It’s a necessary one, and you need to know how and what to do so you can focus on what’s REALLY important – the writing!
13. Stay on top of trends. Conferences will teach you what’s going on in your genre, in the publishing industry, and what readers are looking for. Learn about current events that have or may have an effect on you (Borders closure, Google’s purchase of Motorola’s handheld division, trends in e-readers and tablet technology, etc.) These are all important for you as a writer and it pays to stay informed.