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words on writers conferences - by Carolyn Howard-Johnson




Conferences: Muddy Waters for Authors or a Real Advantage?

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of This is the Place and Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered

Since reading a fellow author's assessment of a writers' conference, I have a new motto. It's based on the old adage, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." Mine is: don't avoid the advantages of a writers' conference because they are sometimes muddied up with imperfections.

Beverly Van Horn letter (see the archives on, made some very good points but she was quite upset with some of the seminars and with the agent interviews and decided to self-publish after her conference experience. In spite of the flaws I've seen in many of the conferences I've attended, I think that each of us owes it to our books--fiction or nonfiction--to at least make an effort to try the traditional way to publishing (which, obviously this author did) and to include at least one writers' conference in that effort.

Here are my reasons:

1. If you don't try the traditional route, you won't have the assurance that you gave the traditional agent-and-publisher-route a fair shot. You will doubt your own path when things go awry (and things always go awry--it's the way of the world).

2. If you don't attend a conference, you'll miss all those writing secrets that seminars offer. You can't hear a secret if you aren't in the room.

3. If you don't attend a conference, you may miss a chance at making valuable contacts in marketing.

4. If you don't attend a conference, you won't connect with many authors who take their writing seriously enough to do so. These are the writers who are most likely to be excellent critique partners because they are the ones who cared enough to try to learn more about all the aspects of their business.

5. If you don't attend a conference, your chances of corralling one of those agents in attendance (usually reputable) is a big fat 0. If you do, your chances are slim but you at least have one! By the way, if I were Bev, I'd complain about the agent who declined to assess her book because he was in mourning. He has that right, of course, but she shouldn't be charged for it.

6. If you don't attend a conference, you will miss this opportunity to learn how a "pitch" works first hand and may never hone that skill. No matter how you publish, you'll need "pitch proficiency" for radio & TV interviews.

7. If you don't attend a conference, you'll never know what you missed--both the good and the bad.

8. If you don't attend a conference you'll miss the advantage of travel—sometimes at a tax deduction: Kristin Johnson, author of Christmas Cookies are for Giving likes writers' conferences for the travel they afford her. She believes that travel inspires. She says, "Sometimes your imagination needs a boost."

The opinion I read also suggested that the agents only attend because they are paid. The implication was that, because of this, they might have less interest in finding clients than in their salaries. That is, of course, a possibility. It is also possible that all the agents who attend conferences are not paid. Many who speak or serve in some way are, I'm sure, but all? I also believe that university-sponsored writers' conferences can hardly afford to pay such big bucks that agents are tempted to come only for the money. Isn't it true that agents must have writers to survive and that one of the major ways they find talent is at conferences?

I have attended a variety of writers' events. I was especially impressed by UCLA's conference (now called a studio) and the San Diego Writers' Conference. I also attended overseas events for writers in St. Petersburg, RU, Cambridge in the UK, and Prague in the Czech Republic. I think each writer should try at least one reputable conference. We learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. Bev did.


(Carolyn Howard-Johnson's first novel, "This is the Place," has won eight awards.
Her newly released "Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered" has won two. She has contributed to another book of wisdom from writers called "Musings: Authors Do It Write."  It is available FREE at:


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