How to Make the Most of a Writers Conference

In this current economy, many writers may opt out of attending a writers’ conference. However, in any economy, a writers’ conference represents a treasure trove of information and opportunity for the serious writer wanting to become a published author.

I’ve attended the San Francisco Writers Conference three times in a row and served as a volunteer once, rounding out my attendance to four times. I plan to volunteer again this year. I also volunteered, which allowed me to attend many sessions, at the Writing for Change Conference, in San Francisco. It was at the SFWC that I landed myself an agent, and it was there that I learned of the importance of platform building. I have since met two other agents there that have considered or are considering my work. I had one publisher to whom I introduced myself at the SFWC look at my work, and I formed a Jewish writing group through contacts made at the conference. I also have made invaluable writing friends and contacts there – people who have helped me create my website, who have offered me advice, and who have written for Write Nonfiction in November! Additionally, I’ve had my work published in the conference’s anthology three year’s running.

I can’t even begin to tell you all the reasons to attend a conference if you can, which is why I asked Barbara Santos, who has been organizing writers’ conferences for many years, to do so instead. She’s done a great job of covering the main points and of offering some great pointers on how to take advantage of your time at a conference.

I’d add only two bits of personal advice: Don’t be overwhelmed! There’s so much information offered at a conference, and you may feel like you have so much you still have to do before you can interest an agent or publisher in your work, that it can stop you in your tracks. Instead, let it fuel you on your way to a published book. Also, don’t be afraid of agents. I agree with Barbara: They are just people – but they have the ability to help you get your book published, and that’s what they want to do if they feel they can. And that last part is, of course the caveat. So, seize every opportunity at a conference to pitch your book!

The Truth About Writers’ Conferences

By Barbara Santos


Marketing Director, San Francisco Writers Conference


Writers’ conferences can be a waste of time and money.  A disciplined writer should spend that weekend writing at their kitchen table rather than hanging out with a ballroom full of wanna-be writers.   And for unpublished writers who dare to attend wearing their publishing naïveté like a red silk vest, well let’s face it, learning how to become a best-selling author in a weekend is impossible. 

Hello! That not the truth about writers’ conferences.  Yet, so many writers simply do not know how valuable an event packed with publishing professionals can be.

I have been creating, organizing and promoting writers’ conferences since 1993.  For years I’ve watched behind the scenes as thousands of writers came to the Maui Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writers Conference-undoubtedly two of the best writers conferences in the country.  Far too often the attendees were simply unprepared to present themselves as creative, talented, professionals. They were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people at the event, the ideas that bombarded them so fast they couldn’t write them all down, and the energy that should have inspired, not intimidated, them. I felt guilty. Wasn’t it my job to prepare them to grab the opportunities that dangled like ripe mangoes at the MWC or encircled them like the fog at the SFWC?

So I feel it is my duty to share some truths with you.   Know these truths and you will get the most out of a writers’ conference:

Truth #1   The literary agents, publishers and editors you’ll meet at a writers’ conference make their living off writers.  Think about that, and know that is why they come to these events. They are looking for talented writers with salable projects. They want you to succeed, because your writing ultimately can buy their groceries, sheets for their beds or their kids’ braces. 

Truth #2  Yes, pursuant to Truth #1, literary agents, publishers and editors actually do eat, sleep and some even have kids.  In short, they are people…all kinds of interesting types of people. Meeting them (or just listening to them) at a writers’ conference is crucial to your career. Take advantage of the opportunity to “interview” them and really listen to what they have to say. They know the publishing business, and you know your book, but you must “click” to meld into the perfect team.

Truth #3  Your work is worth more than you think.  Do NOT present your manuscript to an agent, throw yourself at his or her feet and babble something like “take it…please!”

Truth #4  Talented writers (like you?) will always rise to the surface in the sea of  conference attendees.  But first you must master the delicate blend of chutzpah, talent and fate. The magic of a writers’ conference happens when you meet the right agent on the way to the next session and deliver the 2-line/30-second elevator pitch of a lifetime. You simply can’t do that anywhere else.

So, start researching writers’ conferences if you intend to build your career as a published author.  Google the presenters so you know who they are and what they represent. Build your platform and polish your work. I know this truth from personal experience. Any writer who comes prepared will find a writers conference to be the absolute best investment they’ll ever make in their writing career.

About Barbara Santos

Barbara Santos is the marketing director for the San Francisco Writers Conference. She was also co-director of the Maui Writers Conference for many years.  She is the author of the Maui Tacos Cookbook and the Maui Onion Cookbook. Indeed, she met her editor/publisher at the conference!

If you are ready to be published and want to meet Barbara Santos, join her at the 2009 San Francisco Writers Conference this February 13-15 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. (Writing-related workshops on craft, publishing and book marketing; inspiring keynotes by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres), Richard North Patterson (Balance of Power) and Lolly Winston (Good Grief); Speed Dating with Agents; Ask-A-Pro session; and much more.)

Go to www.SFWriters.orgfor all the details and easy online registration.

Eight days left to the Write Nonfiction in November challenge…Are you nearing completion of your project?


  1. I just stopped by your blog and thought I would say hello. I like your site design. Looking forward to reading more down the road.

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