Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attending Writer's Conferences & Events (PART TWO)

In my previous post, I focused on how attending writing events can not only support the writing community, but also help you feel like a part of it. Now I want to focus on how to choose the events that will be most worthwhile, and that will help you grow as a writer.
First, consider your stage of writing. What do you need? Are you looking for inspiration? Find out when a favorite author is coming to a location nearby and figure out how to get there. I went to Malice Domestic (see more information below) for the first time because Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark were attending. At their book signing, they graciously posed for a picture with me. It’s a treasured possession and remains a great motivator. When a relative saw the photo and didn’t recognize me, I was delighted because I looked like I belonged with those authors.

Second, consider what you need to advance your career. Do you want to improve your craft or find out how your work would be received by a publisher? Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America provide excellent writing courses, both online and in-person. Look for programs that provide instructor interaction or offer pitch sessions where a professional will review your proposed submission and tell you how to improve it.

Third, consider your budget. If events are available locally, take advantage, but also plan to travel to a larger meeting where you’ll have a chance to make new contacts. Conferences like Bouchercon, held annually by the World Mystery Convention, vary locations. This year, it took place in Long Beach, California, and next year it’s in Raleigh, North Carolina, closer to my home. I’m already planning to attend. I went to the first Thrillerfest in Phoenix, Arizona, because I could stay with a relative. Now, it takes place each year in New York City, but it has multiple tracks, so a participant may select the more relevant and cost effective portions. See if the sponsoring organization or a local arts commission in your community offers a grants program to help you with the cost. Remember you may be able to count your expenses as tax deductions dependent on your filing status.

Here are some meetings and conferences I’ve attended and found very informative:

Book Passage is a bookstore with several locations in the San Francisco, California area. It holds classes and author events throughout the year. In addition, it offers three annual conferences for: (1) children’s writers and illustrators, (2) mystery writers, and (3) travel writers. Reading their newsletter gives you an excellent overview of significant writers in all genres. The year I attended the mystery writers’ conference, Jan Burke, Harlan Coben, and Ridley Pearson were instructors. Currently, a basic registration for the mystery conference is $550.00.

Decatur Book Festival, the largest independent book festival in the country, for the past nine years has been held in Decatur, Georgia, during Labor Day weekend. It has hosted over one thousand authors and hundreds of thousands of festival attendees in a historic eight-mile setting, with vendors under tents along the street and authors and panels presented in a number of venues around the town and Agnes Scott College. Some events are ticketed, but most are available to the public free of charge.

Malice Domestic is an annual conference geared for readers and writers of traditional mysteries in the style of Agatha Christie which takes place in late April or early May in the Washington, D.C., area. A program offers grants to unpublished authors. A comprehensive registration, including the Agatha awards banquet, is currently $295.00.
Malice Domestic 2014 Panel (Left to Right) Liz Stauffer, Sally Goldenbaum, B.K. Stevens, Paula Gail Benson, and Wendy Tyson
Murder in the Magic City is a smaller conference for mystery readers and writers sponsored by the Southern Sisters Chapter of Sisters in Crime, located in Birmingham, Alabama. Each year, on the first Saturday in February, about twenty-five authors appear, including a female and male guest of honor. All attending receive a box lunch and goodie bag full of books. The cost is $30.00  
Murder in the Magic City
South Carolina Book Festival, held in mid-May, last year this program by the Humanities Council of South Carolina featured over ninety authors and had more than 6,500 attending. On Friday, writing workshops are offered at a cost, then on Saturday and Sunday, author discussions and panels are open to the public without charge. For a number of years, I’ve volunteered to be a moderator for panels and had some great opportunities to meet authors.
A peek at the S.C. Book Festival
South Carolina Writers Workshop is a literary organization open to authors of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, playwriting, and screen writing. It has local chapters throughout the state that meet at libraries and other locations. Every October, it holds an annual conference in Myrtle Beach, which has included such key speakers as Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Michael Connelly. Critiquing sessions and contests are offered at the conference. Annual membership is $52.00 and the conference has a registration fee. Interested persons may attend three local meetings prior to joining.

I hope this summary gives you some ideas to consider. May you enjoy many writing events this coming year!

©2014 Paula Gail Benson

A legislative attorney and former law librarian, Paula Gail Benson’s short stories have been published in Kings River Life (, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable (, Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media 2014). Her story “Moving On” will appear in A Shaker of Margaritas: That Mysterious Woman Anthology to be released in late November or early December 2014. She regularly blogs on and Her website is


Thank you Paula, for a great two-parter on Writing Conferences. I'm sure you filled in a lot of blanks and answered more than a few FAQs from writers who've never attended one. Speaking for the Black Cat, we wish we had more time so we could go to them all!
READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when our guest post comes from Linda K. Sienkiewicz will be on Unlikeable Characters, A Risky Business. Till then, "Butt in chair, WRITE!
~ The Black Cat

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