Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Finding a Writing Conference That’s Right For You

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

Christian Writers Conferences are popping up across the country. In addition to large multi-discipline conferences like the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, choices for the writer have increased with the rise of conferences geared toward “specifics.” For example, Realm Makers (July 2018), is a conference suited toward the speculative fiction writer. Small retreats that gear toward very specific needs and offer small attendances for a more one-on-one attention are wonderful, i.e. Autumn in the Mountains Novelist Retreat (October 2018) is a novelist retreat for those specifically working on a novel.

There are 1 or 2 day conferences, week-long conferences and everything in between—all offering wonderful information and networking for the new writer or the seasoned writer. All you have to do is a quick internet search.

The question becomes, how do you know what conference is best for you? It’s a tricky question, especially if you are brand new to the industry. The first rule of thumb: do your homework. Here are some items you’ll want to check out before you register to be sure the conference you choose is your best fit.

Thing to Look For
  • Look at the faculty: Faculty should be solid, seasoned writers, published, and knowledgeable. A plus is publishers, agents, and editors in attendance.
  • Be sure the conference offers what you need: If you are writing children’s work, you’ll want to be sure there are classes and faculty at that conference that meet your needs.
  • Convenience and cost: For the seasoned writer, as soon as a conference ends, they begin setting aside the finances for the next year. It’s part of their business plan – their continuing education of sorts. However, the newer writer may be on a very limited budget. Search out the classes offered. Consider your travel expenses. Decide if you are able to participate in contests or paid critiques. Look at housing and meals. Anytime you are able to stay on campus at a venue as opposed to securing a hotel room down the street, it’s generally less expensive. Keep in mind, it’s not a bad thing if you obtain a hotel room. Some conferences are held in churches, and you have no option. The point is, check every detail to be sure it not only fits your writing needs, but your financial situation as well.  
Once you’ve made your decision on the conference that best suits your needs, then prepare. Don’t walk into a conference and attend a popular author or publisher’s class if what they are teaching does not address where you are currently in your writing career. 

Here’s an example. When I attended my first conference, I had no idea what classes to attend so I followed a few new friends to the classes they attended. To my dismay, they were advanced classes. Though very informative (and I learned tons), what I needed were basics. Several years later, I began to write a novel. I realized at that point, I’d learned things in the wrong order. I needed to understand the basics of self-editing, and character development – not to mention, plotting, long before I attempted to write a novel. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Choose classes that suit your current writing level. My time and money would have been much better spent in classes I needed. 

As tempting as it is, to attend the “big dog” classes, be practical. If you feel you HAVE to attend a big dog class, allow yourself one indulgent, then purchase the CDs or MP3s of the conference and you’ll have those classes year round.

Attending a conference should be an enjoyable experience, but remember, it’s an investment in your writing career. Anytime you can logically spend “facetime” with experienced writers who can help you “where you are,” do. It’s the perfect time to pick their brains, get direct answers, and experienced tips.

Most Christian writing conferences are exceptional. Whether you choose a retreat type situation or a full on conference, make sure you’ve scoped out what is offered and if it fits your needs. Go. Enjoy. Learn. Then take home what you’ve gained and write.


Cindy Sproles is an award-winning author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and 
www.inspireafire.comShe teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live a Life of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into the Woman You Can Be. Cindy's debut novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Great advice Ms. Cindy, as always ma'am. If I could add one thing, it would be to "invest." What I mean is I have found through my learning process as a new writer, the more I put into conferences and other learning experiences (e.g. writer's groups, webinars, etc.), the more I take away. Participation is key, but as you point out, finding the right forum for your participation is key. God's blessings ma'am...

    1. Very true. The more you put in, the more you get back.

  2. Cindy, As one reviewer wrote on a work I had submitted: "You live in (insert my town) and are close to the interstate. You can go anywhere you want (to find help)". They must have looked up where I lived and it is literally in no man's land, nothing out here. LOL But, I found a writers' organization(several hundred miles away (on the interstate), joined and went to a conference, the problem? I didn't know what I was doing when I get there. I had done research on the speakers. I knew which ones were where, but did not understand what I was looking for. I can't underline that enough. I didn't know what I was looking for. The last conference I went to I had read Edie's tips. I had my one sheets, my sample copies, business cards, all sorts of stuff in a binder. I got so sick after the first day I just came home. But I'm still wondering, how do you identify exactly what you're looking for (at a conference) and if that conference has it, or indeed if it is to be found at any conference? Donevy

    1. If you don't mind an answer from not-Cindy, to know what you want from a conference you have to REALLY understand where you are as a writer. Writing is a skill that can be learned and an art that improves with practice. The next Great American Novel is likely inside someone right now who is still working on pacing, beats, and the flow of the plot.

      So my advice would be to find a way to connect with critique groups (my specific suggestion is to join ACFW and participate in their online critiques.] In this way you will learn what it is you need to know.

      Then you can look at the schedules of the conferences you are interested in and pick the classes that are correct for you.

      Until you really understand where your own writing is, it is very difficult to make those choices!

    2. Good question, you start where you are. What are you writing now. Take classes that are geared toward what you are writing. Once you get there and see the additional genres, add one or two classes there. Maybe you are currently writing children's stories, but you see a class on devotions. Add that. The point is you are learning on your level. If you are a beginner, veer away from advanced novel classes until you have the basics. You start where you are. Add one or two additional interests and then the more you write, the more focused you will become on what you WANT to write. Baby steps. It's like being in the band...you try the flute. The music basics are good for any instrument. But later you try percussion and love it. Again, the music basics are there and now you are playing the instrument you love.

  3. Timely advice, Cindy, as I am considering attending my local conference in June.
    I am tired of webinars.
    I crave face to face instruction and meeting other writers at my level (beginner, unpublished).
    Great information.

  4. Hi Cindy. Thank you. This is very serendipitous! I am writing a upper-middle grade children's book (actually re-writing a collections of stories into one book)and I am considering the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles (50 miles away) in the summer. It's not a Christian conference and it is MASSIVELY expensive, but it offers time with agents/editors for manuscript review. I'm "on the fence" about whether to invest this money, because outside the sovereignty of God, I probably wouldn't get any help from a Christian's point of view. Do you have any suggestions? Do you know of Christian editors, specializing in kids' books that I could meet with and run my manuscript by? I'm a retired journalist, book reviewer, and short story writer, so writing is not new to me. I just don't know how to move forward with publishing this book. Eeeek!

    1. There are several west cost Christian conferences. One is Mt Hermon, and there's one in Southern California. Google west coast Christian Writer's Conferences. Look up Mt Herman and email Kathy Ides. You.'ll see agents, and writers who write your genre on their site.

      If you are writing specifically for the Christian Market, you'll not get that help at a secular conference. Invest in the Christian Writers Market Guide. It will list conferences near you, agents, and publishers you can connect with.

    2. Thanks, Cindy, for the encouragement and direction. I found a couple. One is a Christian Writers'Conference at Biola University here in L.A. in June. Another a secular conference that has some sessions that I would like to attend, in So-Cal, in May.