Is It Worth It to Drop Several Hundred Dollars on a Writing Conference?

by Steph Auteri

I am a cheap bastard. Instead of spending money on pricey project management systems, I run my life through Google and a collection of text files and spreadsheets. I avoid paid teleclasses and webinars in favor of business books that I dog-ear and pore through over and over again. I even married a web developer so I could get him to build all of my websites for me. (Okay. I married him for other reasons, too.)

Still, back in 2012, I vowed that I would start investing in my business instead of cutting corners all the time. In the spirit of that, I hired designers to pretty up an ebook I’d created, and to create a color palette and a logo for a side project. I became a paying member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). I re-joined Freelance Success and started subscribing to a slew of literary magazines, educational organizations, and freelance services. And in 2013, I went to my very first professional writer’s conference, for which I dropped $338.

In 2012, I’d actually attended this conference for free. I’d been invited to speak on a sex writing panel at ASJA’s annual conference and, as a bonus, I got to hit up all the other workshops happening that day. I had such a productive time that I immediately applied to be a member, and I vowed to attend the conference again in 2013. In fact, my time there may have been part of the impetus for my new, paying-for-things stance.

As the conference approached, I studied the schedule and eventually registered to attend for two days. Then I watched as writers across the internet complained about the cost of the conference, and demanded to know if they’d get the chance to speak to certain editors directly. I mainly stayed out of these conversations because, even though I’m generally a cheapskate, I thought $338 was a pretty good deal for what I was getting.

I spent the morning of the first day of the conference at home, catching up on email and all my news and social media feeds. Then I drove into the city, attended a panel on alternative markets for health writers, and pushed myself to do some networking. After which I headed back home to enjoy a relaxing evening with my husband.

The next day, I took the bus in so I could attend some morning panels on content marketing and pet writing. After that, I attended the luncheon, mostly so I could see a favorite author of mine speak. After that, feeling spent, I headed back home so I could recharge, take an evening yoga class, and hang out at the bar with friends.

I know. People are complaining about the expense of the conference, and here I am attending two half days after charging $338 to my credit card. What gives? Especially considering how cheap I am?

Here’s the thing. For me at the time, the value didn’t lie in being given the opportunity to accost top-notch editors. (I’m much better in writing, anyway.) And the value didn’t lie in cramming in as many panels and as much networking as possible. Panels can be hit-or-miss, so I only attend the ones that really grab my attention. And I’m an introvert so, once I hit my wall, I’m no longer at my network-y best. For me, the value lay in the information I received at the select few panels I attended, and in the handful of meaningful connections I happened to make in the process. This made the fee more than worth it. After all, just one decent assignment generated from these panels and/or connections—or just two to three smaller ones—would more than cover the cost of the two days I (partially) attended.
Plus, I felt motivated—rejuvenated even—after attending the conference, which was important to me after having spent several months in a career-related, self-doubt-ridden slump.
These days, I invest in at least one or two conferences, festivals, and/or retreats a year. While at conferences, I network. I take notes. I sometimes even sign up to speed pitch editors and agents. And every single time—without fail—I make back the money I spent within the month. Every. Single. Time. And you can, too.

Search for writing conferences here.

A version of this post originally appeared at Freelancedom. My new internet home is right here.

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