Writing Conferences Online: 5 Ways They’re Fresh & Useful


What’s up with writing conferences during all this COVID-19 craziness?

Until the pandemic hit, writing conferences served as a smart place for writers to learn new skills and network with authors, agents and publishers for almost 100 years.

Now what? Some writing conferences have simply vanished, while others have deferred to 2021, because it’s too dangerous to meet in person right now.

But there’s another segment of conference organizers scrambling to formulate a replacement. Out of the woeful ashes of canceled hotel reservations and scrapped airline flights online writing conferences are emerging.

  • But how does something like that even work?
  • And why would freelancers want to attend an online event without the in-person benefits of traditional writing conferences?

Here’s the thing…In order for online writing conferences to succeed, organizers have to figure out new ways to make it worthwhile for everybody involved. And it’s happening.

If you’re a freelance writer in 2020, attending a new digital conference in the COVID-era may prove to be one of the best opportunities for you in years.

Thinking about attending an online writing conference? Here’s five big reasons they’re fresh and useful.

Meet writing-conference organizer Erick Mertz

Writing Conferences: Erick Mertz

Erick Mertz

Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter and editor from Portland, Ore. He’s also the author of The Strange Air. A book series of paranormal mysteries that blends elements of the X-Files and Unsolved Mysteries.

When he is not writing, he enjoys a nice cold craft beer, baseball, a bit of travel, dungeon crawling with his board game group, and spending quality time with his wife and son.

He’s also part of the team hosting the online Willamette Writers Conference July 31 to Aug. 2.

Thinking about attending an online writing conference? Here’s his top 5 reasons to go:

1. Online writing conferences are more affordable

Traditional writing conferences can get pretty expensive.

Between admission, travel and lodging costs, and all of those add-ons (Who doesn’t buy an arm load of books?), you could easily pay upwards of $1,000 to attend an in-person event.

Not any more though. 

On average, online writing conferences are going to be far cheaper for organizations to put on. Take away the location fees, catering and faculty travel, the costs of putting on the affair are cut in half.

Organizations around the country are slashing admissions. A conference that used to cost $600 now hovers around $300. And that’s good news for writers.

There’s potential to get a lot more bang for your buck.

2. Virtual conferences draw more agents… of a higher caliber

Working for the 2019 Willamette Writer’s Conference, I saw how difficult it was for writers to schedule appointments with agents, managers, and publishers.

We’re talking about some of the busiest people in the industry. For them, making an in-person, three-day conference in Portland, Ore., was a real challenge.

“Maybe one day?” They would say.

The trouble booking someone for a single day is one of both money and logistics.

Do we fly someone out for one day so they can take pitches? Every agent and manager required considerable manpower and a deep financial outlay.

Well, in 2020, that problem is no more.

  • The barriers are gone.
  • Agents, managers and publishers can take pitches from their home offices.
  • They can teach classes from their back deck.

Without travel and lodging barriers, writing conferences are already seeing an increased number of agents, managers, publishers signing up to attend, and that means more access and opportunities for writers.

3. Light conference attendance improves the experience for writers

In spite of the lower costs and fewer barriers, conference attendance will certainly be down in 2020. Some estimates say that numbers will be cut in half.

That is a difficult reality for most organizations to swallow. For them, the conference is a significant generator of revenue, probably what keeps them running throughout the year.

Lower attendance is a boon to writers though. Why?

On one hand, fewer writers logically means fewer opportunities to network with fellow attendees.

OK, I get that. But consider the previous points:

  • More industry professionals.
  • Better industry professionals.
  • A lower number of attendees will lead to less competition for networking time with those sought after industry professionals.

I’ve been to a dozen conferences and often pitches with the best agents are booked out weeks in advance, leaving everyone else in the lurch.

If there is an agent or a publishing company that you’re targeting, this is the year to attend the conference where they’re taking pitches.

It’s like going to Disneyland in winter. You’ll get to see so much more because the lines are so much shorter.

 4. Virtual writing conferences are more accessible

I have worked for the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland for the last three years and attended for 12. Something struck me a long time ago. Year in and year out, I was seeing the same faces.

There are a few obvious reasons for that:

  • Conferences are expensive, as discussed above.
  • They’re (for the most part) held in larger cities and can be physically rigorous. I know I’m exhausted every time I finish the three-day grind.

Online writing conferences open the experience up wider than ever before to:

  • People with physical and developmental disabilities.
  • Writers from lower-income households.
  • People experiencing social anxiety.

Without the long hours navigating an airport hotel, there is reason to believe the writing world will open for these unique voices.

And that’s what readers are hungry for — more unique voices.

5. Online writing conferences simplify networking

The scene is a familiar one.

You’re waiting in a conference lunch line. You strike up a conversation with someone over the chafing dish. They’re interesting. Something you’re working on has them excited.

Then you sit down, exchange business cards and… it’s over.

Business card hangover. I’ve had it a hundred times. At the end of a long three days, I come home with a stack of a hundred cards, and I maybe get around to calling or emailing a few of them.

Sound familiar? In the virtual conference world, some of that hangover will go away.

When you meet another attendee in the virtual chat room, you’re both on a computer. All of your email and social media are right there to forge a deeper, longer-term connection with that interesting conversation.

Embrace the change of online writing conferences to grow

It is a Pollyanna notion to think that a virtual writer’s conference can adequately replace the real thing. The solution is not ideal by any stretch.

But we are not living in ideal times. Far from it, actually.

While we all struggle with how to bridge the gap between the world before and the one we’re all headed toward, we should remember to look at the changes before us as opportunities.

2020 may just be your big one to move up and earn more as a freelance writer.

What do you think about online writing conferences? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter, author, and editor from Portland, Ore. He’s also part of the team hosting the virtual 2020 Willamette Writers Conference. 

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  1. Williesha Morris

    The main conference I went to go to – Content Marketing World is online and still a hefty $699-$999 but that’s still cheaper than traveling!

    • Erick W Mertz

      Wow, that is steep. What accounts for the $300 difference in price?

    • Carol Tice

      Most conferences have a range of prices — not sure what the differential is in this one, maybe Willi knows. Sometimes earlybirds are cheaper, or there’s a 1-day pass, or you can get an exhibitor-pass only where you don’t get in the sessions… usually various ways to play.

    • Erick W Mertz

      It’s interesting… I’m not speaking from my WWC experience, but I’m wondering if, because of the virtual/digital aspect, many conferences will reel back on the 1-day/2-day/3-day price differences. The logic being, they’ll record everything and make it available as webinars to attendees afterward.

    • Williesha Morris

      I am honestly not sure why, but it’s a pattern. I’ve started a list of these virtual conventions. Several have scholarship applications, so that may be where to start. I’ve gotten several admissions that way.

    • Carol Tice

      Have always wanted to go to that one, too! Also the real crime is that I’ve never been to MOZ — which is here in Seattle! But expensive.

    • Erick W Mertz

      Moz is such a great tool, love it.

  2. Angela Holmes-Abrams

    Thanks so much for posting this article!

    I’m originally from the PNW (Oregon) and still live there part-time. I actually have wanted to attend this specific conference for the last couple of years, but the timing was always out of sync with my trips home.

    This year I could actually pull this off – and it’s the right point in my project calendar AND career for this next step. Hooray!

    This question is for Erick Mertz:

    Is there any chance you are offering a discount for members of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writer’s Den? Even a teeny tiny one?

    Thanks in advance for considering it!
    (Times are tight – so asking truly is relevant in my case).

  3. Peggy Jurcisin

    Great article.
    Another factor, simply being a freelancer and maintaining availability for daily marketing, client communication based in office versus on-site is valuable time.
    I attend several virtual conferences and gain valuable information and contacts doing so.

    • Erick W Mertz

      What are your favorite conferences? I’m looking to add a couple to my list, especially now that the barrier of travel is out of the way.

    • Carol Tice

      Not to butt in, but I’ll just say that I think the secret of my success is that I rarely went to writers’ conferences. I went to BUSINESS conferences. Things like World Domination Summit, NMX/BlogWorld… places where business owners — namely, our CLIENTS — roam. Rather than sitting around discussing how to use prepositions or what-all with other writers. Just what worked for me!

    • Erick W Mertz

      I would guess those are going on-line, too, right? Any favorites?

    • Erick W Mertz

      Can’t deny, my clients will love my continued availability. If you’re not open and answering email, you’re closed!

  4. rafiq hasan

    I am very much interested in online writing conference. it is very important for a writer. it gives lot of benefit. hope you would keep me in your next program.

    • Erick W Mertz

      One of the best things you can do as a writer is to share company and time with other writers.

      Come to the Willamette Writers conference!

  5. Joey Held

    You’re spot on, Erick—the lower barriers to entry between cost and travel have been super helpful in attending more conferences this year. Would highly recommend all writers check out at least one!

    • Erick W Mertz

      Thanks for checking the piece out, Joey.

      Have you attended any conferences yet this season? I’m eyeing a couple for later in the fall.

    • Joey Held

      Most recently, I attended the Adobe 99U conference—I thought the sessions were really solid overall and I even got to share a bit of one session in a freelance piece, so that was a nice example of outside the box networking.

      Still figuring out the fall schedule but hoping to attend at least a couple!

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