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


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. And now? Many in-person conferences have turned into writing conferences online.

Of course, some writing conferences have simply vanished, while others have deferred to future years.

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.

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Thinking about attending writing conferences online? Here are five big reasons this is a good move for writers

Meet writing-conference organizer 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.

Writing Conferences: Erick Mertz
Erick Mertz

He’s also part of the team hosting the online Willamette Writers Conference July 31 to August 2, 2020.

Thinking about attending an online writing conference? Here’s his top five 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 attending writing conferences online 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.

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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