7 reasons why all authors (novice or established) should attend a writers’ conference

by Laurie Scheer, director of UW-Madison’s Writers’ Institute and author of The Writer’s Advantage (Michael Wiese Productions, 2014).

The Writers’ Institute, offered by UW-Madison Continuing Studies, celebrates its 25th anniversary April 4-6. The featured keynote for the first conference was the celebrated writer Elmore Leonard. Each year, the Writers’ Institute welcomes hundreds of aspiring and published writers primarily from the Midwest, offering them an opportunity to expand their professional skills and to make contacts in the publishing industry.

At this year’s conference, attendees will hear publishing experts, literary agents, editors, and authors such as Michael Perry, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Nathan Bransford, Dale Kushner, Lori DeVoti, and Kathie Fong Yoneda.


That said, it is all too often that writers work alone in isolated environments without an awareness of the outside world.  For that isolated writer, attending a writing conference can rock their world in ways they could only imagine.

Writers, by nature, are known to be quiet individuals who like to, in general, observe life and record their experiences and surroundings.  Author Anais Nin said of writers; “We write to taste life twice.”

When entering the conference, a writer’s spirits can soar as overheard conversations hum with phrases such as “first draft,”  “character development” and “pitch session.”

Excitement increases as each session concludes. Maybe getting published is possible, even if a writer lives on the Midwest prairie.

Here are the top sevens reasons that past conference participants have cited for attending:

1)      Meeting actual editors and agents and discovering they are real people, not powerful titans to fear.

2)      Hearing about publishers’ new interests and genres: thrillers, paranormal horror, whatever’s hot.

3)      Discussing what a “pitch” to an editor or agent should include, and practicing it.

4)      Discovering you’re not alone when wondering if your work is any good.

5)      Building a network of writing friends, who understand your thrills and frustrations.

6)      Gathering background secrets about how self-publishing actually works.

7)      Heading home with tons of exciting ideas (about dialogue, setting, conflicts, contracts, query letters).

. . .and you’ll go home feeling like a professional  writer filled with hope and inspiration, ready again to review  your novel, nonfiction book, teen fiction, screenplay, or poem.

Special conference features include several types of critiques, small group “fireside chats” with instructors and editors/agents, sessions for practicing your project pitch, and one-on-one private appointments with editors and agents.