February 7, 2012

Conferences: How Do You Attend One Without Breaking The Bank?

I've been a stay at home mom for ten years now and stretching a dollar has become a big part of my everyday life. I clip coupons and work kids eat free nights at restaurants like there's no tomorrow. There isn't a lot of room for extras. Ever. Whatever we have is always allocated for something. So for me, conferences always seemed out of reach. I wanted to attend, I just wasn't sure how I could. They cost hundreds of dollars and are sometimes far away and the admission price doesn't include hotel or all meals. I couldn't see how I could justify taking that kind of money away from my family, but I also couldn't see not attending at least one since I knew that it was a good place to meet editors and agents as well as learn a thing or two and network with other writers. So what can a penny pinching person do to make their dream of attending a conference happen without impacting the family budget too much?

1. Attend a local conference for one day: Okay, unless you live in a big city or near one, these conferences aren't usually the sexiest ones, but they still have agents and/or editors present as well as local writers. It's a great place to get your feet wet and not break the budget. It is still pricey, somewhere right around a hundred dollars for the day, but one hundred dollars is still easier to raise than two or three (personally, I like to skim ten dollars off of my grocery budget for ten weeks to get this cash. My family is usually none the wiser or worse off because of this small sacrifice). One day at a conference will usually get you several seminars and lots of mingling time with other writers and agents. And if you choose a Saturday to go, a lot of times this price includes lunch-and if it doesn't you can always pack a lunch.

2. Combine forces with other local writers: If you have a local writers group this works particularly well. Plan to attend one conference a year in advance and then save up for the cost of the days. If it's local, you won't have to spring for a hotel, but you can share the cost of gas with your fellow writer friends which will help. If you do need to stay overnight, you can priceline a hotel room and share the cost. I always pack a cooler and eat snacks and breakfast in the room which then only leaves lunch and dinner and again, many times at least one lunch or dinner is included in the cost of the conference.

3. Look into scholarships: Some of the more pricey conferences like Writers in Paradise have scholarships available to attendees who can show sufficient hardship. Don't be afraid to try for  a scholarship or to call the people who are organizing the conference to see if there is anyway to receive financial aide. Ask about volunteering at the events in leiu of a day's admission. The worst that will happen is that they say no.

About now you may be asking yourself: Okay that's all well and good, but what if I can't afford to spend any money? Then what? Try this:

1. Attend the free readings and book signings that accompany many conferences: There are lots of opportunities to attend free readings. Look up the conferences that you are interested in and see what they have scheduled. I have attended many, many author readings and signings and I can say from experience that a lot of good and helpful information comes out of them, especially the question and answer time that many authors take part in. The conference attendees are all around you and so you get a brief, but useful opportunity to rub elbows with other writers and make new connections and it's all for free..or for the very low cost of one book.

2. Attend a free online conference: Writeoncon is a completely free online conference put on by several authors every August. Granted, it is geared towards young adult authors, but the information presented can easily be translated to adult ficiton and many of the agents/editors that attend represent more than just young adult, middle grade or picture books. You get to live chat with agents and editors, pitch your work, put your query and first manuscript pages up for critique in the forums, and network with a host of other writers. It is very like the regular conference experience except you can attend in your pajamas! (And their last several conferences are archived on their site so you can go and look at all the useful information at any time). They do ask that if you like the conference that you donate some money, whatever you can afford to help them offset the cost of running it which is more than fair and won't break your bank.

3. Surf the net for seminars: Many of the seminars offered at some conferences have been put up on the internet. It isn't usually the whole session, but most do have lots of helpful information. Just plug in the name of the conference and see what pops up.

Personally, I have yet to attend a conference for all of it's days (except Writeoncon). But I have attended for a day at several and would do it again in a heartbeat. I have made long term connections at every one that I've attended and have always come away from them charged up and ready to write. And while I do have to take a little money away from my family in the end, I am making headway towards my dream of being a published writer and showing my children that dreams are most definitely worth making sacrifices for. So, what about you? Do you have any other suggestions on how to save money on conferences? I'd love to hear them!


  1. Great ideas, Amy! I've never thought about going to a conference for one day, I guess I just assumed that you had to pay for the entire weekend. I would love to go to the SCBWI one in Atlanta this month, so I might look into that (if it's not too late to register). One of my professors said that she knew a lady who signed up to be a host for the day at a conference, where you shadow a published author and help them do whatever they need (probably with lunch and stuff) and they give you a discount. It's definitely worth looking into, since you also get to hang out with a published author all day! I've been meaning to research it.

  2. Ya know, you might also want to look into Dragoncon in August/September--they have author events/talks at it and many, many YA authors have gone--last year Jackson Pearce was there for example. Some agents go there as well. It may be worth a look since it's in Atlanta and I think the pass for all four days including all events (which includes author talks) is like 80-90 dollars. I'm thinking about going this year myself:-)

  3. Great post! I'm going to add this post to my weekly gem finds. The last conference I went to I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at my brother's house for two nights. I also stayed at hotel that offered free breakfast and had a microwave/fridge in the room that way I could eat cheap meals. I'm saving up to go to SCBWI conference in LA this summer and at the same time go on vacation with my husband.

    1. Oh, I'm jealous, I'd love to hang in LA for a bit! And what a great conference to attend! Thanks for adding my post to your weekly gems:D