Tips To Maximize Your Time at a Writers’ Conference – Part 1

Tips to Maximize Your Time at a Writers Conference

If you are planning to attend a writers’ conference, chances are you’re facing a schedule which does not allow you to attend every single class offered. Of course, you’ve spent a lot of money to attend and you want to make the most of this opportunity. So how do you decide which classes to sit in on and which to skip?

Tip #1:

Know where you are.

Are you just beginning your writing journey? Do you have an idea, some notes, and maybe a few pages typed up, but that’s it? If the answer is yes, recognize that you’re a newbie and own it. There is nothing wrong with being a newbie. We all were at some point. As a newbie, you’ll want to look for classes designed for beginners.

If you’re a bit further along in your journey and have a couple complete drafts under your belt, but haven’t yet delved into the world of editors, agents, query letter, book proposals, and the like, I’d say you’re somewhere in the middle experience wise. Avoid classes that repeat basics you’ve already covered and look for classes to round out what you don’t know.

If you’ve already published one or more books or at least completed multiple drafts, gone through your manuscript with an editor’s fine tooth comb and written your book proposal, a few query letters, and have a one sheet ready to go, you’re looking for the advanced classes. You’ll want to look for classes which will update you on the market’s latest changes and classes that will review subjects you know but can always learn more about.

Tip #2

Set your goals.

This is really something you should do before registering when you are deciding which conference to attend, but if you haven’t already, set your goals for the conference you have registered for. Complete this sentence:  “When I leave this conference I . . . ”

Much of your answer will reflect how well you know where you are. (See Tip #1.) Some example answers may be:

  • When I leave this conference I will know more about structuring my plot and creating my characters.
  • When I leave this conference I will know more about building my author’s platform and maximizing my writing time.
  • When I leave this conference I will have at least three new contacts I can grow in the future.

Tip #3

Do your homework.

Aside from reading the class descriptions (which can often be a bit vague), be sure you read up about the instructors themselves. Who they are and what their area of expertise is will often influence the angle or approach they take to addressing the stated topic.

For example, a class covering book proposals which is being taught by someone who works exclusively in the non-fiction realm may or may not be helpful to someone wanting to know how to write a book proposal for a work of fiction. Sometimes instructors branch out from their area of expertise in order to help a wider audience, but not always. If you knew this about this instructor, you may be able to find someone to ask in advance of the class whether or not fiction book proposals would be covered. If you hadn’t done your homework on the instructor, though, and the description said only, “Learn to write a strong book proposal” or something similarly generic, you wouldn’t know what to ask.

Tip #4

Do your research.

Yes, this is different. This is taking your homework one step further and googling the instructors. Why? Consider this scenario:

You have to choose between the following two classes:

  1. 5 Things You Should NEVER Say to an Editor
  2. 10 Fatal Flaws of Fiction

Wow. Those both sound like important things to know, right? I mean, no one wants to be the person whose fiction contains a fatal flaw and then says something accidentally offensive to an editor. So how do you choose?

Here’s the thing. Most of your instructors are working writers themselves. They are busy. They don’t always have time to come up with completely new material and will sometimes rehash something they’ve blogged about, written an article about, or spoken about before. This means that often, though not always, it is possible to find at least some of the content for the class you are considering by doing a thorough Google search.

Take the title of your class combined with the instructor’s name and get searching. If nothing comes up with your first try, see if you can remove some details from the name of the class. So “10 Fatal Flaws of Fiction” could be searched as “Fatal Flaws of Fiction.” You can also think of different ways to title the same idea: “Common Fiction Mistakes.”Play around with it and see if you can find something the instructor has shared which might give you an idea of the direction they will probably take the class.

Part 2

Now that you have some tips to help you decide which classes to take, come back next week to read my tips for maximizing the rest of your time at a writers’ conference.

Did you find these tips helpful? Do you have any tips to share for maximizing your time at a writers’ conference? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Essential Items You’ll Regret Not Bringing to a Writers Conference

5 Essential Items You'll Regret Not Bringing to a Writers Conference by Kathleen Denly

Having attended four writers’ conferences now, I have a pretty good handle on what I like to bring and what I can happily leave at home. Many times I will pull something out to use it and the person sitting next to me will exclaim, “Oh I wish I’d brought that!” Here are 5 of the things which nearly always earn me that response:

1. Lip balm!

You will be surprised how quickly your lips will dry out after hours and days of talking in a temperature controlled room. Not one to normally need lip balm outside of a visit to the snow, my lips will inevitably begin drying out and cracking the second day of a conference even with repeated use of this stuff. Without it … I shudder to think.

2. A portable battery charger

Using your phone for digital notes, checking your calendar, time checks, and the occasional pop-in to social media during breaks, can be surprisingly draining on your battery. By the time you’re crawling into bed at one in the morning after 14 hours of nonstop learning and networking it can be easy to forget to plug in your phone and the last thing you want is to spend the entire next day asking the person beside you what time it is. So do yourself a favor and pack one of those portable battery charging things (yes that’s the official term) – just don’t forget to charge it before you do!

3. A fine point permanent marker

Over the course of a conference, if you’re networking like you should be, you will find you have collected several business cards from the people you’ve met. In addition to retaining all the wonderful advice the speakers are dispensing, it can be difficult to remember exactly who gave you which card. Thus, I have developed a little trick. I make a note directly on the card in one or two words that will remind me what story that person is working on, or what genre they typically write in, or whatever little personal bit of information I gleaned from our conversation that will help me put the business card to the face later on. You can do this with a regular pen of course, but I have found the glossy surface of some business cards difficult to write on. A permanent marker solves this problem and a fine point ensures that I can fit what I need to write in a tiny space.

4. A disposable floss pick

Yes, seriously. Every conference I have attended has served salad and every conference I have attended there has been someone who comes out of the stalls behind me to find me digging a floss pick from my little pouch and says, “Oh that’s so smart! Do you have an extra?” There have also been two times when I’ve had to very discretely indicate to someone that their lunch was showing. Floss. Bring it. Use it.

5. Snacks!

The first morning of a conference can be nerve-wracking no matter how many you have attended. Skipping that first meal due to a nervous stomach, though, can leave your stomach rumbling with embarrassing loudness halfway to lunch. You might also find that the provided lunch isn’t quite all you need to make it to the dinner hour. Do yourself a favor and pack a few high protein snacks to help you get through the day. And throw in some water while you’re at it. A well fed belly and hydrated mind will help keep you on your toes and increase your odds of remembering what you’re trying to learn.

BONUS FOR THE LADIES:  Feminine Hygiene Supplies

Not your time of the month? Doesn’t matter. We all know stress can do some seriously strange things to our body. The last thing you want is to spend an hour hiding in the bathroom waiting for the next woman to enter and praying she has supplies to spare. Just pack your own. Better safe than sorry.

What about you? What do you find essential to have in your conference bag? Let me know in the comments below!


An Experience I’ll Never Forget – Asheville Christian Writers Conference 2017


This was my first time attending the Asheville Christian Writers Conference.  My first time attending any conference which was so far away I couldn’t drive to and from home each day. In fact, living in California, I had to fly myself to North Carolina just to attend this conference. I had to pay for the rental car which I drove over 100 miles each way from the airport to the hotel room which I also had to pay for. This was no small trip where my pocketbook was concerned and I was gone several days in a row, leaving my hardworking, crazy-busy husband to take care of our three boys alone. So was it worth it?

Well, let me tell you about it.

The people

One of the best things about attending a writers conference is the people you meet. I met so many wonderful people at this conference that it would take far too long to list them all. So I will limit myself to sharing just three of the many special connections I made.

em_photo-1Edie Melson taught the very first Early Bird Class for this conference on the “Hows and Whys of Social Media” and from that moment I knew I was in the right place. Not only did I learn a lot just in the short time she spoke, but her warmth and generosity came through in her words and the way she presented herself. Over the next few days I had several opportunities to speak with Edie both one-on-one and in groups. I can tell she is a woman who knows her stuff and has a passion for helping others. I am blessed to have gotten to know her.

ruth-and-i-at-acwc-2017Ruth Steel is someone I met in the halls. We made eye contact, smiled, and after exchanging names and shaking hands, I opened with the typical writers’ conference question, “So, what do you write?” (Original, I know.) When she replied that she was working on a historical fiction novel for the Young Adult audience, I immediately knew we were going to be friends. We enjoyed many conversations over the next few days and exchanged contact information so that we can keep in touch and continue to cheer each other on in our writing endeavors.

Melanie and I met in the shuttle at check-in on the very first day. There was something about her smile and her readiness to chat with anyone that told me I was going to like this lady. Turns out I was right. I think there was something about our personalities that we just clicked. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there was a particular something she let slip in one of our earliest conversations that made me instantly decide she was my new best friend.

You see, when she found out that I write historical Christian romance, she responded, “Oh! I have a friend who writes that. In fact, her book just came out.” I was like, “Really? Would you mind giving her my contact info? I’m always wanting to get to know other people in my genre.” And she says,”Sure.” And then she says this: “I forget the title of her book, hold on….Her name is Sondra umm…” and she trails off as she starts looking in her bag for something and I’m like, “Kraak? Sondra Kraak?” And she says, “Yes.”!!!

I’m not gonna lie. I had a serious fangirl moment, but I tried to play it cool. (Not too sure I succeeded. Don’t call me out Melanie!) I could not believe I had the chance to maybe get to know Sondra. I loved her debut novel so much that I pre-ordered her second one which I also loved! I know. I’m using a lot of exclamation marks. I can’t help it. Sondra Kraak!!! Okay, I think my cool cover may be completely blown now. Deep breath. Exhale.

Seriously though, Melanie is a wonderful friend and writer in her own right and I am truly blessed to have had the chance to meet her and learn part of her story. I’m looking forward to staying in touch.

The Classes & Keynote Speeches

To be honest, I have never missed so many of the classes at a conference as I did at this one! I am so relieved that I have all the handouts and audio recordings of the lessons to review later. (I missed so much because I was so busy attending appointments to speak with all the wise and wonderful faculty who had attended the conference.)


Linda Gilden gave a very inspiring Keynote Speech

That said, the classes I did get to attend were pure gold. Again, that first class Edie Melson taught comes to mind. She reminded us to view social media as a place where we get to connect with other writers and readers who share our passion for the written word and not just a place to talk about me, my book, and I. She also gave great suggestions on how to make sure we are making the best use of these opportunities, advised us on avoiding common mistakes, and shared great tips for making the best use of our time.


I have to tell you, if you have not heard Vonda Skelton speak, you are missing out! Her keynote speech had me almost bent double in my seat and wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. This lady knows how to tell a story. Have you ever met someone who’s a bit petite, but when she speaks her spark and spirit fill the room? That’s Vonda. Of course, not only did I laugh until my face hurt, but I gleaned a lot of wisdom and encouragement from her words.  Her first book was rejected 63 times before it was accepted. Stop and imagine that for a moment. That is hard. She is one tough cookie. Sending your manuscript out time and time again in the face of so much rejection takes a special kind of determination, but she didn’t give up. Today Vonda is a highly successful writer and speaker, well respected and well loved.

The Experience

Becoming a professional writer is a different experience than entering many other careers. There are many paths to choose from and many steps to take before you reach success, and success can look very different for each writer. Being a professional writer involves so much more than waking up one day and writing down a few words, or even completing a story/article/whatever kind of writing someone does. While that is a start, it is only the start.

Part of the path I have chosen involves making connections with others in my industry, submitting my work for others to judge, and approaching literary agents to discover whether they believe in my novel enough to help me find the right publisher for it. Attending this conference provided the opportunity for me to accomplish all of that.

Does this mean I’m done and can check those things off my list? Of course not. The thing about this career is there will always be another book to put out there, another risk to take, another connection to make. It’s terrifying, I won’t lie. But it can also be very life affirming.

As you know if you’ve been following my blog, I was blessed to tie for Second Place in the Badge of Honor Contest at this conference. The encouragement in that award alone is priceless, but even before I learned of this accomplishment, I was being lifted and encouraged by so many other people whom I spoke with during the conference. Whether the words came from faculty or fellow attendees, those words of support and encouragement were like water in the desert for this writer.

So, was it worth it? In a word:  Absolutely!

Do you enjoy conferences? Has anyone come into your life at just the right time to offer encouragement? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


Find out whose keynote speech had @KathleenDenly wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. (Click to Tweet)

Is the Asheville Christian Writers Conference worth attending? – @KathleenDenly (Click to Tweet)

My Novel Ties For 2nd Place!



So I am sitting here with my fingers hovering over the keys trying to figure out what to type without sounding totally gushy and completely unsophisticated, but … I can’t help it!

My historical Christian romance novel, Waltz With Me, tied for Second Place in the Badge of Honor Contest at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference!

You guys, I am just so overwhelmed with joyful emotions! I am excited and giddy and happy and humbled and blessed and shocked and . . .

I just want to squeal with joy! Aaaaah! I just won a contest! Okay, so technically I tied for Second Place, but it feels like winning.

How awesome is it that out of all the people who entered they loved my story that much? I am so blessed! (Thank you, judges!)

Of course, I have already tweeted and posted on Facebook about my win, but I knew I wanted to post here as well because as I am thinking about this accomplishment, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who have helped me get here. So I want to take this opportunity to thank them. (I know, I know, it’s not like I won an Oscar or something, but I just have to say thank you, so bear with me here.)

First, I have to thank my mom for believing in my talent even before I knew I was a writer.

I also want to thank Lexi Miller, Betty Hofman, Samantha Lurey, and Betsy Hamblin even though I wasn’t working on this manuscript at the time we were meeting, your encouragement kept me going and your critiques made me a better writer.

Of course, I have to thank the members of the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Poway and Santee Critique Groups for sharing their wisdom and encouraging me as I worked through the many revisions of this novel. And I must add a special thanks to Kathryn Hughes, my fellow historical romance author, for your invaluable feedback and encouragement, and to Tiffany Hanson, who doesn’t write in my genre, but whose keen insight and fellowship has helped to lift me up as a writer.

I want to thank my friend, Brett Burner, whose wisdom and encouragement helped me believe in myself at a time when I was truly struggling.

My Beta Readers. How can I thank you enough? Each one of you took time out of your busy lives to read my full-length manuscript and provide priceless feedback on the things you liked and the things that needed changing. It truly means the world to me to have your support.

Lastly, but most importantly, I need to thank my husband, Luke, without whose support, self-sacrifice, and undying belief in me, I would not be able to do what I do. From watching our kids so that I can get away to write, to physically acting out scenes with me so that I can figure out how best to describe them, you are my rock and I love you.

(No, I’m not forgetting God, but I’m pretty sure He doesn’t read my blog, so I’ve already thanked Him in prayer. Many times.)


Okay. So that sounded way too much like one of those Oscar speeches, and I realize it’s not like I have a book deal (yet) or that I even won first place, but this is still a very big deal for me, and a very great honor. This is the first book contest I’ve ever entered and when you have worked so hard and for so long on something, it is so, so good to have someone who doesn’t even know you say, “Yes. What you have done is good. We like it.” And so many people have stood by me and helped me get this far that I felt compelled to thank them.

This is nowhere near a complete list. If I wrote out the complete list, no one would read the whole thing, and although there’s no one next to me as I type, waiting to play the music that lets me know it’s time to stop talking (or typing), I am hoping this wasn’t too dreadfully long.

So to everyone who has encouraged and supported me, from the bottom of my heart,


Do you have someone in your life that has supported and encouraged you through the tough times? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


Have someone that encourages and supports you? Thank them today! #grateful #ChristFic

Waltz With Me by @KathleenDenly ties for 2nd Place in Badge of Honor Contest! #christfic

My First Long Distance Writers Conference

My First Long Distance Writers Conference by

I am SO excited (and maybe a little terrified) to announce that next month I will be attending my very first long distance writers conference!!!

Thus far I have been restricted to attending those conferences close enough for me to be able to drive to and from the event each morning and night.  This time I’ll be flying!!! Okay, so maybe not every morning and night, but I get to FLY!!! For someone who once dreamed of becoming a flight attendant and now only gets to fly maybe once every 3-5 years, this is a HUGE deal!!!!

This will also be the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel room by myself since… wait a minute. I don’t think I have EVER stayed in a hotel room alone….Ummm. Yeah. Nope. Not ever…

…hmmm, what? Oh sorry. Got lost for a moment there imagining all the uninterrupted time to think and write and think and write and read and …. well you get the idea. Did I mention uninterrupted quiet?  *happy sigh*

Anyway. Aside from all that awesomeness, I also get to hang out with fellow writers for a full two and a half days while learning from those who have gone before. I’ll get a better understanding of what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong in this social media game, how to analyze my antagonist, and what common errors to look for in my manuscript, among other things.

So where and when will I be gaining all this newfound wisdom?

At the 2017 Asheville Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, North Carolina, on February 17, 18 & 19!!! Woohoo!!!

If you happen to be in attendance this year, please take the time to say hello and let me know you visited my blog. You will make. my. day! 

If you are unable to attend, have no fear. I may not be able to share everything I learn while I’m there, but once I’m back I will do my best to share with you several of the best gems I collected. So be sure to sign up to FOLLOW ME so you won’t miss out!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear any tips you have for my upcoming travels. I have only flown once since 9/11/01 and it was just a short little ride upstate. I’ve never even been to North Carolina before.

Do you have any tips for navigating the airport? Any strategies for making the most of my luggage space? Any travel tips at all, throw them at me! I’m all ears eyes !!

La Jolla Writer’s Conference 2016

Grace Doyle & Andrew Peterson giving their enlightening Keynote Conversation during lunch Saturday. Photo by Kathleen Denly
Grace Doyle & Andrew Peterson giving their enlightening Keynote Conversation during lunch Saturday.

Wow. What a weekend! It was wonderful seeing so many familiar faces from last year’s La Jolla Writer’s Conference and getting to know some new ones. Even the faculty are always so personable, several remembered me from last year and asked about my writing. I learned so much I think my head might explode. I am not sure how long it will take to recover my energy after that marathon of learning and inspiring conversation, but I am definitely a better writer today than I was on Friday morning, so it’s all worth it.

My thanks to Antoinette Kuritz and her son Jared Kuritz, Hunter (So sorry I didn’t catch your last name),  Kimberly Unger, Mysterious Galaxy Books, and all those who work to put this conference together and keep the technology cooperative. Your efforts are so appreciated.

Also, I want to thank:  Deeanne Gist, Marni Freedman, Lissa Price, Jeniffer Thompson, Brennan Harvey, Jonathan Maberry, Eldon Thompson, Grace Doyle, Andrew Peterson, Annie Bomke, Mark Clements, Martha Lawrence, Mimi Lee, Warren Lewis, Jill Marr, Brian Jud, Tinker Lindsay, Patti Callahan Henry, W. Craig Reed, Laura Taylor, and who all volunteered their time (and for those not local even flew themselves in on their own dime) to come and share what they have learned with the rest of us.

Not once this weekend did I feel a sense of the pros vs the newbies or the published vs the unpublished. Everyone seemed so approachable and happy to help. One of my favorite moments was seeing Brennan Harvey sitting in on a class I was taking, writing notes and asking questions just like the rest of us. It shows that no matter how successful anyone is, there is always more to learn and epitomizes what makes this conference so special.

5 Lessons I Learned At My First Writer’s Conference – Part 2

Today I’m continuing my post on the five lessons I learned at my first writer’s conference. If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out Part 1.


LESSON #3:  Don’t be afraid to share your work

I have regularly attended various critique groups for around 6 years now. Each runs a little differently and some are more helpful than others. I had also sent out my manuscript to 4 different Beta Readers and heard back from 3 of them prior to attending the conference. All this to say two things:

1) I was used to having my work critiqued by a wide range of people.

2) I had already received a significant amount of helpful feedback on my work.

Nevertheless, it was still intimidating sharing my work at the conference’s read and critique late night sessions. It was also absolutely worth it. The room held not just aspiring writers, but also successfully published authors, editors, and other experts of the industry. The nature of the feedback you get from a group like that is very different from the nature of the feedback you can get from your typical writer’s critique group. Both are valuable, but don’t talk yourself out of sharing at a conference because “you’ve already gotten feedback” and, well, let’s face it, you’re scared. Take a deep breath and raise your hand. Trust me, it’s worth it.


LESSON #4:  Don’t be stingy.

After spending so much money on the conference itself, not to mention travel and accommodation if you’re from out of town, it can be tempting to brown bag it or otherwise separate yourself from the crowd in order to save a few dollars when it comes to those meals not covered by the conference. Don’t do it. If you can at all afford to, stay close by and pair up with one or two other people from the conference. The conversations you’ll have while you’re eating are well worth the additional cost.


LESSON #5:  It’s not a party, you don’t need to say goodbye to everyone. 

I’ll admit, this one took me completely by surprise. Never having been a part of the corporate world on a scale that required me to attend a conference of any kind, I just didn’t know the etiquette for wrapping things up.  My mom had raised me to never hang up first in a phone conversation and to always say goodbye to your host and/or friends before leaving a party. So… I went with that.

At the end of the last workshop I wandered around looking for those people I’d most connected with so that I could say farewell to them before they left. Some of them I found, some I did not. Those I found were mostly newbies like me, but all were friendly and happy to say farewell to me. They were also all visibly exhausted like me.

I also stopped by to say farewell and thank you to the conference organizers…. It was a nice thought, but I don’t think I executed it exactly right.  Tired as I was, I was a bit… chatty. In hindsight a very brief, one or two sentence, thank you and farewell would have been better. Why? By the end of this thing everyone – especially those organizing it – is worn to a frazzle, and as much as they may have enjoyed getting to know you over the conference, at this point they are barely standing and just want to do what they need to do the close things down and go home. So, if you want to, go ahead and say goodbye and thanks, but keep it brief. Don’t take offense if people leave without saying goodbye. It’s not personal. It’s exhaustion.

Well, that concludes the five lessons I wanted to share with you. The truth is I learned so much I could probably write a dozen more articles on this same subject, but for now, I’ll conclude here.

I hope those of you preparing for your first writer’s conference have found this information helpful. For additional information, I found The Writers Conference Survival Guide helpful. (NOT an affiliate link)

For those who have already attended a writer’s conference, what do you think of my lessons? Are there any you would add?

And don’t forget to sign up to FOLLOW me for the latest news on my very first giveaway!

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