The Value of Writer’s Conferences

By A.J. McCarthy

I attended my first writer’s conference recently, and I came home with one big regret. Why didn’t I do this sooner?

It wasn’t my intention to attend, having used up my travel budget to go to two book festivals in California in April, but an extraordinary event prompted an extraordinary trip.

I regularly enter writing contests, and sometime last spring, I came across the Killer Nashville Claymore Award competition for an unpublished manuscript. I dusted off an old one and submitted it, never imagining anything would come of it but, what the heck, I’m allowed to be optimistic.

You can imagine my surprise and joy when it was selected as one of the top twenty finalists, and I was told the winner would be revealed at the Killer Nashville Writer’s Conference. Further research sent my writer’s mind into orbit, and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Besides, I’d never been to Nashville before, and it had always been on my bucket list. My husband and I packed our bags and went.

The conference is geared toward crime writing, including mysteries, thrillers, suspense, pretty much anything related to crime. The guest line-up was very impressive: Jeffery Deaver (I’m a big fan), Anne Perry (Ditto), Ellery Adams and J.A. Konrath – two bestselling authors I didn’t know previously, but who are very talented.

Workshops and panels covered varied topics on writing, forensic evidence, marketing, and life as a writer. The most difficult decisions I had to make were concerning which event I’d choose to attend, often being torn between two very different topics.

My manuscript didn’t win, but it was in fantastic company, and I was thrilled for the winner and the top two finalists who walked away with awards.

One of the most valuable takeaways from the conference was the networking. I met people at all stages of their writing careers, each one of them with an interesting take on their experiences. There were people from all walks of life and from all corners of North America. We all had two things in common – to learn and to share.

I came home with copious notes, still waiting to be organized, and I have since researched and joined a few organizations for authors of the thriller/crime genre: Sisters in Crime (which also welcomes Misters, by the way), International Thriller Writers (which is now open to us since BRW has been accepted as an approved publisher), and Crime Writers of Canada. I’m also considering Mystery Writers of America, which was highly recommended to me.

At every turn, people recommended other conferences to me, all for the same genre: Bouchercon (which is supposed to be the largest, and changes locations every year), East Coast Crime (restricted to 250 participants, in Boston), Left Coast Crime (changes locations along the West Coast every year), and through ITW, I learned about ThrillerFest, held in New York City in July.

The point I’m trying to make is that this conference gave me so much with which to work. From tips on how to improve my writing, to how to create an online presence, to how not to smuggle drugs. Everyone I met was warm, friendly, and encouraging. Since my return, I’ve made contact with some of those same people on social media, and I look forward to seeing them again at other events.

If you haven’t attended a conference yet, I would highly recommend it. Your writing career deserves it.


A.J. McCarthy is the author of Sins of the Fathers. Her latest novel, Cold Betrayal, release January 17, 2019. She was born in Quebec, Canada and remained there to build a career in finance and accounting, and to raise her two daughters along with her husband. Now, she enjoys the new and diverse challenges and learning experiences involved with writing.