Writing conferences are not one size fits all. Before you invest time and money to attend a writing conference, be sure it will help you reach your goals and objectives as a writer.
Finding a writing conference that caters to middle grade authors isn’t easy, however there are a few that specifically serve the middle grade market. Others are more general in nature, but the principals they teach and the guest literary agents and editors who attend are still a fit.
This article is intended to help authors writing books for a middle grade audience find the right writing conferences to help you reach your goals and objectives.
What is a Writing Conference?
A writing conference is an event where writers come together because they want to become better writers. Writing conference also give unpublished authors the opportunity to pitch their manuscripts to literary agents and editors.
These events typically feature lectures and panels in a general session format, along with workshops that are led by literary agents, editors, and published authors on a variety of topics.
Why You Should Attend a Writing Conference
Attending a writing conference can be a valuable experience if you’re an unpublished author.
One of the most obvious reasons is that you’ll learn a lot about the craft of writing from successful authors, as well as from the agents and editors who are considered the gatekeepers of the publishing industry. Telling you exactly what they look for in a manuscript carries a great deal of value.
Most writing conferences also allow attendees to pitch their manuscripts to literary agents in face-to-face meetings. Some even include manuscript reviews from editors. You’ll also get to interact with those same agents and editors, along with published authors at social events like happy hours.
Additional Benefits of Attending a Writing Conference
Additional benefits include building relationships with others who are at a similar place in their writing journey. Who knows, you might even form a peer review group with the people you meet.
A key benefit that few consider is that you’ll often gain critical insight into the business of publishing.
Understanding the overall health of the industry, along with which types of books are selling is critical information that could inform your next writing project.
If you are seriously considering attending a writing conference, I recommend that you read an article I wrote called 7 Reasons to Attend a Writing Conference (and 7 Reasons You Shouldn’t).
There is no doubt that a writing conference could launch your career as a professional author. However, there are good reasons to avoid writing conference as well.
Writing Conferences for Middle Grade Authors
The following is a list of writing conferences that either directly markets to middle grade authors, or they have suitable content for writers who focus on the middle grade market.
I’m happy to say that I actually was able to create content for the very first WriteOnCon, thanks to an invite from founder and bestselling author, Shannon Messenger. It’s a wonderful online three-day writing conference that focuses solely on picture books, middle grade, and young adult (YA) writers and illustrators.
They currently have new leadership but the vision is the same. They truly care about the attendees and the children’s book industry as a whole. And the good news is that if you miss the content, you can access afterward for a nominal fee.
Like a live event at a convention center or hotel meeting room, there are pitch sessions, critiques, and Q&As. However, you also get access to forums, vlogs, blogs, and more. And just like a physical event, editors and agents participate as well.
Their pitch is that you can attend from anywhere. Want to take part from a coffee shop? No problem. Your couch? Sure! You can even participate from a library.
2) Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators a professional organization for children’s book authors and illustrators. That means they focus on board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult (YA).
They strive to give their members resources to help them manage their careers. They even help unpublished authors start their publishing journey.
The latest SCBWI Summer conference featured keynote presentations by well-known authors, as well as both agent and editor panels. It also boasted 72 breakout sessions.
That’s a ton of content, which means you’re bound to find established pros in the industry sharing insight about the topics you’re most interested in.
Their philosophy is that conferences are the best place to secure a contract, so their focus is on teaching in order to help writers improve in their craft. However, they do help facilitate relationships to help give you a boost in your career.
They advise that attendees research the literary agents and editors who attend the conference, and to ensure that you only submit to the agents and editors that would be a good fit for your manuscript.
They also recommend that you ensure your manuscript is buttoned up and ready to publish. After all, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Remember, though. If you attend the SCBWI Summer Conference, there are no formal pitch sessions. And they actually ask that you don’t pitch literary agents and editors at all—even if you run into them in the hallway or the restroom.
Instead, they encourage that people focus on building relationships that have the potential to lead to a later review.
3) Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Winter Conference
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offers two larger events: the SCBWI Summer Conference (listed above) and the SCBWI Winter Conference.
Each focuses on the craft of writing amazing books for young people. The winter conference has keynote presentations from publishing industry experts, along with literary agent and editor panels, and some fantastic breakout sessions that are fairly hands on.
Like the summer conference, there are no formal agent or editor pitch sessions. Instead, take advantage of the networking opportunities and get to know the agents and editors who you think would be the best fit for your manuscript.
The good news is that it’s always easier to make a sale when you have a relationship.
Besides, it’s probably better for an agent to read your query at her convenience, instead of when she’s trying to cram a bunch in before the conference ends.
4) Writers Digest University Middle Grade & Young Adult Virtual Conference
Writer’s Digest offers virtual conference for writers who focus on the middle grade and young adult markets. There are presentations from bestselling authors on the craft of writing.
And you can also pitch to a literary agent who is looking for new books in your category. Even better, participating agents personalized critiques on each query.
5) Writers Digest Conference
The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference is an event that is focused on helping authors navigate their writing careers with creativity and professionalism. Attendees will learn tips to help improve your craft, and they’ll also get to explore the variety of publishing options that are available.
6) San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC)
The San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) is a four-day event in February that has over 500 attendees. It features keynote presentations from known authors, literary agents, and editors.
There is also an opportunity to pay a bit extra in order to take part in their “Speed Dating” event, where you have an hour to pitch as many literary agents as you can in 3-minute increments.
7) Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference is probably the biggest writing conference of them all. The four-day event attracts more than 12,000 annual attendees, and it features 2,000 presenters (not a typo).
You’re bound to meet literary agents, editors, and published authors during the networking times.
8) The Muse & The Marketplace
This might get the award for best writing conference name. The Muse & The Marketplace targets emerging writers to help them focus on craft. There is also an emphasis on the publishing industry, as well as book marketing and promotion.
They have over 130 interactive sessions led by literary agents, editors, and other industry pros. There are also special events that include evening receptions, breakfasts, and more.
You can pay a bit more and participate in their Manuscript Mart, where consultants review 20 pages of your manuscript. You can also take part in their Shop Talk Happy Hour where you’ll get to network with editors, literary agents, and authors (also an added charge).
9) Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference
This one comes from my alma mater, Arizona State University and I have quite a few author friends who are involved in the event. It’s billed as a “creative writing experience that meets people wherever they are.” I love that, because the truth is that we’re not in competition.
We’re all on our own journey and that’s okay. This writing conference has three-hour workshops that are typically led by published authors with either literary acclaim or solid sales. There is also a literary fair with performances, talks, and readings.
10) Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
The Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers (MN SCBWI) Conference is a two-day event that features general session presentations, as well as workshops, and manuscript reviews. You’ll get the chance to meet published authors and illustrators, as well as literary agents and editors.
11) South Carolina Writers Association
Billed as an intensive workshop for writers, the SCWA writing conference is also a lot of fun. There’s a costume party, open mic night, yoga, and a morning run.
More About Writing Conferences
If you want to learn more about writing conferences, including what to bring, what to wear, and how to take advantage of the event, be sure to read this article that I wrote.