Pitching to Conferences

Writing Magazine – August 2024

Running workshops at writers’ conferences can boost your writing business. Simon Whaley chats to two writers about their experiences.

With the writing conference season approaching, many writers are packing their bags and looking forward to a workshop-packed break and a chance to meet up with old friends. Whether it be the Writers Summer School (Swanwick), the Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference, or the National Association of Writers and Groups weekend NAWGFest, to name a few, there are a lot of workshops, talks, and lectures that need delivering.

Organising these annual gatherings is often a year-long process, with many associations planning next year’s event as soon as this year’s is over. That’s if they haven’t started already. So if you’ve thought about pitching an idea for a workshop, talk, or lecture, now’s the time to take action. Pitching to writing conferences can give your writing business a boost in many ways.

Business Benefits

These events are a networking nirvana. You’ll make lots of new friends and can connect with editors, agents, publishers, and other writing businesses. For me, tutoring at conferences has led to magazine commissions, given opportunities to approach people for interviews, as well as led to additional workshop bookings.

Not only that, but conferences pay for your workshops. Some pay you for your time and include accommodation or, alternatively, discount your conference stay if you were going there, anyway. Most conferences allow tutors and facilitators to take books to sell, too, further boosting income opportunities.

Being a tutor or speaker raises your profile. It brings you to the attention of those who may not have come across your work before, and so even if it doesn’t lead to a direct sales boost at the event, you may notice an uptick in sales elsewhere. But it’s not just physical books you can sell. After one lecture I gave at a conference, there was a noticeable overnight spike in ebook sales for the book I’d been talking about.

For writers with newsletters and mailing lists, delivering workshops and talks is a great opportunity to share sign-up details with like-minded people.

First Contact

If the idea appeals, contact the relevant organisation and enquire what their process is. Some conferences like potential tutors and guest speakers to pitch their workshop and talk ideas, while others prefer an introductory approach listing the subjects you can offer first. If interested, they’ll invite you to pitch formally.

Remember, this is just like any other business pitch. Sell yourself and your experience, as well as the workshop you’re offering. Research their programme to identify their typical workshop or talk requirements. Do delegates sit at tables or in lecture theatres? Are they expecting time to write in a workshop, or do they prefer a lecture? How long are the sessions?

Of course, the best research is to attend the event as a delegate first. Think of it as a business investment. And, not only will you clearly understand how the event works but you can make face-to-face contact with the relevant committee members.

Sometimes, other people suggest your name to the relevant committees. This happened to Brian Price, author and crime science advisor, whose latest novel, Fatal Image, is out soon. He stepped in to help a friend at who’d been booked to tutor at Swanwick.

‘Kate Bendelow, a SOCO (scene of crime officer), was due to present a session on crime scenes and forensics,’ he explains, ‘but had to pull out owing to illness. She suggested I offered to do my session instead, and the organisers agreed.’

Having done it once, Brian pitched successfully to Swanwick for 2023 as well. It was a great workshop—I was there! I made many notes, and I bought Brian’s essential book for crime writers: Crime Writing: How to Write the Science.

Vicki Beeby, whose latest novel is A Wedding for the Bomber Girls, is a regular delegate at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. ‘I was approached by the conference organiser,’ she says, ‘and once I’d indicated I was interested, I then put together a proposal, outlining the workshop content.’

Practical Proposal

Conference organisers are looking to put on a diverse and interesting programme of events, so make your pitch stand out. Instead of offering a general How to Write workshop, angle your pitch to offer something a little different, but still hugely useful and informative to delegates. Vicki is writing her third saga series, so has plenty of novel-writing experience, but she pitched an idea on some writing software that she knew many delegates used.

‘It was two workshops on Scrivener,’ she explains. ‘One for beginners, and one for users who already had a working knowledge and wanted to go further. I’d worked for some years on the Scrivener support team, so as I’ve had several RNA friends say they’d like to learn more about it, it seemed a natural choice. Each workshop was an hour and a half long, and alternated between explanation/demonstration from me and time for everyone to get hands-on experience.’

Some writers attend these conferences every year, so they’re always looking for something different. There will always be a need for workshops and lectures offering delegates advice on how to improve their writing skills, and how to write in certain genres. But think about the other things writers have to contend with too.

As a writer who takes all my own photos to illustrate my travel articles, I understand what makes a travel article image and how to submit them to publications. That’s why I’ve run workshops on Photography for Writers. I’ve judged and administered several writing competitions, which gave me lots of experience to facilitate a workshop called How To Win Writing Competitions.

Course Constraints

The style and format of tutored content varies at conferences, so think which format best suits your topic. At Swanwick, for example, delegates can attend a selection of specialist courses, each a collection of four one-hour workshops, spread across four days. There are also several other short courses, which are two one-hour workshops usually separated by a refreshment break, as well as many single one-hour sessions.

I’ve also tutored at weekend conferences where delegates immerse themselves in the same course comprising four two-hour workshops. It’s important, therefore, that you pitch for the right length for the topic you’re tutoring. Getting that right isn’t always easy.

Brian considered this when pitching his crime workshop. ‘I thought two hours would be sufficient to cover the ground. One hour wouldn’t have been long enough.’

However, flexibility is important because you never know what questions you might get asked, or how easy it is for timings to slip.

Vicky will adjust her Scrivener workshops if asked to do them again. ‘I’d underestimated the time attendees would take trying out each of the features I’d demonstrated, meaning I had to skip some of the things I wanted to show. If I repeated the workshops, I’d pare the agenda down to essential features, leaving the rest for bonus items if there was time.’

Reuse and Recycle

While creating a workshop or talk takes time, once you have created it, it is there for you to draw upon and adapt as necessary. I often receive requests from other writers’ groups to deliver workshops, either in person or via Zoom, that I originally developed for a conference somewhere. It’s not uncommon for delegates to attend a workshop at a conference and then recommend it to their writers’ group.

Individual Inspiration

Some conferences offer delegates the opportunity to spend time with a tutor for some private feedback on a project they’re working on, on a one-to-one basis. Delegates have to pay for this service, and the tutor receives a slice of this, so it’s another way to boost your income from the event.

Be cautious with your time, though. While it’s tempting to help as many people as you can, this work is in addition to your tutoring time. There may be a set afternoon for these sessions, or organisers may ask you to liaise with the delegate directly to identify a time that is convenient to both of you.

Delegates send a sample of their work to you before the event, to give you time to read and draft some constructive feedback, which is shared when you meet face-to-face.

Again, you never know where these may lead. Several of these individual coaching sessions have led to delegates getting in touch with me later, booking me to speak at their writers’ group.

As with any writing job, the more research you do beforehand, the greater the chances of your pitch being commissioned. ‘Read the brief carefully and research the type of workshops needed,’ advises Brian. ‘Try to offer something original.’

Vicky agrees, placing emphasis on pitching your subject at the right level. ‘If you’re not familiar with the RNA, it’s worth looking at their website to get a feel for the association and the kind of courses that they run. Make clear the level of experience your talk is aimed at, as sessions are arranged into three streams, ranging from those just starting out to items of more interest to experienced authors. Do also indicate if you will be providing information or materials that delegates will need to access in advance as you will need to arrange how they are to be sent.’

Talking of information and handouts, many delegates like having copies of workshop notes or presentation slides. In the past, I’ve converted mine into PDFs and either put them on my website for delegates to download, or given them to the conference organisers for their website.

It’s amazing how much knowledge we collect as we run our writing businesses. Sharing it with others at a writers’ conference is a great way to boost our writing business even further.

Business Directory – Conference Contacts

Romantic Novelists’ Association:


The Writers’ Summer School – Swanwick


National Association of Writers and Groups – NAWGFest


Bournemouth Writing Festival


National Writers Conference


Newcastle Writing Conference


Scottish Association of Writers


Historical Novel Society


(c) Simon Whaley