Shelling out cash to mingle with a room full of fellow hungry writers all searching for a platform may seem like a waste of time and resources when you could be writing at your desk or working on developing your self-publishing plan, but writing conferences can actually offer practical advice and invaluable insider information for new writers just starting out.
If you're already crystal clear on what kind of writer you are, then it makes sense to seek out a community that will support and inspire you and give you the specific advice you need--more on that in a moment. But if you're just starting out and need a lay of the land, you might want to try out at least one of the many "mainstream" writing conferences held across the country. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), holds a conference in a different city every year that draws over 12,000 attendees and big-name writers, editor, and publishers.
The Willamette Writers Conference, while also more traditional and generally focused on publication via the agent and publishing house path, has begun offering a series of panels specifically designed for authors interested in self-publishing. This trend may begin to catch on at big writing conferences as more and more writers take the hard work of author marketing and platform building into their own hands.
It can be inspiring to attend a big writing conference and get a sense for the larger world of publishing, but it's the smaller, more niche-focused conferences that might actually net you some specific contacts and the hands-on experience of book marketing via face-to-face conversations with fellow self-publishers and readers. Writer's Digest Magazine just added a self-publishing conference to its annual schedule, which is a sure sign that the world of self-publishing is one that is growing and having an increased impact on the industry.
In addition, genre writers can also find support and valuable author marketing help at conferences like GENRE-LA, which features solid advice on the craft and business of writing in a variety of genres, including self-help, thrillers, YA, and more.
Want to get even more specific? Try the Nonfiction Writers Conference, a newer conference which focuses specifically on topics like social media, book marketing, generating positive book reviews, and self-publishing. If you can't commit to traveling for a conference, this is also a good bet, since each year the conference makes recordings available for sale on their website so you can get the benefit of expert industry advice from the comfort of your own writing desk.