Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SIWC) 2016

If you are a writer, and have never attended a writer’s conference I would highly recommend setting aside the time and finances to attend one. For me the return on the time and money investment is beyond calculation.

I first attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference last year and despite my decision to quit my job this summer I was determined to go again as I found it invaluable in learning the ins and outs of this often mystifying journey to publication.

Since I had already paid my conference fees and had put aside enough for my travel and accommodation expenses, I didn’t need to worry about further out of pocket — or out of bank account— money.

Last year, my goal was to take a variety of workshops that would help me narrow my path forward. I chose workshops on craft, such as the Canadian political humorist, Terry Fallis, who shared his outlining process. Jasper Fforde, who gave tips on taking your writing to a higher level by using of words that are inspired and resonate with the reader. I also took a couple sessions on revising and editing a novel.

In addition to process and craft, I took workshops on the business side of a writer’s life. One of the questions that people often ask when thinking about being published is do I need an agent, and if yes, how do I get one. I have been asking myself this question and have gone back and forth between the pro and con columns about getting an agent. I am currently on the pro side of the argument.

There are two extra perks that come with a full conference package. The first is a pitch session with a literary agent or an editor at a publishing house. Last year I looked through the list of agents and editors giving pitch sessions and scheduled an appointment on Sunday morning the last day of the conference. With this in mind, the first workshop I attended on day one — Friday morning —was on how to pitch. It was eye opening. I learned that 50% of the pitch is your story, (of which you should have a finished manuscript ready for submission) the other 50% is my platform, basically who am I, what is my social media presence, do I have a following?


I basically had none of that. I thought about it then made the decision to surrender my agent appointment for someone who didn’t have one but was ready. I left last year’s conference with the determination to get my web and social media presence up and running. When the time comes to send out query letters to agents (once I have a manuscript ready to submit) I want that agent to be able to do a web search and find my website and other social media activity. In the past year, I have set up this website, got active on twitter, Instagram, and created a Facebook page dedicated to my writing journey. Phew, needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of writing done because all of that takes so much time to set up and manage.

The second perk is a Blue Pencil Session, which entails the aspiring writer (me) sitting down with a published author or editor with three pages for them to give me feed back on. Last year I sat down with Beverly Jenkins. She was very encouraging and basically told me I was a good writer, to finish it and get it submitted. Needless to say I was on cloud nine and very encouraged that I could do this.

This year, I again had a Blue Pencil Session, this time with Jasper Fforde.  I submitted three pages from what I am currently working on. He gave me excellent criticism and constructive ways to make the writing better.

Last year’s feedback was encouraging, just what I needed to hear to actually get serious about pursuing the writer’s life. This year, Mr. Fforde gave me the next level of feedback; that I have a lot of hard work ahead, but to keep at it, the basics get easier.

At this year’s conference, I focused on learning how to be more effective in my use of social media and understanding my publishing options in addition to workshops on the craft of writing. Two that stood out were give by multi-published authors, Hallie Ephron, Elizabeth Boyle and Mary Robinette-Kowal. Haley Ephron talked about finding the characters voice and how to choose the viewpoint from which to tell their story. The other two, Boyle and Robinette-Kowal both historical fiction writers, gave a very energetic and interactive session on plot development. Both these sessions were my favourites of this year’s whole conference.

Now I must focus on putting all I learned into practice.

On top of all the information and insight gained through the workshops, there is also the opportunity to meet fellow writers who are on their own journey. From aspiring writers to those  who have successfully leapt over the hurdle getting published with either one book or many out on book shelfs. I have made some new friends and am enjoying the support and encouragement that sharing this literary journey brings.

Of course, one of the major advantages of attending this type of conference is the access to the authors outside of the workshops. They are ever ready to share their wisdom and experience at the lunch and dinner table, in the hallways, and at the scheduled book signing session. It is the perfect opportunity to be a groupie. In addition to those mentioned above, regular authors who attend are Jack Whyte, Robert Dugoni, Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon to name a few.

By attending these conferences I have discovered two things to be true. The first, there is not an easy 1-2-3 step answer for how to write a novel, no one will tell you it is easy. It is hard.


I did hear someone once say that you will learn more from finishing one novel, than by starting five. I have found this to be true. Even though I have not yet finished my first manuscript, I am learning so much along the way.

The second is there is not an easy 1-2-3 step answer for getting an agent or publishing contract. This too is not easy, but I now have tips for making the best impression possible.

I have learned writing is challenging, often isolating, and there are no easy steps on the path. Don’t believe anyone who tells you different.  But by having attended several writers conferences I now know I am not alone, and there is a community to come alongside me on the journey.

Ultimately, there are many reasons to attend a conference, just as there are many reasons to write.

Start saving your money and commit to going to a writer’s conference. You will not be sorry.  I am already saving for my next one.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *