This Woman Created Her Own Writing Conference — Here’s How You Can, Too

This Woman Created Her Own Writing Conference — Here’s How You Can, Too

In 2018, I launched the Belize Writers Conference (BWC). 

It was a dream of mine to start a writing conference and introduce fellow writers to my beautiful Caribbean birthplace.

Although I was raised in California, my ties to Belize are strong. I knew there had not been a novel published internationally by a Belizean since the 1980s. As an author, book coach and avid reader, I also wanted to promote the literary arts in Belize. 

I decided to focus the conference on introducing writers to literary agents, since so many writers (including myself) are often misinformed about the process of trying to publish a book with a traditional publisher.

I have a respectable literary resume: my poetry, short stories and essays have received awards and have been published in good literary magazines. For more than 23 years I’ve written a newspaper advice column that reaches 30,000 weekly readers online and in print. I’m the author of “When Your Heart Breaks, It’s Opening to Love,” which received a national award for books that promote tolerance and forgiveness.

But my queries to literary agents went nowhere until I launched the writers conference. Then agents began pursuing me.

 Starting a writing conference isn’t easy, but it has been incredibly rewarding. 

Developing a writing conference is like starting your own freelance writing business or a non-profit organization. You need a mission, business plan, budget, marketing strategy and plenty of resilience. I ran an education-based nonprofit in Belize for 16 years, so I understand how things work in the former British colony.

Interested in starting a writing conference? Follow these tips

The good news is that BWC is now entering its third year, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

If you’re interested in starting a writing conference of your own, follow these tips.

1. Determine what type of conference you would like to start

Do your research.

While there are many writing conferences  out there, even those with long track records struggle in today’s climate.

Talk to conference directors. Get to know the conference landscape.

Ask yourself: How is my conference unique? Does it fill a niche that will compel writers to register?

2. Create a budget

BWC’s biggest expense is travel costs, accommodation and meals for two literary agents, my assistant and me.

Many conferences save money by bringing in two or three powerhouse authors and relying on local talent to fill the remaining spots on the schedule. I don’t have that option. The literary community in Belize is nascent and there are no agents based there. 

Consider how you will pay for your headliners and how to entice other pros.

At BWC, authors who present workshops pay their own travel costs. In exchange, they receive a discounted conference package and can sell their books at no charge. Our authors are excited to add teaching at an international event to their literary bios and to connect with a new audience of book lovers.

3. Choose a venue

The first BWC was held at a hip beachfront yoga retreat on a bucolic island off the coast of Belize. Some attendees complained that the floor and ceiling fans were insufficient against heat and humidity.

As a result, we moved our conference to a beachfront resort in southern Belize with air conditioning in every room. It’s essential to keep attendees comfortable and happy. 

4. Establish an advisory board

Every year I invite a group of smart, accomplished writers to join the BWC board.

This talented group makes decisions, edits publicity-related materials and helps to ensure that BWC benefits attendees personally and professionally. I work from home so having an advisory board also gives me much needed face time with talented peers. 

5. Choose your faculty

To find the right agents for BWC, I read a lot of online interviews. I look for agents who are accepting clients, have a track record of publishing deals, are experienced workshop facilitators and whose personalities signal that hanging out with writers for five days at a beachfront resort would be heaven.

After BWC this year, Anjali Singh, an agent with Ayesha Pande Literary, told Poets & Writers magazine that the Belize Writers Conference was good for her soul. A priceless testimonial! 

6. Formulate a marketing plan

A marketing plan is a step-by-step strategy to reach the people who will want to attend your conference.

Ask yourself: What’s the hook that will appeal to them?

For BWC, it’s our gorgeous tropical locale and the exceptional experience of working directly with agents. Whether a writer plans to self-publish, hybrid publish, find a small press or a traditional publisher, agents have incredible insight about what makes a successful manuscript.

Once you have your hook, identify your ideal attendees, determine where they hang out online, get your email list ready, line up speaking opportunities and develop collateral material to promote your conference to your target audience.

If you’re an author with book launch experience, you have the skills to market a conference.

7. Be a good literary citizen

BWC inspired me to establish the first literary fellowship for a Belizean in the country’s history. Funded by Copal Distillery Foundation, the writer-in-residence fellowship at the Belize Writers Conference recognizes a talented Belizean writer and funds their BWC tuition and board.

8. Be resilient

As BWC’s conference director, I’ve dealt with situations I never could have imagined, from complaints about humidity to one participant who refused to share her suite with another writer after she agreed to do so.

I’ve learned to think on my feet and not take criticisms personally. I try to ensure that every participant has the best experience possible but I know you can’t please everyone all the time.

9. Plan for the long run

Decide beforehand not to be one and done.

Commit for at least five years. It may take that long to build up the publicity and reputation that will make your conference an attraction and a success.

The BWC is now in its third year and going strong. My focus for 2020 is to create year-round opportunities in the U.S. such as literary readings and author panels to build the bios of writers in our BWC community.

And, of course, to continue inviting writers to vacation with literary agents!

 Photo via Belize Writers Conference

Filed Under: Marketing

14 comments

  • I was dreaming to make my own writing conference for many years! thank for tips and inspire)))

  • Kudos, Joey Garcia. I’m happy and proud to say that I attended the inaugural conference in 2018 and found it to be extremely beneficial. May the Belize Writers Conference live on for generations.

  • What a fantastic article! I love the invitation to participate by attending the BWC and to expand the literary retreat community by creating your own writers conference. Thank you Joey for opening new avenues for writers, authors, agents and publishers in such a beautiful place.

  • Tristesse says:

    Conferences often look seamless from the outside, but there’s so much effort and so many things going on from the inside! Your strength, vision, resiliance, and commitment are admirable!

  • Attending the BWC in 2019 marked a turning point in my writing life. Spending time with agents and other writers in such a beautiful, intimate setting increased my writing confidence and purpose, and gave me a much-needed connection to a larger literary community. The ripple effect is that I am farther along on my memoir project than I ever thought possible, only a year ago. AND I made new friends! 😉

  • Joella Aragon says:

    Great article about creating a writer’s conference! I’m going to the Belize Writers Conference for the third time in April. I wouldn’t miss it.

    Focused critique time with agents, authors and creative individuals on a deck extending into the sea. Meaningful discussions coupled with a breathtaking view. Early morning writing time with a cup of coffee, sand between my toes and the Caribbean Sea only steps away.

    Healthy, delicious meals shared with others who love good food, writing and interesting conversation.

    Lodging is beautiful and authentic. My own apartment had a deck, private sleeping room, shared large bathroom, a full kitchen and a living room.

    A creative adventure of a lifetime that shouldn’t be missed.

    Joella Aragon

  • Camille Boudreaux says:

    Great way to empower more women entrepreneurs! I’ve attended similar spiritual/social justice retreats and I’d love to attend your conference or one similar!

    I’ll share with friends seeking to put on a conference like this!

  • Excellent tips by the fabulous author, speaker, and life coach Joey Garcia. See her in person in at her Belize Writers Conference in April 2020.

  • Thank you for the wonderfully inspiring tips. Can’t wait to be part of the Belize retreat. (Joey Garcia is a brilliant author and creator.) Join us. http://Www.susanwooldridge.com

  • Nicole says:

    This is such a great idea – writing at the beach and under the sun of Belize! I am sure a lot of very good books will be written there…

  • Elizabeth James says:

    Way to go Joey! You’re an inspiration 🙂

  • I am amazed at the productive chutzpah it takes to build an international writer’s conference. Well done!

  • An inspiring post! I am so looking forward to participating for the first time in this one of a kind writers conference in Belize. Join us! April 2020!

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