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By Students, For Students

From classes on craft to networking opportunities, the English department’s YA writing conference has something for every student.

It takes a lot to be successful in the publishing industry. Writers seeking to rise above the competition and “make it” need to have everything from professional-level writing skills to good connections. That’s where writing conferences come in, providing local (or not-so-local, for those inclined to travel) opportunities to build community and sharpen skills. Unfortunately, many conferences come with a hefty price tag attached, which can make attending difficult for students even with student discounts. At BYU, however, the English Department hosts a young adult writer’s conference that allows students to learn from writing experts, network with successful writers and editors, and receive personalized feedback on their work—all for free.

Every spring, BYU’s MFA Creative Writing students organize the Young Adult Novelist Conference (YANCON) for the university’s undergraduate students—this year’s conference ran from April 29 through May 2, 2024. The conference schedule begins and ends with keynote speeches each day, with time for three breakout workshops and lunch in between. The keynote speeches feature well-known authors like Allison Hong Merrill (Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops) and Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), while the student- and author-led workshops allow students to select classes based on their interests, with options ranging from writing craft (developing a believable romance and making revisions) to writing life (assembling writing groups or submitting to literary journals).

A picture of a notebook displaying notes from a romance writing class at YANCON.
Photo by Kira Christensen

The conference provides a great experience for students, both those attending and those organizing. YANCON started in 2018 as the brainchild of Professor Chris Crowe (Creative Writing, Adolescent Literature), but he quickly turned it over to the graduate students to run. MFA student Mikayla Johnson (Elementary Education ’16) says, “It’s been an incredible, professionalizing experience for us to be the ones directly in contact with the authors invited to the conference.”

Beyond experiencing professional development opportunities, Johnson enjoys getting the chance to learn from authors in a space of faith and to attend classes taught by her peers or former classmates who have graduated and become published authors in their own right. “It’s been really special to hear their take on how to form a sentence or imitate someone else’s writing to improve your own,” she said. “Being in class with them and having them be my professor for an hour has given me so many incredible ideas and fodder for my own young adult novel.”

Johnson recommends the conference to any student interested in creative writing. She says, “You can come from bioinformatics, you can come from engineering, or you can come from a theater major. You don’t have to be an English major to benefit from this conference, because most of writing really is just practicing on your own after having read a lot.”

On the undergraduate side, the conference proves just as beneficial. Merlin Blanchard (Editing and Publishing ’25) compiled an extensive list of notes over the course of the week and says he learned something from every class he attended, with his favorite class being one on sentence structure taught by MFA graduate and author Mari Molen (English Language and Literature ’18). Blanchard says, “She was talking about how to ‘cook’ different sentences and assign different tastes to different ways of constructing them. My prose tends to be really dense; having ways to name out sentences so I can rewrite them properly for pacing is really helpful.”

YANCON 2024 actually marks Blanchard's second time attending. He’s found that the chance to build on the connections he made the first time around has been invaluable. “When I saw [the people from last time] were teaching here again this year, I was like, ‘Oh, I know that person, I should go to their class,’” he says. “It’s a great experience the first time around, and it’s better the second time because you get to know people, and it gives you a better sense of who they are.”

For students interested in attending next year, Johnson says they’re planning to host YANCON 2025 starting the Monday after graduation. For updates on when you can apply, check out their website, follow them on Instagram (@yanconwriters), or let them know you’re interested by sending an email to