Writers Conferences How To

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

   

How to Rock a Writer’s Conference

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?   

Don't Write LIke We TalkWriting Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing.  By a number of years.

But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

I know reasonably famous authors who love to travel and so attend as many conferences as they can be explaining that they “write off” the trip on their taxes. Yes, you can claim a writing conference as a business expense. But you still need to pay for the flight, hotel and food up front with a cold, hard Master Card, so let’s not kid ourselves and call it a savings, or even clever financial planning. Conferences are expensive, both for the speaker and for the attendees.
So choose wisely.
Advantages of attending a conference:

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?
Writing Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing. By a number of years.
But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

Disadvantages:
Writing conferences are not immune to the techniques of the most expensive and obnoxious sales pitches that claim that you can, in no particular
order: Instantly build your business! Learn the techniques of the stars! Double
your income! Double your life! Three days of excellence! Save $100 when you
register now, now, now!
All for the low, low price of $2,000 for the conference, $1,500 for the hotel
room and $16.00 for the glass of indifferent Sauvignon Blanc. Not counting gas.

You don’t care.

Writing conferences should be approached with caution and purpose.
Before you save all that money and sign up for a conference TODAY, SAVE
NOW, consider what you want from the conference first. Do you want to just experience the conference life? Do you want to meet an agent? Do you want to spend a week working with a particular author or poet? What are the takeaways? Or, as my husband insists on asking, what is the ROI?

There are writing conferences, like the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. And there are workshops, like the Squaw Valley Workshop, the Napa Valley Workshop, and a summer of Iowa Workshops.
Workshops are typically focused on writing and craft. You, as a participant are vetted and often need to submit your work in progress before gaining entry to the workshop.
You will stay in a lovely place, meet with a famous author for five or six days in a row. Make new friends, and write. At lot.
Workshops often include dinners and evening lectures.

Conferences focus a little on craft and mostly on promotion and publishing. These conferences have no barriers to entry except time, money and space. The SFWC for instance sells out early due to limited space (the conference is held at the Mark Hopkins in SF, and it’s small, as conference spaces go).
You will have a chance to learn about craft, the writing life, and listen to the popular lecture, I am famous because I was really lucky. Often a version of Agent Speed Dating will be included.
There are lunches and dinners, often at an additional cost. There are often receptions and after-hours activities at no additional cost.
If you are just considering this writer’s life, or life-style, a local conference will do just fine. Look for a writer’s conference close by to reduce the cost. Unless you very much want to experience Iowa in the summer.

Know your goals:
If your goal is to just go and experience the writer’s life, that counts.

However, if you have a purpose, state it. Know what you are going for. Do you long for contact with real literary agents? Look at the list of agents participating in the conference. No agents at this one? Don’t go.

If a favorite author is the keynote speaker and you want to see her (maybe meet her, maybe get a book signed) before she dies. Go.
Make sure she is really on the schedule. Are there words like “possible,”?
“chosen,” “may show,” “they drove by our office and that counts?” If the famous author appearance isn’t guaranteed, stay home.

Do you want to get down and dirty with real editors who will really review your fabulous manuscript? Is there an additional cost to meet with an editor?
Again, check out the conference list and know that often those meetings with editors or agents are by reservation only and may even take place the day before the actual conference, so check that carefully, or you’re into the expensive hotel for another day — and another glass of wine.

Do you want to meet publishers directly? Is there a list of publishers shown on the conference flyer or website and will they be there? Or are they attending just to sell off inventory? Who are the publishers? Do you recognize their companies or are they all from the Author Solutions where they will cheerfully guarantee that, of course, they will publish your book — it’s only $4,500 for the basic package.

There are some fabulous conferences for writers, and most conferences are held during the summer months because they meet at college campuses. You can travel to Iowa, you can travel to Adelaide and all places in between.

What to do once you are there.
Make friends with other attendees. I know you want to meet that famous person, that famous author, that agent! You want to make friends with that agent!
Meet them. Shake their hand. That’s going to be the extent of it.
Who you really should make friends with is that woman sitting next to you. You, the members of the audience, are often in the same boat. Make friends with these people. They can be the first members of your new writing critique group. Or a mutual promotion group (you support each other’s book promotions). You will likely see them again next year if not sooner. This is your chance to create real connections, not with the authors who have already succeeded, but with authors who, like you, are working their way through the process. Meet and greet, this is your tribe.

What not to do
I speak at conferences and I volunteer at conferences. I would like to nip a few bad habits in the bud if I may.
Here is what drives speakers and volunteers crazy:
Conference attendees who march around with their manuscript thrusting it at unsuspecting agents, author and volunteers like a weapon.
Conference attendees who have nothing to say except to complain about the food. It’s banquet food. It’s not gourmet fare and wasn’t advertised that way in the first place. The food will keep you going. It’s the best that can be had for the price. If you are a gourmet chef, you may have something to comment on, otherwise, the cost of your meal is paying for the room, the speaker and the wait staff, not just that chicken breast sprinkled with two olives and some rosemary. If you can cut the chicken with the knife provided, it’s a win – get over it.
Conference attendees who waste valuable networking opportunities bitching about their room or roommate.
Conference attendees who meet a pre- published author and dominate that conversation by bragging about their own agent, their own six-figure advance or their movie deal. If you are that famous and successful, what the hell are you doing at a conference? Move on to a TEDx conference and deliver your ‘I’m- Famous- Because- I- Was-Lucky talk there’.
Name dropping, especially if you’ve only heard the name, not met the actual person.
Not helping. Help people, encourage that young girl to speak to the agent. Help that small elderly lady find the workshop room.
Here’s what I really hate, the author who stands up during the five minutes Q & A and delivers a lengthy autobiography and/or lengthy descriptions of his upcoming book plot that, surprise, people can purchase from him at the end of the lecture. Do you have a question? Is it relevant? Then ask. But this is not the place for grandstanding. It’s an effective way to be remembered. But you will also be stabbing that chicken breast all alone.
Not having a 30-second elevator speech to promote their book. A word about this. The reason you want to have a 30-second summary of your work in project ready to go is to prevent you from wasting 30 minutes explaining the plot to me. Summary is good – blow by blow is bad.
I dislike conference attendees who disrespect the volunteers. First of all, it’s just bad behavior. Second of all, you don’t know who is volunteering. Many of volunteers are also speakers, or agents, or friends of the conference organizers. There is nothing worse than meeting an agent during an agent speed dating session and realizing, with some horror, that fifteen minutes ago you handed them your dirty coffee cup and told them to put it somewhere.
Conference attendees who stalk agents to the point of pushing their manuscript under the stall door in the women’s room.

But even the best conference will not help you if you don’t know what you want. And the best agents and editors can’t help you if you don’t have a completed or mostly completed manuscript to send them.
So before you sign up and buy the plane tickets, get focused. For all the money you spend, make sure there is a purpose to your conference experience. Write down the deliverables and try to full fill them during your two or three days. If you just want to have fun – fly to Hawaii. Or Australia, Australia is very nice.

Newbie
Never been to a writing conference before, certainly not paid for one. From an outsiders’ point of view, it seems like a good way to waste money and valuable time you should be writing. Perhaps this would be classed as “research” by some?
Prompt
Write a dialogue between two of your favorite characters. Snow White and Cinderella, Eloise and Ramona, Batman and Superman. Or think of your childhood favorites, what are they doing now? Write up fan fiction that fills in the grown up life of a character like Pipi Longstockings, Richie Rich, Bart Simpson. Do it well enough and you end up with a block buster like “Wicked”

 

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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