I’m a little late discovering this—but if you haven’t watched it, do. Seriously.
Just in case you’re still wondering whether a writer’s conference is worth your time and money, here are some of the benefits you’ll gain from your conference experience.
Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs on Flickr Creative Commons
- Inspiration. Building a writing career might be easy to begin, but some days it’s a bear to stick with it. Sometimes, you need to hear a rousing Keynote address from the likes of Donald Maass to remind you that someone needs to write the books that his little boy will read.
- Writing Craft Education. If you’re serious about your career as a writer, you need to invest in continuing education to improve your craft. Although you can gain a lot of great information from reading books, in a face-to-face setting you can ask questions, get examples, and obtain a deeper understanding of different aspects of writing craft.
- Feedback. Conferences can provide you with feedback on your work-in-progress or opening pages, in the form of manuscript critiques, first pages sessions, and workshops.
- Marketing Ideas. As Jane Friedman explains so eloquently in her article “Should you focus on your writing or on your platform?”, marketing is a task for writers at all stages in their careers. A conference is a great place to hear from working writers who are out there doing what you want to do—visiting schools, for instance, or figuring out how to set up an author’s website. Come prepared with questions!
- Connection. Need a critique group? A mentor? Or maybe just a writing friend? Conferences are where YOUR PEOPLE—other kooky writer-types—congregate. Come meet the people who are like you! Be encouraged and affirmed by others who GET you.
- To meet more experienced writers. This is a special aspect of “connection”: a writing conference enables you to pick the brains of those more experienced. Not only can they answer your questions, they can answer the questions you didn’t know you needed to ask.
- To help less experienced writers. If you’re farther along on the writing path, what are you waiting for? A writing conference is the perfect path to give back to the community that supported you when YOU were starting out as a writer.
- Open publishing doors. Did you know that many agents (such as Elana Roth, who accepted submissions from conference attendees following the 2011 RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference) and editors who normally don’t accept unsolicited submissions (READ: submissions they haven’t specifically requested and submissions from unagented authors) will look at manuscripts from writers they’ve met at a conference? Some will accept manuscripts from anyone who has attended the conference—check specific conference info for details.
- For example, unless I’m reading the submission guidelines for Penguin Young Readers Group incorrectly, Viking Children’s Books does not read unsolicited submissions; however, Viking Children’s Books editor Kendra Levin accepted submissions from RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference attendees as well. Elizabeth Law, vice president and publisher of Egmont USA, similarly accepted submissions from attendees following the 2010 conference.
- Reality Check. Hear from authors who have “made it” for insight on what it takes to become a successful writer—and insight into what being a successful writer actually means. At this year’s Pikes Peak Writers Conference, bestselling author Robert Crais had the audience in stitches during his inspirational address, reading his “fan” mail. Dear Mr. Crais, You need to learn the difference between “bring” and “take.” Dear Mr. Crais, I feel the need to point out that you are using the words “bring” and “take” incorrectly. Dear Mr. Crais… He moved us to tears as well, when he shared an email from a soldier in Afghanistan, thanking him for the story that provided a much-needed escape from stress and fear.
- Discover focus or direction. One of the valuable aspects of a writing conference is that it gives you a glimpse into all stages of the writing process, including both pre- and post-publication steps. It provides a broader view of the different directions a writer’s career can take—and allows you to figure out which paths are most appealing to you. In addition to writing/rewriting, editing, and selling a manuscript, a book writer’s job may also include
- School visits
- Social media
- Presenting workshops for writers
- Presenting workshops aimed at your target audience
- Writing articles for magazines and websites
- Mentoring other writers
- Editing and critiquing others’ manuscripts
- Creating a podcast
- Working a day job
Still not convinced? Read yesterday’s post for more :).
What sort of writers’ life do you want to build? What vision do you need to discover? Who do you need to meet? I’m guessing you might find the answers at your next conference.
Now that I’ve written about how to get the most from your next writing conference, and how to dress for your next writing conference, I’ve realized that I may be putting the cart before the horse. You may not yet be convinced that you should invest the time, money, and emotional energy to GO to a writing conference in the first place. Conferences and travel and lodging and all that aren’t free, you know. So why bother?
Photo by Helga Weber
Changing Your Vision
I wrote an entire “Tuesday Ten” list of reasons to attend a conference—and they’re all good reasons. I’ll post it tomorrow. But I feel like the list doesn’t get at the heart of the issue, which is that attending a writing conference can change you. A good conference can meet you wherever you are as a writer, and give you what you need plus a little extra.
Every year, I attend my local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Every year, I see people attending their first writing conference.
There’s the young mother, nervous, who doesn’t know anyone. This is her first weekend away from her two preschoolers, and she wonders if she made the right decision in coming.
There’s the high school student, who looks somewhat mortified to have his mother in tow. He’s eager to learn EVERYTHING and will tell anyone who will listen of the epic fantasy he’s written.
There’s the retired schoolteacher. He’s written his entire life but never had the self-confidence to do anything with it. He’s only here because his wife gave him conference attendance as a gift.
There’s the art student, winner of the illustrator’s scholarship contest. He acts cocky and self-assured, but you can tell he’s nervous during the portfolio reviews because he keeps dropping his papers.
There’s the mother of two teenage girls, who has finally allowed herself to spend money on her “writing hobby.” She feels like an imposter at first, but she’s determined to stick it out.
Do you see yourself on this list?
I coordinate the manuscript critiques for this conference and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. Sometimes when I pair a hopeful young (or middle-aged or older, because we’re all hopeful, aren’t we?) writer with an editor or agent for a critique, I feel as if I’m reaching back in time to a younger version of myself—the terrified young woman attending her first conference, afraid to speak to anyone because they were REAL WRITERS. I was welcomed into the writing community by wonderful (and much more experienced!) writers who have since become some of my best friends. Attending that conference changed my life.
Not because of the great information (although there was plenty of great info.)
Not because I learned the latest industry trends (although I did.)
Not even because I made connections that later enabled me to join a critique group (although that happened, too.)
The REAL WRITER
It changed my life because it enabled me to see, feel, hear, even taste what it meant to be a real writer. It gave me the courage and knowledge and support to realize that I WAS a real writer. At that conference, I clarified my understanding of who I was and who I wanted to be. And, for the first time ever, I caught a glimpse of how I could become that person.
So come back tomorrow check out my logical lists of reasons to attend a writing conference this year—but don’t forget that a conference’s greatest benefit may be some intangible shift in understanding that, right now, you can’t even see that you need.
If you’re a veteran conference attendee, how did conference attendance impact your life? If you *haven’t* gone to a writing conference, what’s holding you back?
Guest Post by Ali Luke
If you’ve written a book, or if you’re part-way through writing one, you might be thinking about publication and agonizing over the choice between traditional and indie publishing.
Whichever route you go for, you’ll need to do a lot of work in marketing and publicizing your book. (Yes, a traditional publisher will help on this, but they’ll need your help and co-operation, and they’ll also expect you to take the initiative and use your author platform – your network of Twitter followers, blog readers, or Facebook fans.)
I’m coming to the end of a virtual book tour (also known as a “blog tour”). I’ve been stopping off at different blogs over the past month to promote my novel Lycopolis, and it’s been a fun trip – albeit exhausting at times!
Here’s how it works.
Understanding Virtual Book Tours
A virtual book tour has many of the benefits of a live book tour … without all the travel. Instead of going from town to town, doing talks, readings, or signings in book stores, you go from blog to blog, sharing useful information in the form of a guest post or interview. At the end of your post or interview, you can write a short bio about your book, including a link to its website or its page on Amazon.
This is a win-win-win scenario: the host blog gets a great piece of content that they didn’t have to produce; their readers get your insights on a particular topic; and you get to reach a new audience.
A virtual book tour takes a bit of organizing: you’ll need to decide on your potential tour stops, contact the owners of those blogs, and agree on a topic and date for your guest post or interview to appear. It can be a scary process, especially if you’re appearing on a blog with tens of thousands of readers – but it’s also a lot of fun.
Your tour also ties in with other publicity efforts: especially building a network of reader/writer contacts, and getting reviews.
Building Your Network
Your network consists of all the people around you who you can reach – perhaps by email, Twitter, Facebook, RSS, or good old-fashioned phone or mail – and who are at least potentially interested in your writing.
When I started out in blogging, I did a lot of guest posting, without worrying about the fact that pretty much no-one knew my name. This helped me build up a network fast: busy blog editors may not notice if you leave a comment or send them a tweet, but they will remember you if you give them a great piece of content for their blog.
By going on tour, you can bring new people into your network; not just the people who read your pieces, but also the gracious hosts who welcome you to their blogs.
Of course, you shouldn’t just rely on a virtual book tour to build your network: you can blog on your own site, establish an e-newsletter list, gather Twitter followers and Facebook likes, and continually grow your potential readership.
Another benefit of blog touring is that you may well get more reviews. When you get a tour stop lined up, offer a free copy of your book to the host. Some won’t have the time or inclination to read it, but others may well read, enjoy, and even review it. (Cheryl, for instance, was kind enough to write a fantastic review of Lycopolis, which you can read here.)
Again, don’t rely on your book tour as your only way of getting reviews. Approach people who are already highly engaged members of your networking – perhaps readers who comment on every post you write, or friends who helped by reading early drafts of your book. Encourage them to write a short review on Amazon – even just a couple of sentences will make a difference.
So, if you’ve got a book that’s ready to promote, try lining up a mini-tour – a week of guest posts on different blogs. If you’re writing non-fiction, look for blogs with similar subject matter and a large audience. If you’re writing fiction, you could post on blogs aimed at readers, writers, or both.
If you’ve got any questions, or if you’d like to share your experience of promoting your book, drop a comment below.
Bio: Ali Luke is currently on a virtual book tour for her novel Lycopolis, a fast-paced supernatural thriller centered on a group of online roleplayers who summon a demon into their game … and into the world. Described by readers as “a fast and furious, addictive piece of escapism” and “absolutely gripping”, Lycopolis is available in print and e-book form. Find out more at www.lycopolis.co.uk.