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Writing Conferences - Part 2 - Craft

I’m con­tin­u­ing my series on writ­ing con­fer­ences. If you missed Part 1, the business-oriented con­fer­ence, you can find it here.

Emerald City Conference logoNOLA Stars conference logoSleuthFest Logo


Per­haps my favorite kind of writ­ing con­fer­ence is the craft-oriented one. In the romance genre, in addi­tion to the huge national RWA con­fer­ence, many local RWA chap­ters have their own smaller con­fer­ences. If you’re new, these are less overwhelming.

Some that I’ve par­tic­i­pated in include NOLA Stars, Emer­ald City, Col­orado Romance Writ­ers, and South Florida Romance Writ­ers. In the mys­tery genre, Sleuth­Fest has a lot to offer, and, in con­junc­tion with their reader con­fer­ence, the Inter­na­tional Thriller Writ­ers have a pre-conference Craft Fest, where some big name authors give work­shops. There are also some ‘gen­eral’ con­fer­ences. One I’ve attended sev­eral times is the Pikes Peak Writ­ers Conference.

These are only a few, and a quick trip through Google should show you more in your area.

What hap­pens at these con­fer­ences? Most craft con­fer­ences have work­shops rather than pan­els. There’s a sin­gle pre­sen­ter talk­ing about one aspect of the craft of writ­ing. You can learn about dia­logue, voice, point of view, set­ting, plot­ting (or not-plotting), prepar­ing man­u­scripts for submission—if it relates to writ­ing or pub­lish­ing, odds are there will be work­shops to help you.

Another fea­ture these con­fer­ences gen­er­ally offer is a chance to pitch a man­u­script to an agent or edi­tor. In most cases, these agents will request a par­tial man­u­script, which has the added perk of let­ting you avoid the dreaded query let­ter stage. Being able to put a “requested mate­ri­als” sticker on the enve­lope (back in the day when we were still mail­ing pages) meant you got to start at step 2. Some­times, you’d get a request for the full manuscript.

When Danger Calls by author Terry OdellIn fact, by chance, I met an acqui­si­tions edi­tor at a Sleuth­Fest con­fer­ence, and we were actu­ally wait­ing for an ele­va­tor. I had no idea who he was, but when he asked how I was enjoy­ing the con­fer­ence, and I told him I was writ­ing roman­tic sus­pense, so I wasn’t really a mys­tery writer, he asked me to tell him about the book. I did; he handed me his card and told me to come upstairs the next day to the agent/editor room. Had I known I was talk­ing to an edi­tor, I prob­a­bly would have been totally tongue-tied, but the end result was the sale of When Dan­ger Calls.

As my craft skills improved, I started sub­mit­ting pro­pos­als to give pre­sen­ta­tions as well as being in the audi­ence. Unlike reader-oriented con­fer­ences, craft con­fer­ences don’t sim­ply assign atten­dees to a pre­sen­ta­tion. I’ve given pre­sen­ta­tions on dia­logue, point of view, and plot track­ing. At the same time, I’m attend­ing other work­shops, hon­ing other aspects of the craft.

And, as your skills improve, even­tu­ally, you have to weigh the return on invest­ment. Yes, you’ll almost always learn some­thing new. How­ever, you might also find that you’re as knowl­edge­able as the instruc­tor. Since con­fer­ences are expen­sive, is it worth the money if you’re only glean­ing a few new pieces of infor­ma­tion? That’s a per­sonal deci­sion. In fact, many authors find that an even greater value to these con­fer­ences is the net­work­ing. Dur­ing ses­sions, you’ll prob­a­bly find a fair num­ber of atten­dees sit­ting around the hotel shar­ing ideas and infor­ma­tion. I’ve stopped going to sev­eral local con­fer­ences sim­ply because I’ve reached the point where I’m not get­ting enough “new” stuff out of them.

Ear­lier, I men­tioned Sleuth­Fest as a mys­tery craft con­fer­ence, but it’s really a mys­tery reader-craft hybrid. Like Thriller Fest, They have intense craft ses­sions the day before the actual con­fer­ence begins. The con­fer­ence ses­sions are pri­mar­ily pan­els where pan­elists share infor­ma­tion about a topic. Pan­elists are assigned; they don’t sub­mit pro­pos­als. The dan­ger here is that these pan­els can turn into plugs for books (which is the focus of a reader con­fer­ence) rather than infor­ma­tion shar­ing. A good mod­er­a­tor can make sure things stay on topic.

How do you decide which con­fer­ences to attend? Hit the web­site. Who are the speak­ers? Most have keynote speak­ers. I went to my first Sleuth­Fest because their guest of honor was Robert B. Parker. That was enough for me, but after attend­ing, I found the pan­els and work­shops well worth the trip.

Who are the other atten­dees? Many web­sites will post these as peo­ple reg­is­ter. Does the web­site show the top­ics that will be cov­ered? Is it a workshop-based con­fer­ence or a panel-based con­fer­ence? Is it within your budget?

Since I’ve been an attendee-panelist at Sleuth­Fest for a num­ber of years, and will be going back for the first time since mov­ing to Col­orado, I’m using their web­site as an exam­ple, but you can prob­a­bly take a short trip through Google and find con­fer­ences to suit your genre and where you are along your writ­ing path.