I’m continuing my series on writing conferences. If you missed Part 1, the business-oriented conference, you can find it here.
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.
In 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.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society