Saturday, June 11, 2011

Writing Conference ROI: The Writer's Conference

Flying Words
You made it! You may have had to wrap up your day job duties or make sure your current deadlines were met before traveling a few hours or longer, but you are finally at the writer's conference. More than likely, the money has already been spent (or is weighing down your credit card), so do what you need to do to make it worthwhile (and get that ROI, return on investment)!

To Boldly Go...

  • Don't shy away from unfamiliar subjects. Sure, there are the tried and true topics that you are positive you will get something out of. That's great, unless it is your 3rd "Create your own e-book" session in as many years and you have yet to reformat a single word file into html or research an e-publisher.
    Choose something else if you think it's going to be a rehash of things you already know, unless you are sure it's a new spin you aren't aware of AND there isn't another breakout that interests you more. You may find a spark from something new, even in the unexpected places. I don't think I will be writing a comedy screenplay in the near future, but I still learned a few tidbits about the craft of writing as a whole, and comedy in general, by attending a session.
  • Don't be shy. For many writers, this can be a struggle. If you traveled with a writer friend, make sure you don't just talk to each other, you can do that at your own writer's group back home! Introduce yourself to others, practice your "what kind of writer I am" response so many times that it just rolls off your tongue. Is your heart already beating way too fast, just thinking about it? Mine too, and I'm not even going to a conference this month! It's natural to be nervous, especially if you have always considered yourself to be an introvert. But you are a creative force, take advantage of it: Create a character based on yourself, the writer. Include all the characteristics that make you, you, and add what you think you are lacking, a willingness to be outgoing, even with strangers. Don't think you can play a role based on yourself? Nonsense. Think about the jobs you have had in your life. Have you had to answer phones? Different persona than when you pick up your cell, right? You don't wear a hard hat in your everyday life, but you sure had it on for that construction job (or in my case, forklift driver). Put on your writer's hat when you are mingling. It will prepare you to be comfortable in the role when you meet agents or publishers who may want to cast you into a winning role of their own.

Ready, Aim...

  • Find your focus. You will get too much information. You will not be able to capture it all. Knowing that going in will help you feel less defeated. During my first conference, I scribbled furiously. I don't think it helped with my retention. During webinars, I enjoy tweeting along with other listeners. I thought I would be able to do that during a live conference as well. Nope. It's not just because my "smart" phone is really more "remedial", it's because I could not concentrate on what was being said. I don't text and drive because I will crash; I don't tweet and live conference because my writing buggy mind WILL tip over, and everything I hope to learn will fall out. You may be better at this than I, however. If so, connect when you can, it is another way to learn more and meet more people in the crowded environment.
Some speakers are very organized, lending themselves to good note-taking, if that is your thing. If they have an equally organized handout, you may not need to take notes at all, instead you can sit and listen, absorb and even participate in the discussion. Other speakers are more off the cuff. Depending on your learning style, this can be frustrating or perfect. Taking notes from these people may just drive you up the wall. If you are this type of person, better if you just set your pen down and listen. Otherwise, you may miss the gem of wisdom because you were trying to outline the un-outline-able.

  • This is it, you are at the writer's conference. You're not planning, you're not thinking about attending, you're there! Take advantage of the change of place; in this place, there are seasoned writers, agents, publishers, editors... all there for a common goal, to keep this business, this passion, going for everyone.
    • Pitch. There may be a few agents/editors who may hate me for saying this, but consider setting up a pitch time even if your work is not particularly ready (novel not quite done, nonfiction book proposal lacking a few sections) if it comes with the conference price. Of course, don't waste the agent's time, and don't lie about the status of your work, but do take the opportunity to get some feedback about the viability and the market for your work in progress. Something said in a one on one session may be just what you need to get you over that hump, and it always helps to practice being in such pressure situations. Of course, if you have a finished work or proposal, you have to pitch it, formally and informally, as it comes up in conversation during happy hour, when you discover the guy sharing pretzels with you represents your genre!
    • Write. I'm always pleasantly surprised when a session at a writer's conference includes actual WRITING. This is why we go, we are writers! But between the marketing, business, promotion, and social media lessons, we sometimes forget about the basics. Use the energy to fuel not only your excitement about selling your work, use it to feed new work. If you took the plunge and attended a session outside your norm, take a 20 minute stab at the unfamiliar genre. You may find yourself writing into the night! Rework some dialogue using new tips. The sooner you put what you learned into practice, the easier it will be to grasp, and the more likely it will lead to good writing habits.

The conference may feel like a treat to your writer-self, and that's fine. Just make sure you realize it is also a business expense. You may want to kick back at the pool instead of making that last session of the day, but there's work to be done! It may feel frantic, running from meeting to meeting, mini-pitching your work to people in crowded hallways, and watching the clock so you remember to leave in time for your one on one, but it's inertia that will energize your chance for success. You are working. If your writing was just a hobby, you could've stayed home and found a nice shade tree to write under.

Nope. Attending writing conferences is part of your job, and you want to get paid for the work, right? Next time, some ways to make sure the money spent was worth it, once you get back home.


  1. Excellent advice, especially the pitching.

    I used to have heebie-jeebies over pitching until I realised it was just like having a conversation - and that I learned something more about my own work every time I perfected my pitch.

    And if you are interested I have some guidelines for pitching, They were initially aimed at screenwriters, and they fully transfer to any kind of writing:

  2. Hi Tina

    Very good advice, especially about pitching.

    I used to agonise about pitching until I realised that it's just like having a conversation - and I learned something more about my work every time I pitched it.

    If you're interested I have developed some detailed pitching tips for writers. It was written initially for screenwriters and it applies equally to all writers:

    Best wishes


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