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To Do a Conference or Not Do a Conference — Is That The Question? by Beth Daniels, aka Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane, Nied Darnell

There is a point in every writer’s life, I’m sure, when they wonder whether they should attend a writer’s conference. Many published writers never do and some published writers show up at more than one conference every year. In part, that’s for promotion purposes, which include being part of a panel or giving a quick workshop presentation. But if you are one of the many yet-to-be-published or minimally-published (as in having a title released by a small house or have gone the Indie route and not been happy with the result) or simply would love to be surrounded by people who want to talk about nothing but writing, maybe you’ve wondered whether a writer’s conference should be at the top of your To-Do List.

I’m here to tell you YES…or maybe NO…or NOT YET.

Let’s look at what you can get out of a conference.

  • Meet other writers who are at the same point in their careers as you are
  • Meet writers whose books you might have read
  • Attend workshops geared to your particular level of competency (beginner, poised for publication, already published) or genre niche
  • Learn what publishers are interested in currently or foresee for the market in the near future
  • Possibly make connections with agents and/or editors

 

Some conferences are aimed more at readers, allowing them to meet and purchase titles by their favorite authors or, hopefully, find new authors that will soon be favorites. These are lovely for a writer’s ego and (we certainly hope) bank account, but not for a writer just beginning the journey toward publication. The best conferences combine the two elements. And there are a lot of conferences to pick from.

Because the year is at its zenith, a number of conferences have already become history for 2016 and most of the summer ones had registration cut-off dates that have passed. There are still offerings for the fall and 2017 does beckon.

A list of general and specific genre conferences by country (breaks the US down into two areas) can be found at https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/directory_conferences_centers but let’s look at a few I found of interest.

ROMANCE

Romance Writers of America has its National conference in July in the US but Romance Writers of Australia holds theirs in August (In Adelaide in 2016 and Queensland in 2017) (http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/125/Conference). There are RWA chapters that hold local conferences as well if distance is a problem. For instance, yet this year the Connecticut RWA Chapter holds their conference September 9-11 in Norwalk (http://www.ctfictionfest.org/) and the Georgia RWA holds their annual Moonlight and Magnolias conference September 29 through October 2 (http://www.georgiaromancewriters.org/mm-conference/).

The Historical Writers of America has their 2016 conference booked for Williamsburg, Virginia, August 19-21, but you can keep an eye out for the 2017 one at https://historicalwritersofamerica.wildapricot.org/

MYSTERY

Focusing more on Mystery? Sisters In Crime lists conferences on their website (www.sistersincrime.org) and among the upcoming venues is Bouchercon “Blood on the Bayou” in New Orleans September 15-18 (www.Bouchercon2016.com); Creatures, Crime and Creativity in Columbia, Maryland, September 30 – October 2 adds in the paranormal (http://creaturescrimesandcreativity.com); Magna Cum Mystery in Indianapolis (though run through Ball State University) October 28-30 is on my schedule to attend this year (http://cms.bsu.edu/academics/centersandinstitutes/ebball/magnacummurder); and the New England Crime Bake in Dedham, Massachusetts runs November 11-13 (www.crimebake.org/index.htm). While there weren’t any mystery related conferences listed outside of the US for autumn, they did show some located in England and Scotland during the Spring and Summer so check them out for 2017.

Mystery Writers of America are already promoting their Sleuthfest in February 2017 (http://sleuthfest.com/).

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY and PARANORMAL

While it’s fairly easy to find cosplay conventions to attend, conferences directed specifically at writing science fiction and fantasy are much harder to find. In fact, it’s even difficult to find when Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America holds their annual conference. It was back in May, so there’s a long wait for information on the 2017 one to surface. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal workshops do surface at conferences that aren’t genre specific.

Like the SFFWA conference, The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshops (at the University of California at San Diego) are unavailable for this year now (they run for 6 weeks and registration was cut off March 1st) but you can keep tuned for the 2017 schedule by checking at http://clarion.ucsd.edu/workshop.html.

CONFERENCES WITH MORE THAN ONE GENRE REPRESENTED

Writer’s Digest hosts an annual writers conference in Kauai every year. This year the Masters Classes run October 31 – November 3 with the conference itself November 4-6. It’s probably a lovely time of year to visit Hawaii plus conference rates for the hotel would save a lot. Plane fare…well, depends on where you’re starting out from. For more Info: http://www.kauaiwritersconference.com/about.html.

The Unicorn Writers Conference is a one-day deal on March 25, 2017, so plenty of time to plan for it. You’ll be booking a stay in Purchase, New York. I had to look it up, but turns out it isn’t very far from New York City. It’s held at Reid Castle on the Manhattanville College campus (www.unicornwritersconference.com).

COMBINING VACATION WITH A CONFERENCE…MAYBE ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD!

There are plenty of other conference venues to choose from. Some take you to handy tourist locations, like the Writer’s Digest one in Hawaii, one in Las Vegas, one on a cruise ship trawling about the Bahamas, and – if you speak the language – in countries around the world. I found a number being held in Mexico (one was a Canadian group headed to Mexico for a retreat), and Ireland, Iceland, the Greek island of Skyros and another on the island of Alonnisos, Tuscany, Venice, a beach resort in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, Denmark, and Peru. Many of these may be tuned to English speakers, so check them out even if you don’t speak the local dialect.

MAKING THE DECISION

Frequently the decision on whether to attend a writer’s conference comes down to your available funds. If your daytime job is hefty enough to squirrel funds away, by all means make the world your writing conference hunting oyster. But if not, keep an eye out for conferences that are closer to home. Or offer something for the family to do while you’re at a conference. For those held in major cities in major hotels, chances are you’ll never find a cheaper hotel rate than through a conference.

But BEFORE you decide to put a conference on your travel schedule, consider these things:

  • What do you expect to get out of the conference? If you’ve only recently dipped your toe in the writing world, make sure the workshops offered will be at the level you require.
  • Are you looking for an editor or an agent? Be sure you have a completed manuscript that is well polished and edited, but don’t bring it with you. They’ll want it sent electronically or via snail mail (depends on their preference) but if you can’t send it winging their way the moment you reach home after the conference, you might have wasted your time. I know quite a few writers who got a request from an agent or editor to see a manuscript but couldn’t send it to them because it wasn’t finished or polished or edited. They always thought they’d manage to have it done within a month or two but a year later still hadn’t been able to take advantage of the contact they made. In the meantime, other writers slipped into what could have been their “spot”. Don’t jump the gun – have your manuscript ready for immediate submission when you attend the conference.
  • Don’t break the bank or max out the credit card in registering and going to a conference. Even if your manuscript is ready to hand over, and an agent or editor requests it, that doesn’t equate to an instant contract. Even if it does result in a contract, it’s a long time until you see any return on a published book. Make sure this investment in your writing career isn’t going to cripple your budget. This means take travel expenses, hotel, food, and transportation, as well as conference fees, into consideration. It all adds up quickly.

 

And if there is simply no way to handle the time and expense for a trip away from home, you can still benefit from the workshops and pitch fests here at Savvy.

In fact, I have a workshop coming up July 18 through August 14th: GETTING OUT OF THE HAMSTER WHEEL: CHALLENGE YOUR MUSE TO DREAM UP BETTER STORY IDEAS!

Even if you do go off to a conference (or family vacation) during these dates, you won’t be gone the entire time and catching up or even lurking can benefit your writing career. All of the workshops here at Savvy are crafted to do just that.

I hope you’ll join me but also put attendance at a physical conference on your schedule in the future. Not only do you meet people just like you, the experience will give your muse such an adrenaline boost, you’ll be dizzy with new ideas.

Dont miss Beth's workshop on Challenging your MuseGETTING OUT OF THE HAMSTER WHEEL: CHALLENGE YOUR MUSE TO DREAM UP BETTER STORY IDEAS!

There is a trap in writing – we tend to fall into certain rhythms, into templates of our own construction. This is good and it’s bad, too. It leads to stale storylines with a chance of boredom for the writer and the reader.
Think about it. Is there one or more writers whose work you used to love and now no longer read because it was too predictable? Granted, that’s why some readers return to buy (or check out from the library) the same author’s work over and over again. In the old romantic-comedy HER ALIBI, Tom Selleck’s character is a mystery writer who is told by a fellow writer (in a sneering way) that his stories are “predictable” which he takes as an insult, although later in the show Selleck’s editor claims readers like predictable in their reading matter.

 

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Beth Daniels attended her first writers conference in 1986 – stretching the family budget to the seam busting limit. She made a lot of friends – all unpublished like herself – but was also introduced to Nora Roberts and found herself next to LaVyrle Spencer (whose books she loved at the time) at the orange juice bar at breakfast. She met Mary Jo Putney before MJ’s first Regency was released. At the 1990 RWA National conference Beth was signing copies of her first book as Beth Henderson. Other conferences had her sharing an elevator with Sandra Brown and a taxi with Janet Dailey. In all, she’s attended writer’s conferences in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Francisco, New York City, Reno, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Honolulu/Waikiki. Today, with 29 published romances written under a variety of names, Beth is switching her sights to mystery and fantasy and foresees more conferences in her immediate future. Visit her at www.RomanceAndMystery2.com, www.Muse2Ms.com, and www.WritingSteampunk.com.

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[box]SUPERSTAR75

Revisit the recent past with SUPERSTAR as career dreams and love lock horns in the late 20th century (1964-1994). For Paul Montgomery those dreams are of music. For Aurora Chambers it is fashion design. Both are willing to do whatever it takes to be a success, even if their love for each other gets caught in the crossfire. But sometimes love simply isn’t enough.

And sometimes it is.

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Long time Savvy Author workshop presenter, Beth Daniels, got her first call from an editor offering a contract early in September 1989 and continues t...
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    Joni M. Fisher
  • July 11, 2016
Thank you for this wonderful information and analysis!

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