Writing Conferences: Why You Should Attend - Kristin A. Oakley
Welcome back to author Kristin A. Oakley with her take on Writers Conferences.
Kristin advised us about the helpfulness of Critique Groups in July and explained all about Hybrid Publishing in September. Before we jump into all the things we can learn by attending a writing conference, I want to give Kristin a huge shout out as she gets set to celebrate the release of her audiobook versions of Carpe Diem, Illinois and God on Mayhem Street. You can read all about this adventure on her blog post "Adventures in Audio Book Recording Land" and join her for the big launch party on Friday, November 2 from 7 pm to midnight at The Jefferson in Spring Green. (all the details are in her post!)
Writing Conferences and Why You Should Attend
by Kristin A. Oakley
If you haven't attended a writers conference, I urge you to do so. It doesn't matter if you have a completed manuscript or just a story idea in your head -- if you're serious about writing, conferences are a must. Go at least once, but I warn you, once you do go, you might get hooked. And that's a good thing.
There are many types of writers conferences to suit your needs:
Craft only - everything from creating first pages, to character development and setting, to final edits. Often, these conferences provide critique sessions where 10 pages up to a full manuscript will be critiqued. Poetry and short story critiques might be offered, too.
Genre specific - if you write in a particular genre, be sure seek out national organizations in that genre. Organizations like Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators have national conventions.
Marketing and pitching only - these conferences offer chances to pitch your manuscript to literary agents and editors. Generally, there are also marketing workshops such as how to craft your website (a must-have for all writers), how to find and work with an agent, how to navigate social media and book tours, etc. Most conferences now offer information on self-publishing as well.
Hybrid conferences - provide lots of opportunities to pitch to agents and also attend workshops on craft -- the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies Writers' Institute is a good example of this.
Retreats - these offer large blocks of time just for writing. They may also offer workshops on craft and critique sessions.
Why you should attend writers conferences:
To improve your writing - Many conference workshops offer writing exercises, homework, and critiquing opportunities. Lists of resources are generally provided with recommendations for books on craft. Most conferences have different tracks for beginners, intermediate, and advanced writers. Master classes might be offered for advanced writers who must submit writing samples in order to be accepted into the class.
Pitch to and meet agents - if you have a polished manuscript, you'll want to give pitching a try. There's nothing like meeting an agent in person to discuss your book. It's scary, but once you've done it, you'll wonder why you worried. Agents are people, too. And many conferences offer advice on how to pitch to agents and provide practice pitches.
Network with industry experts and other writers - I've talked to Jane Friedman and Nathan Bransford and met my editor and my publisher at writers conferences. When else will you have this opportunity? And attending a conference is your chance to get advice from other writers. You might even decide to start a critique group with them. Many conferences offer social hours with networking in mind.
Learn the ins and outs of our industry - topics such as marketing techniques, how to work with agents, how to decipher a literary contract, agent panels with dos and don'ts, and more. Often there are book fairs where attendees can sell their books. Even if you don't have books to sell, be sure to attend these fairs -- not only to support your fellow writers, but to see how they market their books.
Showcase your work - conferences might offer live lit events giving you the chance to read your work in front of a live, very encouraging, audience. Additionally, there might be writing contests with prizes and publication opportunities.
What to do before you go:
Research - Make sure the conference is the right fit for you. If you're writing your first chapter, you won't want to attend a conference that focuses on query letters and agent pitches. If you have a completed, polished manuscript and plan on pitching to agents, be sure to research those agents thoroughly and be prepared. Know exactly what they're looking for and frame your pitch around that.
Make professional business cards - and bring them! (Vistaprint is relatively inexpensive.)
Once you're there:
Take advantage of every opportunity -- you paid for it! Even if you're an introvert, go to the social hours, attend live lit events (even if you don't read your work, you'll support other writers and get good pointers on how to present your own pieces), talk to the editor/agent in the elevator, and meet the writers seated next to you and consider forming a critique group with them.
Hand out your business cards!
After the conference:
Review your notes and handouts and implement the advice - I’ve created binders labelled Character, Plot, Scenes/Setting, Editing, etc. then filled them with the handouts I've received from conferences for easy reference.
Consider what inspired you the most and do it -- for example, I created my own Mission Control to aid with plotting. I learned this from Kathy Steffen during her session on crafting breakout novels at UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies Write-by-the-Lake.
Share what you’ve learned - with writers who couldn’t attend. Teach them what you’ve learned, you'll remember it so much better.
Keep in touch - with keynote speakers, instructors, and writers you've met. Consider sending a thank you note to a presenter who inspired you.
And then -- WRITE!
Recommended Local and National Conferences:
**For a more comprehensive list see The Write Life - 30 Fantastic Writer's Conferences for Authors, Bloggers & Freelancers
Kristin Oakley is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the managing editor of The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, the past president and a co-founder of In Print Professional Writers’ Organization, and a UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor. Kristin’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem Street, was released in 2016. She is currently working on a young adult dystopian trilogy. kristinoakley.net