Here are seven reasons to attend a writers’ conference
Why do you pay to attend writers’ conferences, seminars or workshops when you can find the information online?
Many authors would write a book in answer to the question. My response will draw from my participation at a conference - Writing Across Worlds which was organized by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA) on the 7th, 8th and 9th of June, 2019.
Before the Conference started, I found myself in the writer-mood - questioned why I should spend three days of my life with a group of strangers, aka, writers? Would there be someone I know?. Fear set in, everyone present will be a writer, and some who’ve written best-sellers, the reason Saturday night would be a Literary Awards Gala night.
The hours in each of the three days flew past, left me with no extra minute to entertain any fear.
The conference started with a welcome event that was worth leaving my comfort zone on a rainy Friday. There was laughter, learning and networking as Blaine Newton, Fran Kimmel and Leslie Greentree staged a skit summarizing their writing life.
My writer’s mind kicked into motion, became reflective on my life as a writer whereby I live inside my head and must leave my desk to face the world of the living.
Day two and three spoiled me with choices. After the Key-note address on “Why I write speculative fiction,” I had to choose from three equally inviting seminars: public speaking for authors, digital strategies for writers, and what you alone love – a workshop on Memoir.
Some people would toss a coin, though they would first spend a lifetime finding a coin with three faces. I asked myself a question, “Which of the three seminars would serve my immediate needs?” I attended the digital strategies for authors because the focus was on what writers need to know about copyright, social media and Internet access to thrive in this digital age.
The two afternoon seminars were easy to choose as I could toss a coin between a panel discussion on literary meets genre or poetry meets nonfiction.
I chose to learn more on writing that crosses and challenges the boundaries between literary and genre fiction. My choice blended in well with a follow-up plenary session on working with agents and publishers. This was my first time to meet with a literary agent in a formal event. Though I am independently published, it paid to learn how to write an effective and targeted query. At the end of the session my resolve on being an Indie author stayed firm.
What next after you are published, traditionally or independently?
I spent four hours at the Alberta Literary Awards Gala in celebration of literary excellence in fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry and children’s literature. The night accorded me a chance to know of the vast talents in our midst, and categories to compete in future. I spent my time at the Gala as a volunteer at the book display desk of the organizers. It was a rare chance, I got to sell, touch and smell books, including books of the runners-up and award winners.
Yes, your question is valid if you wondered how tired I was on Sunday morning. There’s something about motivation that comes with having something to look forward to, a clear objective. The Sunday morning keynote was on Crossworld Puzzles which explored how writing intersects with our daily lives and brings a unique set of rewards and challenges to our experience of the world.
The afternoon threw three choices at me – Story games which explored ways that card games, word puzzles and other forms of creative play can help us interject new ideas into our fiction. The other two seminars were, Four places to find poems, and Being weird on purpose. The conference ended with Q&A plenary session where we asked questions on publishing and received responses from a panel of experts.
How do you spend time at the food station?
No, we did not starve. We started each morning with a coffee social, and ate lunch as a group. Some of us had enough excuses not to skip the food sessions - food has always brought people together. The conversations started while waiting to sample the food. What it took was a mention of how yummy the food appeared and related temptations to eat. A stranger would most likely encourage, “Eat, we’ll go out for a walk now that the weather is sunny.” The food conversation progressed into another writer asking, “What do you write or like to read?” All the curtains fell, talking about our writing and books is like talking about ourselves. Who does not like that?
The conference organizers had to use lots of charm to break the standing groups, remind us of time for the the next session on the program.
Getting ready for the next writers’ conference
By Sunday evening I was asking for more. On my travel home, I reflected on what I had learned and what else to do at my next writer’s conference or workshop – yes, I plan to attend more because of the following benefits.
I am now educated on how to make a choice on seminars to attend – consider your most immediate need in writing and publishing.
How to break that awkward moment of silence/fear of what to say to a “stranger” – make the best use of tea and lunch breaks, ask questions at plenary and reserve further discussions for break time.
A chance to meet with “cool” people - the writer whose books or book covers you’ve admired in the past. Ask a question or compliment them on the character you liked in one of their books, which leads into a detailed conversation. After, you will confidently mention their name in your future conversations, “When I was with…at a conference…” You never know when they will read your books or be available to write an endorsement for you.
Visit display tables to see and learn more on books. Read blurbs of books as a way to start a conversation with another attendee or the person behind the desk who is most likely the author.
Ask for contact information after each conversation to indicate your continued interest on the conversation you were having. I had my notebook ready for anyone without a business card - after which I made a note on the most memorable aspect about the person. Conferences are huge events, you will need something to remind you of who the name and contact belongs to. Whenever someone asked for my contact information I gave my book postcard - see photo below.
Approach the quiet people, even if you too belong to that group. They are as nervous as you are, because they are busy entertaining many thoughts in their mind. You soon realize that the person is only quiet on the face, their mind is filled with very useful information.
No key opens doors and smiles like when you volunteer at a conference. Find out if the conference organizers need people to manage their registration tables, display tables, walk the microphone around the conference room, and more. Did I forget to say you’ll up your people skills?
What writers’ events have you attended in the last two years, what did you learn that has helped in your writing, publishing, and book sales? Feel free to share below.