Monday, August 18, 2008

Writers Conferences: To Go Or Not To Go
by Maurice M. Gray, Jr.

For the beginning or slightly seasoned writer, a writers conference is a chance to learn. It's a chance to make friends with those who are new to the game like yourself, and to get some much needed feedback on your writing from seasoned professionals. In short, it's an opportunity you can't afford not to take advantage of.

If a one day conference is all you can do for right now, go for it. However, a conference that extends over two or more days affords you more opportunities to learn, to network and to enjoy being around your fellow aspiring writers. I learned early on that in order to get the most out of a 2-5 day writers conference, you should stay on site and immerse yourself in the nurturing environment. If the conference offers you the opportunity to have someone on the faculty critique your work, take full advantage. Many conferences- Christian conferences in particular- bring in authors and editors and literary agents and publishers who come for the expressed purpose of meeting aspiring writers. For those whose goal is to one day get a contract with a traditional publisher, this kind of networking is invaluable.

That being said, how do you choose? Very carefully.

Good Decision

“Hmm. Sandy Cove Christian Communicators Experience. I live an hour's drive from Sandy Cove, but given gas prices, it's more affordable to stay on site. $499 (single room) gets me “lodging, meals Monday night dinner through Thursday noon banquet, materials, seminars, plenary sessions, continuing workshops and two free manuscript evaluations as well as two private appointments with an editor or professional writer.” If I choose to drive back and forth, it's only $328.00. Or if I get a roommate, it's $440.00. And, two of my favorite authors will be there- Sharon Ewell Foster and Marilynn Griffith. If I start putting money aside early, I can swing it.”

Bad Decision

“Hmm. The West JaBlip Writers Conference. Registration is $200. Hotel is $100 a night for three nights. I'll have to get a flight to the West Coast- there's $300 more. That's $800 and I haven't eaten yet. Of course I can set up a vendor table for my books- only $75 bucks a day more- and I'll only have to sell $1000 worth of books to make this trip profitable. When do I leave?”

Here's something I wish they'd told me when I got started. You don't have to attend every writers conference in every state. Before you register, do your research. Find out where the conference is being held, what workshops are being offered, which authors and publishers and editors and literary agents will be there, and most definitely find out how long it is and how much it costs. If the cost is reasonable and the location is good for you, give it a try. Do your research, consider your writing goals and then make your decision.

Having been to both secular and Christian conferences, I can safely say that there are benefits to be reaped from both. In fact, if it weren't for the Black Writers Reunion and Conference, this blog might not exist. The BWChristianLit group was created by those of us who attended that conference back in 2001 and networked our little hearts out.

However, my best experiences have been with Christian conferences. If you're a Christian author writing for the Christian market, find yourself a Christian conference and enjoy the ride. There will be just as many industry experts as you find at a secular conference- perhaps more. At the conferences I frequent, said experts tend to go out of their way to be helpful.

How do you work one of those conferences to your fullest advantage? Take what's offered. Both Sandy Cove and the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference (and I assume the Colorado Writers Conference as well, since it's headed up by the same wonderful person) assemble collections of publishers, editors, literary agents and published authors, all of whom came for the expressed purpose of helping you along on your literary journey. There are continuing sessions to fit just about everyone's needs; Fiction, Non-Fiction, Beginning Writers, Advanced Writers, Online Writing, Song-writing- you name it. Choose the one that will do you the most good and take good notes.

There are individual workshops on everything from creating good characters to conquering writers block to writing children's books; it's like a buffet of learning. Pick the ones you want, and if two of them happen to run concurrently, attend one and buy the tape of the session for the other.

NETWORK. You can sign up for one-on-one appointments with the conference's all-star selection of literary stalwarts. You'll see the faculty list, and have the chance to sign up with those persons whose skills mesh with yours. Submit a writing sample. These conferences will specify how many chapters or pages their faculty members like to see. This is your chance to have your work professionally critiqued by more than one expert in your particular genre. Take advantage of this golden opportunity, and come thick skinned and receptive so you can put their advice to good use.

Here's a tip. You can sign up for all the one on one appointments you want, but nothing gives you a better opportunity to schmooze a publisher than a meal. Sit at the table and have breakfast with that publisher you want to pitch, or lunch with that author you've always wanted to meet- in a more relaxed setting, you may have a longer and more productive conversation than the traditional fifteen minute appointment affords. Don't try to pitch too hard the instant you sit down to eat though- let the conversation flow naturally, and most likely, that publisher or author will ask you what you're writing and give you that opening you need to chat them up.

While you're networking, don't limit yourself just to faculty. Nothing beats the chance to hang out with fellow writers- not everyone understands why you carry a notebook everywhere you go because everything reminds you of a story or poem, or why it's perfectly normal for you to spend hours on end squirreled away in your private space writing. You never know- you might make a new friend, or even find someone with whom to start a writing group when you return home after the conference.

Here are a few conferences to look into. These are the ones I have personal experience with and therefore, feel safe recommending. Happy research!

Colorado Christian Writers Conference-

Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference-

Sandy Cove Christian Communicators Experience-

Black Writers Reunion And Conference-

Maurice M. Gray, Jr. is an author, editor, speaker and sometimes, a comedian as well. He serves on the faculties of both the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference and the Sandy Cove Christian Communicators Experience. You can visit him on the web at:


Linda Beed said...

Do you suggest attending at least one conference a year in order to keep up with trends in the industry?

Can you write off the cost of the conference on taxes as continuing education?


Shelia E. Lipsey said...

Maurice, what a wealth of information you gave us! There were so many good points that will help me in deciding what conferences are best for me to attend. In Memphis, I am in the planning stages of a one day Literary Arts seminar (November 15, 2008). I am using a panel six person panel to discuss various aspects of writing including, plot, dialogue, structure, marketing/promotion; book publsihers and more. Everyone will be hearing more about it after I finalize the location this week. Thanks for this post. It will also serve as a guide for me as me and our planning committee move forward with the seminar.

Anonymous said...

As a beginner writer how do you know what you need from a conference?

Kathy Shelton
Dallas, Texas

Jeanette Hill said...

Maurice, this is really an insightful look at the value of writing conferences for writers at every level of their career and how to assess that value.

Being one of the original members of BWChristian I too can attest to the value of writing conferences whether it's networking (you will meet some wonderful people and develop lasting relationships), learning the various aspects of the craft of storytelling, whether for a book or for the stage or having the chance to have your work critiqued by a pro, the benefits far out weigh the cons .

LaCricia A`ngelle said...

Maurice, you did a wonderful job on this article.It was very informative.

Maurice said...

"As a beginner writer how do you know what you need from a conference?

Kathy Shelton
Dallas, Texas"

Good question Kathy! It depends on your goals as a writer. If you know you want to write a book, find a conference that will help you get started, or to finish what you've already started. If you're not sure where your writing will take you, find a conference with a wide range of workshops so you can take the buffet approach (a little of this, a little of that).

Hope this helps!


Maurice Gray said...

"Do you suggest attending at least one conference a year in order to keep up with trends in the industry? Can you write off the cost of the conference on taxes as continuing education?


Yes and yes. Anyone planning to be part of the literary industry should attend at least one conference a year to keep up on things. There's always more to learn in a changing industry like this one.

And, you can most definitely write off conference costs. If writing is part of your livelihood, don't miss the chance to write off any and all related expenses (including not just your registration, but your travel costs to get there as well). Save your receipts and you'll feel a lot better come tax time :-)

Ty said...

Thanks for this article Maurice.

Sadly, I'm not going to be able to make Sandy Cove this year, but I'm budgeting now for a writer's conference next year. Most of the one's I want to go to require a plane ticket. :(