Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guest post about Writers' Conferences from writer Jennifer Roland

Today I have a special guest post on how to get the most out of a writer's conference. Jennifer Roland is doing a virtual book tour for 10 Takes  Pacific Northwest Writers: Perspectives on Writing.

So, first, a little about the book:
From novelists to poets to playwrights, Jennifer Roland interviews a variety of authors who have one thing in common — they have all chosen to make the Pacific Northwest their home. Covering a diversity of disciplines — from comics, fantasy, and detective novels to long-form poetry and illustrated children's series — 10 distinguished authors provide unique perspectives about their craft, provide helpful writing advice and tips for success, and share their passion for living and writing in the Pacific Northwest.

Readers, leave a comment below to participate in a giveaway where one lucky winner will take home this fabulous book for their own collection. 

Writers Conferences by Jennifer Roland

A few weeks ago, I did my annual stint as a volunteer at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. I always have a great time, leaving tired but full of new ideas.

Here’s what I’ve learned about finding a good conference to attend — and how to get the most out of it.

Plan Ahead
Once you decide that you want to attend a conference, start out with the boring stuff. Make a budget for what you can afford and decide how far you can travel. Then list the five topics you want to learn more about at a conference.

Then go to your good friend Google. Search for writer’s conferences in the areas you can travel to — something like “writing conference washington -dc” should get you a good set of results for the state of Washington. Look at the program of workshops and the speaker lists to see if they match your list of topics. (Tip: If this year’s program isn’t posted yet, look at the previous years. They tend to be similar in their mix of fiction, nonfiction, screenwriting, self-publishing, and other topics.)

Finally, I know I had you focus on finances first, but the cost of attending should be the last thing you look at. Add up the cost of conference attendance, add in $10-$20 per meal, and add in the cost of the hotel stay. You can save money by staying in a different hotel, but it is much easier to get to all of the workshops and events if you just grab a room in the conference hotel.

If this price tag is out of your budget, don’t give up — I know a way to save a ton on conference attendance.

Consider Volunteering
As a volunteer at the Willamette Writers Conference, I save about 80% of the fee for attending. Meals and other travel costs are on me, but I live in the area and I can eat cheap food if I need to.

Volunteering has more benefits than just money. I interviewed Mary Andonian for Pacific Northwest Writers, and she shared about how her work with the Willamette Writers group has helped her make connections in and out of the northwest as she pursues screenwriting. Andonian has served on the board of the organization and has chaired various portions of the program over the years.

For me, serving as a conference volunteer gets me out of my shell a little. I am an introvert, so though I love getting into deep conversations with people, I’m not quick to approach them. As a volunteer, I must speak to attendees, visit with presenters, and often introduce them to the class.

My tip for volunteering is to ask to serve as room monitor as much as possible. That puts you in sessions during your shift, so you get to absorb the information while working to earn your discount. You likely won’t get to pick your sessions, but there is good information to be found even in genres you don’t write in. That’s another thing I learned from Andonian — you learn a lot more about structure in screenwriting sessions than in novel or short story writing sessions, and structure is key to writing a well-paced story.

You may also have the opportunity to work with the agents and editors who are accepting pitches at the conference. Use this power wisely. Be nice and helpful, but only pitch during your pitch appointment.

Prepare for Pitching
One of the big reasons these conferences exist is to provide writers with the opportunity to sell their work to agents and editors. You can purchase short appointments to sell your story. Preparation is key.

First, go back to your budget and see how many pitches you can afford. Then carefully read all of the bios, paying careful attention to what the agents and editors are looking for. You want to maximize your opportunities to sell your work within your budget — and you don’t want to waste the time of the person you’re pitching to by trying to sell YA fantasy when they only work with memoir and nonfiction.

Then work on your pitch. Some appointments are as long as 15 minutes, but other conferences limit you to as few as 5. You need to know your project inside and out, and you need to be able to convey what is important in as few words as possible. Write it down, edit it, and practice it in front of the mirror and any writer friends you have. Take their criticism in the spirit it’s intended — they want you to do the best pitch possible, so if there’s something they say doesn’t work, assess that criticism and make adjustments when necessary.

I love volunteering near the pitch rooms. It’s totally motivating to see people come out with a big smile on their face because they picked the right person to pitch and they honed that pitch to make it perfect.

Have you attended a conference? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Jennifer Roland is a freelance and marketing writer with more than 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine, and marketing environments. Jennifer also works as a virtual assistant to writers, helping them build their online presence and connect with readers so they can focus on what they love — writing.

She loves fiction and writes that under the name Jennifer C. Rodland. She hopes to put all of the lessons she learned writing this book into getting more of that published.

Jennifer can be found online at her Website | Twitter | Instagram


Crystal Otto said...

Thanks Lisa & Jennifer!!!

You ladies Rock!!!!

Jennifer Roland said...

Thanks for hosting me, Lisa!