Honing Your Craft—Part 2: Workshops & Conferences
You’ve heard other writers talking about taking workshops or attending conferences and you wonder if you’re missing out on something. What’s the difference, and how do you decide if either is right for you?
Workshops typically run for a few hours, but they can be longer, and they focus on only one topic. Cost-wise, they can be expense or relatively cheap, depending on who’s running it. They’re usually reasonably priced though, and you can often find inexpensive workshop being hosted by your local library. They might even be free, so you might want to consider taking one. If it’s run by an author you’d like to meet, or maybe an agent or publisher, it could be worthwhile to register. It’s a good opportunity to network and start building your contact list, as well as meet other local writers.
Conferences, on the other hand, can be quite costly. Expect them to last anywhere from one full day to up to a week. The speakers will be well known in their field and there will be lots to pick from. Each speaker usually has about an hour and there will be two or three sessions running concurrently, with short breaks after each hour. Before registering, read over all the session information thoroughly, as you’ll have to pick the ones you want to attend. Make certain they are of interest or you’ll just be wasting your time and money. Some conferences are general in nature, meaning you can expect speakers from an assortment of genres. Others are genre-specific. If you only write romance, you might want to think twice about attending a conference for mystery writers.
In addition to the cost of the conference, you need to be aware of where it is being held. Is it local or out of town? It may be out of the country. You’ll have to factor in the costs of transportation and maybe a hotel. And don’t forget the books you’ll probably end up buying. If the speakers are published authors, you can expect them to have a book signing table.
Besides authors, frequently some of the speakers will be agents or publishers. A lot of conferences are now including blue pencil and pitch sessions. They are about 10 to 15 minutes long, and if you have a novel almost ready to go, they’re something to consider signing up for. A blue pencil session is where you provide about five to ten pages of your novel and sit one-on-one with an author or other writing professional. They go over your manuscript and let you know what works and what needs to be re-worked. A pitch session is about the same length of time, but with an agent, and you give them your best pitch to sell your book. You need to memorize what you say—no reading off a piece of paper. You have to demonstrate you know exactly what your novel is about and the best way to present it. It’s more a practice session, but if you’re lucky, the agent is in your genre and is interested in your story.
Both workshops and conferences can be beneficial for both new and experienced writers. Like everything else, it’s up to you to decide which one best suits your needs and budget. Search the internet and check the ads in writing magazines. Do your homework, meet fellow writers, rub elbows with some pros and have fun!
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