Thursday, September 29, 2011

Should you go to a Writing Conference?

by Maria Geraci

I began writing my first novel in 2002. I had a BA in sociology and a BS in nursing and worked as a labor and delivery nurse. I'd been a life long reader and one day I literally had an epiphany and decided to try my hand at writing (because of course, how hard could it be to write a book?) I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Needless to say, those first attempts were awful.

After writing solo for a few months, I joined Romance Writers of America. There was no local chapter where I lived, so I became a member of an online chapter. I joined a critique group, learned some writing basics (through trial and error, blood, sweat and tears) and improved.

Then in the summer of 2003 I went to my first writing conference--the RWA National Convention in NYC. As I listened to Jennifer Crusie give the keynote speech at lunch, I can remember thinking this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my forever. Besides the sentinel events in my life (marriage, childbirth) it was the most exciting 4 days I'd ever experienced. It was official. I was hooked. Both on writing and on writing conferences.

Over the past 8 years I've attended 7 national RWA conventions, numerous smaller conferences, the NINC one day conference, and too many other workshops, readings, and author Q&As to mention specifically by name. Since that first attempt at a novel, I've written 5 more books. Four of those have gone on to be published by Berkley, a division of Penguin USA (the fourth book comes out August, 2012). I learned to write the old fashioned way. By writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more. But it's those writing conferences that gave me the tools I needed to get published.

Writing conferences, however, might not be for everyone.

So how do you know if a conference is right for you? As an avowed conference junkie, I offer the following tips:

Start small. I admit, I started out big (2000+ writers conference in NYC) but I was so clueless at the time I had no idea there were other, smaller conferences that probably would have been a better first choice for me. Join your local writers groups. RWA is a national group, but most towns have local groups that meet at the library or a bookstore. This is a perfect way to start out and begin networking with other writers.

Go Local. Just like starting small, going locally has the added advantage in that you can usually keep costs down. Check your newspaper or local websites for author talks, Q&As, and other free programs in your area.

Find a Buddy. We writers can sometimes be a shy lot. Having another writing friend to tag along with you when you go to events can keep anxiety at bay. Plus, you can split travel costs.

Don't wait until you have a completed manuscript. Although having a completed a manuscript is a milestone that all writers should aspire to early in their career, it isn't necessary to have one before you attend a conference. Conferences are full of writers in all stages of their careers- from beginning to multi-pubbed NY Times best sellers. No matter what stage your writing career is in, we can all learn from one another.

Do your Research. If money is tight (and for most of us it is) find the conference that will give you the most bang for your buck. Most conferences have a website that list the presenters and workshops offered. Search for the one that seems the best fit for what you write. Also, many editors and agents attend conferences and give workshops on industry news or take pitch sessions. Learn everything you can about the business. Knowledge is power and the more you have the better your chances for success.

And lastly, have fun! Conferences are an opportunity to learn craft, gain business knowledge and to network with colleagues. But it's also a time to kick back and make friends, visit new places and talk about what we all love best- reading and writing.

Maria Geraci writes contemporary romance and women's fiction. Portland Book Reviews calls her latest release, The Boyfriend of the Month Club, "immensely sexy, immensely satisfying and humorous. " Her next novel, A Girl Like You, will be released August, 2012, by Berkley, Penguin USA. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook or Twitter.

8 comments:

  1. I agree that anyone serious about writing and publishing needs to get to a conference. Early on, a writer friend of mine dragged me to one. The second day I wanted to curl into the fetal position under the desk in our room, but I believe that I would not be published today without having attended that conference.

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  2. Maria, you put into words what i felt the first time I went to a book festival where I got to hang out with other writers and talk about craft. I remember thinking, these are my 'peeps!"
    congrats on your new work! I have had 'my head down' as my agent says, but now i'm finally coming up for air and looking forward to reading your collected works!
    best,
    sheila

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  3. Maria, the 2003 RWA National Conference was my first big writing conference, too! (I'd only gone to one small event in WI prior to that.) I remember listening to Jenny Crusie's talk and being so inspired by it as well ;). Can't wait to read your upcoming book!

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  4. Thanks for the comments, ladies! As I write this I'm in my hotel room in Atlanta at Moonlight and Magnolias (Georgia Romance Writers conference) and having a fabulous time. I've just come back from a workshop given by the fabulous Haywood Smith :)

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  5. I love Haywood! Tell her I said "hey."

    Great advice, Maria.

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  6. And here I was just wishing I knew someone who would tell me whether or not writing conferences were worth it. Good post!

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  7. Have fun at Moonlight & Magnolias, Maria! Drink a mint julep for me, okay? ;-)

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  8. Great advice, Maria! I've actually never been to a writers conference, but you've inspired me here.

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