Monday, May 9th, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft: Writing Conferences, Part II

This is the second of a 3-part interview series of authors from the book Many Genres, One Craft recently published by Headline Books. Many Genres, One Craft is an anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

While the book encompasses many aspects of writing, this series of interviews is all about coordinating and attending writing conferences.

Lucy A. Snyder Lucy A. Snyder is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Spellbent and Shotgun Sorceress and the collections Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has also appeared in several magazines.

She has a B.S. in biology, an M.A. in journalism and graduated from the 1995 Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Since 2005, she’s directed the Context Writing Workshops. She currently is a Seton Hill MFA mentor. Lucy was born in South Carolina, grew up in Texas, and now lives in Ohio, with her husband and occasional co-author Gary A. Braunbeck. For more information, please visit www.lucysnyder.com.

What’s it like being a conference/convention coordinator?

It’s a busy but highly rewarding volunteer job. I coordinate the writing workshops track for Context, a convention in Columbus, Ohio that will be taking place the weekend of August 26-28 (www.contextsf.org). It’s steady work across the entire year that gets busier in the months leading up to the convention. Right now we’re getting very busy with convention planning and preparations. It’s always great to see your efforts pay off in a well-attended convention where you can see people having fun, making new connections, and learning new skills.

Book cover of Switchblade Goddess by Lucy A. SnyderWhat are the key skills for your role?

To be a writing workshop coordinator you need good organizational skills (scheduling and keeping track of course signups is a big part of what you’ll do), persistence (things won’t always go right the first time), and good problem-solving skills. And of course communication skills are critical. Knowledge-wise, you need to be able to reach out to good instructors, and you need to know how to be able to evaluate potential instructors.

What’s the best thing that’s ever come out of a conference for you? What about for someone else? Was it luck or planning that made it happen?

For me, the best things that have come out of conferences and conventions have been book deals, or preliminary discussions with editors that resulted in book deals. Luck always plays a distressingly large role in publishing, but in each situation I had done a lot of pre-conference planning (in terms of who I wanted to meet and what I was going to present to them) that I think vastly improved my chances of success.

Why should a person attend a conference/convention?

There are a whole lot of reasons to go to a convention. Many people go as much for fun as they do for business. It really depends on where you are in your writing career. If you’re unpublished, you might want to focus of conventions that offer a strong writing track and the chance to talk to small- and medium-press editors, who are often more receptive to new writers’ work. If you have been selling short stories and have just finished a novel, you might want to look for conventions that offer the opportunity to pitch to book editors and reputable literary agents. And if you’re a working writer, you’ll probably be looking for larger conventions that offer the best networking opportunities with editors and other writers as well as a chance to expose new readers to your work.

How can you decide (before you put your money down) if a conference is right for you?

Take a look at the guest/attendees lists — do you see the names of people you’d like to listen to or chat with? Take a look at the programming schedule, which might not be posted until a month or so before the conference. Do the panels and workshops and other events interest you? Now, look at the costs of attending the conference, not just the registration fees but also the hotel, air fare, etc. Can you afford this?

What if you get there, and find it’s not right? How can you make lemonade from the lemon?

Even a well-planned convention can end up with problems due to hotel errors, or high-profile guests may have to cancel at the last minute because of unexpected travel snags or illness. Because of this, it’s best to not pin all your hopes for a convention on a single guest attending or a single workshop, etc. Do your homework first and try to choose conventions that offer a wide range of events that will interest you.

Book cover of Spellbent by Lucy A. SnyderIf you arrive at a convention and at first it’s not what you expected, give it a chance. If you’re looking for the pro author guests and don’t see them, check the hotel bar — this is the prime hangout location for writers. If you came to meet other attendees and find the panels under-attended, check to see if there are going to be room parties later that people may be resting up for. Try to set aside your expectations and be open to what the convention has to offer.

But if it simply isn’t working for you, take a look around and see what other opportunities present themselves. If you’re in the middle of an unfamiliar but interesting city, take the opportunity to do some sight-seeing. You might be able to forge new friendships with other attendees who are similarly disenchanted with the conference.

Also, once the weekend is over, you might want to send a polite, non-judgmental email to the convention chairs to let them know about the things that didn’t work for you or created problems for you. Again, politeness is key here; the organizers are likely unpaid volunteers who worked as hard as they could to put on a good event. They’ll want to know what went wrong for you so they can do better next time, but they won’t be receptive to your message if it’s disrespectful or ends in high-handed demands. Many conventions will offer membership refunds if there’s been a genuine at-con disaster.

If you’re pitching at a conference, what do you need to do?

Make sure you know the rules of the pitch session going in, and make sure you’re following those rules. If you know who you’ll be pitching to, try to learn a little about the agent or editor and his or her tastes, and adjust your pitch accordingly. Practice your pitch on friends, and prepare pitches of different lengths. For instance, it’s always good to be able to describe your project in 30 seconds or less, but you’ll also want an intermediate and longer pitch that you can use depending on the circumstances. And it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up pitch prepared in case the agent or editor says “I don’t think that project will work for us, but do you have anything else?”

When should a person consider NOT going to a conference?

Conferences are wonderful, but if you’re behind on your novel deadline, don’t go, unless there’s a truly compelling reason. You should also reconsider your attendance if going to the conference will send you into debt, or deeper into it. And if you have the flu, please stay home; the virus that gave you an annoying cough could land someone else in the hospital.

If you decide you must cancel and you’re scheduled to participate as a panelist or on other programming, be certain to let the organizers know as soon as possible so they can adjust their scheduling accordingly. It’s simply the polite thing to do.

Many thanks to Lucy A. Snyder for answering a few questions about attending writing conferences and coordinating them. If you have others, please post in the comments. Lucy will be happy to answer them!

More information about Many Genres, including author information and other interviews is available on the Many Genres blog.

Please visit next Monday for the third (and final) interview from Many Genres, One Craft. Part 1 with thriller-auther KJ Howe can be found here.

Order information for Many Genres, One Craft.

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