Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft: Writing Conferences

This is the first 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.

. . . . . . . . . .

KJ Howe, is a two-time Daphne du Maurier winner, a four-time Golden Heart finalist, and a finalist in the American Title III Contest. She earned her Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction in 2007 and is now represented by the Evan Marshall Agency. International intrigue and pulse-pounding adventure are her passions. When she isn’t writing romantic thrillers, KJ is researching them by shark cage diving in South Africa, interacting with semi-habituated elephants in Botswana, or scuba diving in the Red Sea. You can visit her at www.kjhowe.com.

Kimberly J. Howe

KJ Howe

Why should someone attend a conference? How can you decide if a conference is right for you?

No matter where you are in your writing career, you can benefit from attending a conference. You can learn from the workshops, find critique partners, network with industry professionals, promote your books, find inspiration to get back to your writing, discover new writing tools, meet people with the same enthusiasm for books, and so much more.

I would recommend finding a conference that is in your genre, so you can make specific connections to editors, agents, and other writers in your chosen field. There are large conferences and small conferences. The small ones offer intimacy, but the large ones offer more choices and a larger number of superstars. I’d try both and see what feels right for you. Some authors find the large conferences a little intimidating, while others enjoy the hubbub and love having access to many big names.

What is the best thing that’s ever come out of a conference for you?

I was very fortunate that at one of my first conferences, I entered a writing contest and was lucky enough to win–and secured an agent as a result. Always throw your hat in the ring and enter contests at conferences. It can really pay off.

What if you get there, and find it isn’t right for you? How do you make lemons from lemonade?

I’ve been at a few conferences where I felt like a fish out of water, but I always try to make the most out of it. There is always something to be gained–from an incredible writing insight to meeting an instrumental person for your career. Keep your heart and mind open. You may be surprised what you discover.

What was the worst thing that’s ever happened to you at a conference?

Very good question. I was once introduced to a high-profile author. I was quite nervous to be thrown into the situation with no warning, and, needless to say, I wasn’t at my most eloquent. As a result, the author turned and walked away without a goodbye. The experience hurt, but I learned many lessons from it, most importantly, to treat people with respect no matter who they are because I’ve felt the impact of being snubbed.

What should you do to prepare for a conference — especially if you want to pitch your book?

I would recommend sitting down and writing out your goals for the conference. Are you there to network, learn craft, find an agent…try to figure out what would serve you best at this time in your career. Also, do your homework about who you would like to meet. You should have access to the workshop schedule ahead of time. Select your workshops based on subject matter and who is teaching. Be strategic and target your priorities.

There is a great article on pitching at the ThrillerFest website at www.thrillerfest.com. Just go under the AgentFest heading–AgentFest is a pitching event where we have 60 agents eager to hear about your book. If you’re looking for an agent, you may want to consider joining us.

Many Genres Book CoverWhat are some conferences do’s and don’ts?

I would recommend treating a conference like a business event. Dress business casual, be polite and professional to everyone, and don’t imbibe too much alcohol. Most of all, have fun. Writing is a solitary activity, and it’s important to meet fellow enthusiasts.

When should a person consider NOT going to a conference?

Although I feel strongly that spending time at a conference is almost always worthwhile, there are times when you may decide not to attend–if you’re under a tight writing deadline, you may have to spend that week writing (although I know many writers who come to the conferences for certain events while spending tons of time in the room writing). Financial constraints can also play a role. It’s a very personal decision, and it’s important to weigh all those issues before signing up for a conference.

What’s it like being a conference coordinator? Do you get paid?

I have the distinct pleasure of working on the ThrillerFest team, a conference for thriller writers held in NYC every July. Because we are part of the International Thriller Writers, we have people coming from all over the world to participate in ThrillerFest. We’re fortunate to have countless industry professionals attend because we host the conference in NYC where editors and agents can walk down the street to join us.

Working as a conference coordinator is similar to being a juggler. There are so many aspects of running a conference, you need to keep all the balls in the air, hoping none drop. Some of the key tasks include: coordinating the logistics with the hotel staff, arranging for food and beverages, taking care of VIP guests, organizing volunteers to assist with programming, advertising the conference, securing sponsors…the list could go on and on, but let’s just say that many details need to be worked out to make sure the attendees experience a smooth, interesting, and well-organized event.

The position of Executive Director of ThrillerFest is a full-time position–and one of the best jobs in the world.

What are the top three skills for coordinators?

1) Strong organizational skills.
2) Positive interpersonal skills.
3) A detail-oriented approach.

What do you need to know to run a successful conference–and how would one go about getting involved?

My best advice if you’re interested in becoming involved in conference organization is to start by volunteering your time. Learn the ropes from the ground up, so you can see how it all works. That’s what I have done, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience. Also, as a conference organizer, it’s important to do every job at least once. That way, if someone is ill or can’t do his /her job, you can take over seamlessly.

What are some trends in conferences these days?

Conferences offer so much. For high profile authors, conferences can offer an opportunity to meet fans and promote their latest novel. Aspiring authors can network with established authors, learn from the various panels/workshops, and find inspiration from being around people with a similar love of literature. As far as trends go, there seems to be more fan-oriented conferences available, and many conferences offer courses on the craft of writing. For example, at ThrillerFest, we have an event called CraftFest where NYT Bestselling authors share their secrets to writing fiction. For more information, please visit www.thrillerfest.com and take a look under CraftFest.

What’s exciting about running a conference, and what’s not?

There’s nothing like the rush of seeing all your hard work pay off–when people thank you for the event and express their enthusiasm, it makes burning the candle at both ends well worth it.

 

Man Genres, One Craft can be purchased at Amazon.com.

 

Many thanks to KJ Howe for answering a few questions about attending writing conferences and coordinating them. If you have others, please post in the comments. KJ 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 second interview from Many Genres, One Craft.

9 May 2011 – Edit: Part II with Bram Stoker Award Winner Lucy A. Snyder can be found here.

6 comments to Many Genres, One Craft: Writing Conferences

  • Gayle G.

    This was a wonderful post. Thanks so much for all the information.

    For unpublished writers, what is important to bring to a conference? Writing samples, business cards? I would appreciate any advice.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Gayle! Thanks for dropping by.

      I hope Kimberly weighs in on the subject, too, but you may be interested in my post from April on how I prepare for a conference, and what I bring with me. Business cards are a definite must – you’ll use them to network with other writers as well as prospective editors.

      As for writing samples, it depends on your goal. You’ll need to do some research on who will be attending, and what you plan to do. Research the agents/editors to see if they’ll want samples (most NY agents and editors won’t – unless you’re pitching non-fiction – and you’ll have some chapters ready for the pitch). Indie or small press editors might be interested in short stories for an upcoming anthology – but they also may not want to carry copies of that home from the convention. (Be prepared for a rejection of them unless you’ve contacted them ahead of time.) Your best bet for samples would be to find a critique group or to use them in a writing workshop at the con.

      Hope this helps!

  • Hi Gayle, great question. I echo Kelly’s recommendation on business cards. This is your opportunity to network with fellow writers and industry professionals, so meet as many people as you can during the conference. It’s also a great idea to jot notes on the back of business cards you collect so that when you get back home with a pile of cards, you know who is who. Don’t hesitate to drop a quick email to someone saying how much you enjoyed meeting them. Good manners go a long way in this business.

    Definitely bring a writing sample just in case, but most agents and editors do not want to cart any manuscripts home from the conference. If they are interested in your novel, they will request a partial or full, and you can send that via snail mail or email after you return home.

    The most important things to bring to a conference are your smile and your confidence. Introduce yourself to others, make new friends and contacts. It’s amazing what can transpire.

    Wishing you every success in your writing, Gayle!

  • Gayle G.

    Thank you both so much for the advice. And the link to the other post. That really helped to clear thing up also.

    One more question, what should you have on your business card? It may sound like an odd question, but I am in the process of getting business cards made for writing but not sure what to include.

    Obviously, name/mail/ email. Should you include website link? Some type of title for yourself or is just your name ok? As for name, do you include your legal name, professional name, any and all pen names?

    Should your business card design match your website design or does it matter?

    Thanks so much for you time.

    • Hi Gayle!

      I think business cards are a matter of preference. As for what to put on them, I stick with the basics: how I want to be known, and how I want to be contacted. Mine includes my Facebook page, my twitter account and my Web site address. The card visually matches my Web site, and has pictures of a few anthologies my work is in, but now that I’m considering changing how this page looks (and I’ve been published elsewhere), I could be stuck with some cards that don’t match. So…my opinion is that if your cards match your Web site or show your covers, don’t print a lot at one time! 🙂

      I didn’t put a title on my card. I’m toying with putting a short bio on the next one.

      I’m not sure about the legal/professional name question, but my gut tells me if you’re going to use more than one pen name, that you’d have more than one card printed. Of course, that’s [again] personal preference….but to use an EXTREME example, you may not want to use the same card you’d use for a Childrens Book Convention that you’d use for an Erotica or Horror Convention. (And, like me, if you write non-fiction, too, you might want to have a different card for that.)

      Don’t feel that you’ve got to pick one style and then use it forever for consistency. The nice thing about having cards printed these days is that there are so many options. There are lots of printers, who have hundreds of pre-made styles you can choose from (or get ideas from!) and some even offer cards for free if you pay shipping.

      Hope this helps!

  • Gayle G

    Thanks so much for your reply.
    I’ve never attended a writing convention or conference so I am nervous about it. All of your advice is deeply appreciated.

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