Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Why Go?

I've always found conferences to be inspiring and rejuvenating. But, I think you need to know your goals before deciding to attend a convention, conference or workshop.

When clients ask me which one they should attend, the answer is: It depends.

Let's look first at the differences I see between a workshop, a conference, and a convention, as they pertain primarily to an aspiring author.

To me, a workshop is a hands-on, intense learning experience. I would go there with paper and pen and expect to be taught something and receive lots of handouts. The workshop might be taught by one person (if only a couple of hours long) or several people (if days long). My goal in attending would be to learn something, with a secondary purpose of networking. Therefore, when choosing a workshop, I would look at what the topic is and who is leading the class.

I see a conference as being longer than a workshop, first of all. Secondly, while it may have an overall theme, such as "craft of writing" or "agents" or "writing the romance" or "nonfiction," I expect it to have multiple tracks of lectures or mini-workshops on subjects related to the overall theme. And thirdly, it will have more people in attendance. Once again, I sign up for the conference because it deals with a subject I'm interested in, but, just as important, are the speakers and attendees. In choosing, I would consider what stage in my career I'm at: Do I want help in the basics of writing? Am I at the point where I need an agent? Do I want to learn about a particular genre? Am I searching for directors, producers, or other screenwriters? But the theme of the conference isn't always the deciding factor. I may feel I've moved beyond the basics of writing, but a certain conference with that as its theme has several speakers or attendees with whom I really want to network.

And, finally, conventions, to me, are huge deals. Lots of people, lots of talks and panels. These are networking heaven. Yes, you can go to hear writers or agents talk on subjects you're dying to learn about, but your primary goal in attending a convention is to meet people, exchange business cards, make contacts and friends, tell people about your book or manuscript, and have fun. (I'm talking the kind of fun where you meet favorite authors or laugh at dinner with other writers and their agents -- not the kind of fun where next year you see Writers Gone Wild videos of yourself dancing naked on the beach.)

So, what conference, workshop or convention you should attend depends on what you are looking for and want to get out of the experience.

Incidentally, I maintain a weekly-updated list of events for writers, ones that I find or ones where others send the info to me.

Do you have a favorite - workshop, conference or convention - that you like to attend? As an aspiring writer, what do you gain from going? If you're already published, do you still go to workshops, conferences or conventions? If so, why?

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36 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post. It's just what has been on my mind lately! :o)

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  2. I have attended and taught at workshops but never really been to a conference or a convention of writers (lots of other ones - I used to be a conference planner - euuuh) The only thing close to that here in Nova Scotia is 'Word on the Street' which is for readers and writers - it is free to attend and there are tonnes of writers reading from their new books, lots of agents and bookstore owners and some local publishers. There is a 'pitch to the publishers' that you can sign up for and I may try that this year if I think I am ready.
    I'm going to go check out your list right now!
    And thanks for the sunshine love if I didn't already!

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  3. This is an excellent point. I've been to two workshops here several years ago. Both were very beneficial information wise, but the other writers involved were not at all interested in networking or even mingling. I was disappointed because I was haoping to meet and chat with some other writers which would be a learning experience in itself.

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  4. ...I tend to stay fairly local, attending several workshops from the college, and a major book signing/meet and greet every November, featuring writers from my home state. It's amazing, the kind of knowledge that can be attained from a two minute conversation with a published writer when approached on friendly terms:)

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  5. I haven't attended any conferences or workshops, but have gone to hear authors speak at various library functions, and attend events at a local college's literary series. These include writers as well as editors sharing their journeys, their stories, and always ending with a Q & A. There's something to learn from each of them, some wisdom imparted, and an opportunity to ask questions specific to my interests. These, and all the events you mentioned, are a great way to stay connected and informed, definitely.

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  6. Very helpful, Helen. I haven't been to any of these kinds of things in a long time. It would have to have someone I desperately wanted to hear or meet to get me there at this point in my life.
    Karen

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  7. One of the best evenings I ever spent was in the bar of the Doubletree at the second (and sadly last) Con Misterio. There were just four of us: me, Jane Cleland, Keith Raffel and James Crumley. It was about six months before Crumley passed away. I don't remember all that we talked about, but I do remember Crumley saying he revised The Last Good Kiss eighteen times, top to bottom.

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  8. Thanks for making the distinctions, Helen. People have mixed ideas about these things, many writers believe it to be unecessary but at the end of the day, writing is a skill that should be refined like any other. Anway, great post as always

    Val

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  9. Some workshops and most conferences and conventions will have, on their website, the authors, speakers, agents and editors who are attending or expecting to attend. It's a good idea to check that out before you sign up.

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  10. Karen, you might want to find one that is about memoir and send in info on yourself, your book, and what you could teach or talk about. See if you could get invited to be a speaker or workshop leader.

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  11. So far, I've only attended a few readings and seminars by authors at a couple of independent book shops locally...

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  12. I love conferences and conventions. I get to meet great people and learn tons of new stuff. How can hanging around with writers and readers NOT be fun? Of course, they can get expensive (he says, as he gets ready to go to Thrillerfest in NYC). But to me, they're worth it!

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  13. Would love to hear about Thrillerfest, Alan.

    Don't know if anyone else is having blogger problems or if it's just me. It probably looks like I'm responding to comments that no one has posted. The comments are showing up in my email, but not here on the blog. Grrr.

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  14. Jan, Word on the Street sounds like a great conference.

    Elliot, if you can find good local workshops, that's great. You can save a lot of money by staying local - and conferences and workshops can add up!

    I agree, Culture Served Raw. You can get so caught up in writing that you forget networking and learning are just as important long term.

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  15. Conferences are lots of fun, but exhausting; going to bed at 3 am and getting up at 7, for 5 days in row. Makes it really challenging to follow the presentations on the last day >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  16. It's great to put all this in perspective, Helen--thank you! I was thinking genre conferences were the best fit, but in reality, it may depend on the stage I'm at--something like 'marketing a new book' might have some really great stuff at a more general conference... though it does seem the networking makes sense to start with writers 'like you' and then expand.

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  17. Cold As Heaven, around here the bars usually close about 1 a.m.

    Hart, conventions may be best for you if you're in the stage of marketing your book. Conventions usually draw in the most readers and fans.

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  18. I've never attended one - thanks for posting a link to your list.

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  19. Appreciate your delineation/distinction post between the three types of events. I just came from a "in-house" pub house workshop focusing on marketing and it was of great benefit. I plan on going to at least two full blown conventions this fall, too. I love being in "networking heaven"!

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  20. Marvin, I do believe you are in your comfort heaven when you're networking and marketing!

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  21. Sometimes tangible benefits from conventions can seem few at first but I find the people you meet tend to come back to haunt you in the most wonderful ways.

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  22. Good advice. I rarely attend workshops (having a toddler very much limits my ability to go just about anywhere), but on the rare occasion I have gone it was for these reasons: the topics are interesting and relevant to my writing style/work in progress and to network with other aspiring and/or published authors.

    Generally, if I can afford it and can go (and of course it seems interesting) I'll do so. :)

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  23. Always hand out business cards so those people you meet can come back to haunt you "in the most wonderful ways." (Very true, Lauri.)

    Kimberlyloomis, workshops are indeed costly. There's the fee to attend, travel, hotel, food, business cards or bookmarks, drinks, all kinds of things. To make it worthwhile, you really need to know why you're going and what you want to get out of the experience. Sounds like you go with a plan in mind!

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  24. I used to attend many conventions here in Wyoming as well as National Press Women and Western Writers of America while serving as an officer in the organizations. The comaraderie was wonderful and the best way to stay in touch with fellow writers before online internet groups became popular. Now I can stay in touch while wearing my pajamas. :)

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  25. I attend conventions as a dealer, not as an author, so I don't get much chance to meet people. In some conventions the authors come to the dealers room, but I don't get to the authors tables as a panelist. That may be my own fault, not asking them to include me in time. I don't go to conferences or workshops, since I don't have the money or the time. I never have an elevator pitch, either.

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  26. It is really nice, isn't it, Jean to be able to visit and stay in contact online. There is something special, though, about doing it once in a while in person.

    Author Guy, it's been a while since I went to a big convention like Bouchercon, but when I did, I went to the dealer room to look around. If I'd had a book out, I for sure would have been there networking.

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  27. I haven't attended one yet, but I really would like to one day soon!

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  28. Love the fact that you explained the difference between a workshop, a conference and a convention. Some folks, like me, do get confused. LOL

    The one con that I have enjoyed is Mayhem in the Midlands, a mystery convention. That's where I met Dennis Lahane, among others, and it it a great smaller convention.

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  29. Writing Nut, go for it, if you can. You might want to start with something local (to save on money and to get your feet wet).

    Maryann, I've never been to Mayhem, but have heard a lot about it.

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  30. I've been published, but I still go to workshops and conferences whenever I can because I know I still have a lot to learn. I also find being around other writers inspirational.

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  31. It is inspirational, Jane. I agree. I always come back so revved up and excited.

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  32. I've attended conferences for different reasons and my needs have changed over the years. It was fun to attend my first one as a published author this year but I was still seeking an agent and was as nervous as I had been my first year. I think any one serious about their writing career should search out a conference to network and learn from the pros.

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  33. Cost has always been a factor for me. Some conferences, conventions, and workshops are simply beyond my price range.

    The only such events I've ever gone to are SF conventions. I spend all my time there attending panel discussions on the craft of writing, or on the business of getting published.

    After I retire I plan to make a point of attending some writing workshops. Probably local.
    ~jon

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  34. I agree Jon, they are expensive. Sounds like you've done a good job of setting priorities in order to get the most out of the ones you do go to.

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  35. Hi again. I followed your link from my LJ. It's always nice finding new writing blogs to nose around. :)

    I've not had the chance to attend any conferences yet, but I've been to cons and participated in weekend workshops. For me, nothing beats the personal, close-knit feel of a workshop, with just a small group (no more than 20 people). There's enough inspiration and encouragement without it becoming overwhelming, and you don't have to impress people quite as much as at a con. Plus, the act of simply sitting quietly in a room together while everybody writes can be incredibly energizing. I've got one coming up at the end of this month, and it's the perfect time of year for me - around midway through, when I'm most in need of a boost. Writing at home on the computer is fine, but it's not the same as being in a room with other writers, feeding off the atmosphere and getting live, face-to-face feedback. I love that.

    Great post! Thank you. :)

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