Sunday, July 8, 2018

TO GO OR NOT TO GO? 4 GOOD REASONS TO ATTEND WRITERS' CONFERENCES

by Chris Goff

A little back story.

In 1986, Summit County, Colorado was a lonely place to be a novelist. As far as I knew, there were no other aspiring authors in town—that is until Maggie Osborne moved to town. An award-winning romance writer, Maggie spoke at the local library one Friday, and by Monday I'd convinced her to teach me how to write a book. I paid her $20 for five three-hour lessons on plotting, point of view, dialogue, pacing and conflict; and I wrote one very bad romantic intrigue novel entitled FROZEN ASSETS.

Eventually she pointed me to a writers' group, in Denver, an hour and a half drive from my home. By then I had written another very bad young adult mystery novel entitled MYSTERY OF PHANTOM RANCH, so I dedicated myself to my craft. I made the 142.2 mile round trip drive once a week for two years. In 1988, we moved to Evergreen, and I drove the 57.4 mile round trip for years.

By 1996, I had written two more bad novels—an adult mystery entitled WARMBLOOD and an adult thriller entitled STALKED—and I'd decided to give myself one big push to "make it" or I was going to quit.

John Billheimer, Craig Faustus Buck, me, and Bill Fitzhugh
REASON #1 — Writers' conferences are where you meet people who get you.

My choice was actually a 10-day workshop. With classes taught by Alice Orr, an agent and writer I'd met once in Colorado, and Peter Rubie, a man who would in a year's time become my agent, the workshop provided me a place to be a writer. Not a wife. Not a mom. Not a part-time bread winner. A writer! It was there I made some wonderful friends—like Roman White, who put a rubber rat under my pillow and taught me how to plot a murder. Writers are a quirky bunch. It's because of the support of writer friends, many of whom I've met at conferences, that I persevered.

REASON #2 — Writers' conferences help you to hone your craft.

Me and Master Criminal #1
I don't care if you are a novice or a New York Times bestselling author, you can always learn new things that will make you a better writer. Attend classes taught by other writers. You'll be surprised how many takeaways you'll get by sitting in on a lecture or two. Take special courses to master special skills. At the Writers' Police Academy, I learned how to set fires (arson),  how to load and shoot a gun, and practiced apprehending criminals in a real-life police simulator.

REASON #3 — You'll learn things you didn't expect to learn.

Not only will you get tips to help you improve your writing, you'll get tips on how to better live the writers' life. Things like: how to organize your desk, tricks for keeping track of your characters, which are the best reference books, etc. 

REASON #4 — Writers' conferences can help catapult your writing career.

Lee Child, with six of the Rogue Women Writers
Once you have a book to sell, it's daunting to tell others why they should go out and buy a copy of your novel. After all, there are hundreds of great books out there for people to buy. But sitting on a panel at a writers' conference puts you in the spotlight, in front of a group of people who are interested in hearing about your work. I'll never forget the time Lee Child moderated the Rogue panel at Bouchercon. 800 people attended. Of course, 799 of them were there to see Lee. But still, the room was full. 

Perhaps more important is the chance to socialize with authors you admire. Conferences offer great networking opportunities. Maybe you'll meet an author in the bar, one who's willing to blurb your book. Maybe you'll meet an editor who will ask to look at your manuscript, without insisting it be submitted by an agent. It was at writers' conferences that I befriended Gayle Lynds. She's the reason I'm a Rogue.

Granted, attending conferences is expensive, but for me the benefits outweigh the costs. What about you? How many conferences do you attend in a year? Why do you attend writers' conferences? What do you appreciate most about the conference experience?

6 comments:

  1. I <3 Writer's Conferences! The first one I attended was at the local junior college. A romance writer came and was giving the dish on her book about how to write a synopsis. We'd never had anyone remotely linked to fiction writers and it was a thrill. More importantly, I met a few likeminded writers and started in a critique group, where two of us eventually ended up selling our first books. Not sure that would've happened as soon had I not dared to attend--then step out of my comfort zone and talk to other attendees. I've been to conferences in all genres, and my fave are those with mystery and thrillers, perhaps because that's what I write. I don't know. But the networking connections are invaluable. Had I not attended Bouchercon (world mystery con) over the years, I'm not sure that Barbara Peters (of Poisoned Pen) would have become acquainted with me and my work. She's the one who gave my name to Clive Cussler when he was looking for a new co-writer. It's also where Lee Goldberg and I met, and allowed me to do a book for Brash Books.

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    1. This highlights the great networking that happens at writers' conferences. I think I can speak for most of us that we're thrilled Barbara Peters got to know you and recommended you to Clive as a co-author. You bring something special to the Fargo series! And for those who haven't read any of Robin's standalones, definitely check out THE LAST GOOD PLACE. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/B013XBJ5TO/brash-website-20

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  2. Chris - you are SO right about the value of writers' conferences! I saw an announcement of a conference at the Smithsonian in DC eons ago, and since I had always wanted to write a novel, I sighed up and was immediately hooked on trying to "learn the craft." After two failed attempts at crafting romance novels (one titled THE CORPORATE WIFE, the next one BUILT TO CODE)I met an agent at another conference who encouraged me to write a "serious" thriller incorporating experiences I had working at The White House. When that endeavor was finished, I sold it to an editor I met at yet another conference during a "pitch session" where you get to explain your story in a 10 minute appointment (kind of like "speed-dating") Now, aspiring writers can pitch their stories to some 40 top agents and editors at the big conference this week, "ThrillerFest" at the Grand Hyatt in NY. Can't wait to get there and share a panel with my Rogue colleagues -- and word is that a CBS Morning News crew will be there - mainly to focus on our Rogue, Gayle Lynds. If you're in NY - come see it: July 13 at 10:20 AM. Now, thanks, Chris for a great post!

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    1. Your story about the encouragement you got from the editor to write a serious thriller at one con and how you sold it to an editor you met at another con solidifies my thoughts on attending conferences. Looking forward to seeing you in NYC. Only a few more days!

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  3. Writers cons are soo worth it! I've been writing seriously for 4 years and attending mystery writers cons for that long. Most of these cons offer contests or scholarships based on a sample of your writing and that's how I get to them! Check the website on each for information and instructions. This year, I didn't think I'd be able to attend Left Coast Crime in Reno but a published writer friend of mine (Sharon Owen) was going to be a panelist and offered me a ride and a shared room with her and I was able to swing it! These are really worth the organization and writing polish it takes to get there! Hope to see you at one! Laurie Hernandez

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    1. Thanks for verifying my thoughts. I agree. I've never been to a conference that I didn't have some take away, and I always have fun.

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