Writing Conferences: A Little Rant (and some suggestions)

I just attended a writing conference earlier this month. I’ve been attending it for four years now, and I don’t know if anyone else has similar thoughts about conferences, but these are just a few rants I have to make:

1.) If you’re going to have sessions like a “first page panel” or a “query letter review panel,” make sure ALL your attendees know to submit them, or at least bring them, in advance! Put a link in the schedule telling people what they need to do to submit. This year, I went to a query letter review and only 2 people knew to bring them. TWO! It took all of five minutes to go over them. The panelists were two editors from the same house, and so most of the other 55 minutes was taken up with talking about their imprints. It felt like I’d accidentally stumbled into a timeshare pitch.

2.) Offer something for everyone. I know that can be hard when you have a limited budget and only so many people willing to come in and do sessions, but . . . speaking for myself, I want workshops. I want something different. I want to be able to critique others’ work and have mine critiqued as well. I went with a friend who is just starting out in writing, and she mentioned the same thing — that most workshops didn’t seem geared towards beginners, while I complained that most weren’t geared towards more advanced writers.

3.) Don’t schedule your best sessions on top of each other! YOU know what sessions people will and won’t attend. YOU know that no one is going to attend the poetry session, but everyone wants to attend the “I Made $1 million in Self-Publishing” session. Great. Schedule THOSE two together! Attendees don’t want to pick and choose.

4.) Offer tracks. Advanced and beginner. Fiction/Poetry/Nonfiction. Sci-Fi and Fantasy/Romance/History. Whatever. Have a plan for the conference and the workshops you want to offer. Then go find the right people to lead them, who have a plan and can get the audience engaged and interested.

5) And if you lose a presenter — and it happens — then find someone who can fill the spot well! I went to a session last year where the presenter had gotten sick, and a sub had been found. The presentation given was nothing like it should have been. Not even the same topic. Very annoying and frustrating, and I know I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

6.) If you don’t know what kinds of sessions to offer — ask your attendees. Put it on your website and allow everyone to have a voice, not just the members of your own group that are putting it on. I’d love to have some real history writers give workshops on research and verifying facts and stuff, but no one offers that kind of thing locally. Offer different things. A couple of years ago I went to a conference where there was a “paranormal panel” with ghost hunters, a psychic, and two paranormal authors. Hands down the best session I’ve ever attended.

Anyway, those are my rants and suggestions. I can only imagine what kind of work and planning goes into a conference, but sometimes it feels like I’m going to the same one over and over. Spice it up. Make it work!

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