Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Writer’s Conference

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Last week, I shared a list of writer’s conferences taking place in the coming months. These conferences are brimming with good, relevant information that can help you become a stronger, more proficient writer – and maybe pave the way to getting your manuscript published. You can connect with other writers who are traveling the same path as you, and you can learn from published authors, agents and editors.

While many of these conferences can be cost prohibitive for some people, there are ways to be able to finance the admission fees, such as grants and scholarships. (See my post from last week for more information.)

I recently signed up for a conference – my first one – because I wanted to immerse myself in this intensive learning experience. I want to take my writing career to the next level. Signing up for the conference was the easy part. The hard part is preparing for the event. Luckily, I have found numerous tips for getting the most out of the conference experience, which I am happy to share with you.

1. Set a goal (or two) for the event. Think about why you want to be there. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to meet an agent or an editor you may be interested in reading your manuscript? Meet a favorite author? Make new friends? Learn about self-publishing? Get inspired to write that next novel? The choice is yours.

By setting a goal beforehand, you can go into the conference with the intention to work toward that goal. For example, if your goal is to build your network for fellow writers, make a goal of meeting at least three new contacts. Make sure to follow up with them after the conference by email or phone, even if it’s just to say hello.

2. Dress appropriately. Remember you are there to conduct business and you are representing yourself. Dress as you would as if you were going to a job interview or a business meeting. Think business casual. Refrain from wearing jeans and a T-shirt because they might send the message that you don’t take your career seriously.

3. Start networking before the conference begins. This is a great suggestion by Steuben Press. Just because the conference won’t take place until June doesn’t mean you can’t engage with guest speakers until then. If there’s an author or editor that will be present, start following them on social media. Pose a question for then on Twitter or their Facebook page or comment on their blog post. Then when you see them at the conference or bump into them during a coffee break, you can refer to one of those comments to begin a dialogue. The key is to get your name and face in front of them so they will remember you.

4. Practice your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a brief summary of your manuscript that you should be able to recite to anyone you might meet anywhere – a coffee shop, on the street, or in an elevator. Keep the pitch to no more than two sentences or approximately 50 words, suggests the folks at Jericho Writers. Most editors and literary agents you meet will be pressed for time, so anything longer than two sentences might be a time drain. Besides, most elevator rides don’t last very long.

5. Be organized. Establish a system for tracking everything from who you meet to what you learn each day from each session you attend. I like to carry a notebook that contains all my notes from workshops, classes and conference sessions. Because it’s all in one place, it’s easy for me to look back at some notes from two years ago, for example, that I may need today.

Another habit I’ve developed in my career is to make notes on the back of each business card I receive from somebody. On the back, I write the date and event where I met that person. Again I have something to job my memory about how I know that individual. When I follow up with an email, I can refer to that event that took place so they know who I am.

6. Turn off your devices when you’re networking with others. Stay in the present moment. Enjoy meeting new people without distractions. Besides, when you’re constantly looking into your smart phone, you send the message that you really prefer to be somewhere else. When you show a lack of interest in the world around you, others will show a lack of interest in you.

7. Eat with new friends and business contacts. Once you’ve made some new friends, invite them to sit with you at lunch or meet over coffee. The important thing is to not eat by yourself or sit alone at a table. Sometimes the best relationships begin in one-on-one settings or in smaller groups.

8. Don’t take the conference too seriously. Don’t be all work and no play. Make sure you have fun too. Attend some of the social events, or form your own group outing like visiting an art museum or listening to live music.

9. But don’t get too comfortable. On the other hand, don’t play it so loose and fancy free that others think you aren’t serious about your writing. There’s a time to work and a time to play. Find a healthy balance between the two and you should walk away from the conference feeling excited and energized to take your writing to the next level.

Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? What was your experience like?  How did you prepare for it? What tips do you have for your fellow writers about attending conferences?

Attending a Writer’s Conference Can Make a Difference in Your Career

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If your goal for 2020 is to get more serious about your writing career, then you might want to consider attending a writer’s conference.

There are plenty of reasons to attend a conference: to find an editor, to connect with an agent, to learn more about your craft, to gain motivation, to expand your network, among others. Only you know what you want to accomplish when you get there.

Knowing which conference to attend can be daunting however. There are numerous conferences to choose from and there seems to be more every year. Which one you choose to attend will depend on your budget, of course, the location, and perhaps the size of the event. It’s also important to consider your goal for the conference: what do you hope to achieve while you are there? You might also be enticed by the editors and agents who plan to attend, or who the keynote speaker will be.

Your best bet is to choose a conference that is a) locally accessible and b) serves your genre. That way you know you can spend time with other like-minded professionals who are writing within the same genre and you can connect with editors and literary agents who specialize in that genre. For example, if you write science fiction or fantasy, your best bet is to attend a writer’s conference for the sci-fi genre, though you can get just as much out of a general writer’s conference too.

If cost is a concern, check conference websites for information about scholarships. Some conferences do offer scholarships for part or all of the cost of the conference, so it might be worthwhile to check it out. Also, some states offer grants for individual artists to pursue a professional development goal or complete a project. For example, the Illinois Arts Council offers grants for individuals artists (although as of this writing, funding has been expended and won’t continue until 2021).

Below is a brief list of writer’s conferences for the first half of this year. There are plenty more in the second half, but most of them have not published dates or registration information just yet. Most of the conferences listed below are located in the Midwest, close to where I live. If you live elsewhere, check Google for writing conferences and university-sponsored workshops close to you. Later this year, I’ll do a follow up post about scheduled conferences for the second half of the year. Stay tuned.

What about you? Have you attended a writer’s conference? Where did you go? What was your experience like?

March

Midwest Writers Workshop Agent Fest
Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
March 13-14, 2020

Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference
Presented by Chicago Writers Association
Chicago, Illinois
March 21-22, 2020

University of Wisconsin Writers Institute
Madison, Wisconsin
March 26-29, 2020

Southern Kentucky Writers Conference and Bookfest
Bowling Green, Kentucky
March 30, 2020

April

Screencraft Writers Summit
Chicago, Illinois
April 24-27, 2020

Spring Fling Writers Conference
Presented by Chicago-North Romance Writers of America
Chicago, Illinois
April 30-May 3, 2020

May

Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference
Black Mountain, North Carolina
May 24-28, 2020

Bear River Writers Conference
University of Michigan
May 28-June 1, 2020

Indiana University Writers Conference
Bloomington, Indiana
May 30-June 3, 2020

June

Rutgers-New Brunswick Writers Conference
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
June 5-7, 2020

Write by the Lake Workshop and Retreat  (not a conference, but a working retreat)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
June 15-19, 2020

Write-to-Publish Conference
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
June 17-20, 2020

Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference
Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minnesota
June 22-28, 2020

Jackson Hole Writers Conference
Jackson, Wyoming
June 25-27, 2020

And the big daddy of them all:

Writers Digest Annual Conference
New York City
August 13-16, 2020

More conference listings to come later this spring.

In Memoriam: Remembering the Authors and Journalists We Lost in 2019

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Before we get too far into 2020, let’s look back to the past year and the talented writers we lost.

Authors

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winning author of “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon”

Anne Rivers Siddons, author of “Peachtree Road” and numerous other novels set in and around Atlanta.

Judith Krantz, bestelling author of steamy, sexy romance novels including “Scruples” and “Til We Meet Again.”

Herman Wouk, author of “The Caine Mutiny” died at age 103

Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous poems about nature and animal life

Vonda McIntyre, award-winning science fiction writer best known for her Star Trek novels

Johanna Lindsey, bestselling author of more than 50 romance novels

Ernest Grimes, author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

Graeme Gibson, Canadian author and conservationist who was also the long-time partner of Margaret Atwood

Betty Ballantine, who with her husband helped reinvent the modern paperback through Bantam and Ballantine book publishing groups.
Journalists

Cokie Roberts, highly-respected journalist known for her work on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and co-anchoring ABC News’ “This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.”

Garth Reeves Sr., longtime publisher of the Miami Times and a prominent voice of Miami’s black community

Kathryn Johnson, journalist with the Associated Press who covered pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement

Russ Ewing, well-respected TV reporter in Chicago

Steve Dunleavy, Australian-born tabloid journalist, columnist for the New York Post and lead reporter for the TV show “A Current Affair”

David Horowitz, consumer reporter best known for his work hosting the TV show “Fight Back!”

For more about celebrity deaths, visit Legacy.com.

2020 Reading Challenge: How Many Books Can You Read in One Year?

 

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Looking for a new challenge for 2020? If you love to read and would like to expand your knowledge of genres and writing styles, beyond John Grisham legal thrillers and self-help books that leave you feeling more confused than before, then the 2020 Reading Challenge may be right for you. Here’s how you can participate.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to read one book from each of the categories listed below up to 26 books. That equates to one book every two weeks.

For an added challenge, see if you can read one book from all 34 categories. If you complete all 34 categories and there’s still time in the year, reward yourself. Either take a break from reading or read anything you want. You’ve earned it!

I won’t be handing out prizes for this challenge. The only prize is the pride of personal achievement, unless you want to reward yourself with a well-earned gift, like a massage or a copy of the latest New York Times bestseller.

I have participated in reading challenges the past three years. 2018 was my most productive year, having read 42 books. Last year was more difficult with only 27 (28 if you count the one I started the last week of December but finished the first week of January).

The experience has been rewarding. Not only have I expanded my book knowledge, I’ve discovered new authors and genres I didn’t think I would like (paranormal romance, anyone?). And I had so much fun and a sense of pride each time I crossed a category off my list.

That’s why I’m sharing this reading challenge with you. If you love books as much as I do, you won’t turn down this challenge.

So for your reading pleasure, here are the categories you can choose from. Remember, the first-level goal is 26 books — one book for every two weeks of the year. Any titles beyond that are bonuses. You can read them in any order you choose.

1. Autobiography or memoir
2. Historical fiction
3. A classic
4. Young adult novel
5. Mystery/thriller
6. Science fiction/fantasy
7. Romance/romantic suspense
8. A non-fiction book or current events
9. True crime
10. A self-help or psychology book
11. A book you read in your childhood
12. A book you read in school
13. A book/novel published within the past year
14. A book/novel published more than 100 years ago
15. A first-time author/debut novel
16. African-American fiction
17. Latin-American fiction
18. A book by an author who is deceased
19. A book made into a movie or TV show
20. A book that someone recommended to you
21. A book set in your hometown
22. A book set in a foreign place
23. A book with a place/location in the title
24. A book with a number in the title
25. A book with a person’s name in the title
26. A book with a color in the title
27. A book with a one-word title
28. A collection of short stories
29. A collection of essays
30. A play
31. A book about sports or an athlete
32. A book that features an animal (Example: Seabiscuit)
33. Paranormal/vampire
34. Current Top 10 best seller

Of course, if you can think of another category for your own reading challenge, you can add it to the selections above. Since I’m getting a late start on this endeavor, the challenge begins now and runs through next January 7, 2021. I will check in periodically to share my progress and perhaps also book titles and authors I found worthwhile.

Have fun! Let the reading begin!

20 Literary New Year’s Resolutions for 2020

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Happy New Year!  Hope the year ahead is filled with exciting opportunities.

I love the start of a New Year. It’s always filled with great promise and hope, just like the start of the school year or the first day of spring. I’m eager to start new projects and try new things. I even try to make resolutions, and though I might fail to achieve them, I believe making them sets the tone for the year.

Yes, I know. Resolution is a dirty word for some people. Perhaps we should call them goals, plans or challenges. I’m always looking for the next challenge though, and I also remind myself that I have a full 365 days in which to achieve it.

So even if you don’t believe in making New Year’s Resolutions, maybe there’s some small goal you’d like to achieve in the coming year. If you can’t think of anything, never fear. I have a few ideas, all related to literary pursuits.

In honor of the year 2020, here are 20 resolutions for the New Year. Choose one or two to pursue, then see how your life unfolds.

1. Read the dictionary or thesaurus front to back as if you were reading a novel. What better way to build your vocabulary.

2. Choose one author whose books you have wanted to read and read every book they’ve written. Select someone who has written at least five books, but no more than twelve. You still want to leave room for other author’s works.

3. Attend a writer’s conference. Immerse yourself in the culture, build your network and rub elbows with authors and editors. Find a conference that matches your genre, like romance or science fiction or screenwriting. Bring along your manuscript and have it critiqued. Attend as many of the sessions as you can handle. You’ll walk away eager to put into practice what you’ve learned.

4. Attend an author reading in your town once a month. Brownie points if you ask the author questions afterward about their craft.

5. Participate in your own reading challenge. Set a goal for the number of books you’d like to read in the next 365 days. For example, I usually set a goal of 32 books because that’s what I’ve averaged the past few years.

6. Same as number 5 above but with a twist. Each book you read is a different genre – from light-hearted romance and detective stories to cookbooks and politics. Each fiction genre opens you to a different style of writing and storytelling, while the non-fiction books can provide background information for your latest work.

7. Start a writer’s journal. Keep track of story ideas, scenes, character descriptions, the humble beginnings of a poem – you get the idea. When you’re ready to start your next story, browse through your journal and see what inspires you.

8. Finish that story, poem or essay you’ve been working on for the past few years. Pull it out from the bottom of your desk drawer and dust it off. Keep working at it until you feel satisfied that it is your best work. Bonus points if you submit it to an editor for publication.

9. Volunteer to be a literacy tutor. There are plenty of organizations that provide reading and writing tutoring to children and adults. Share your love of reading and writing with others.

10. Clear out your bookshelves. Donate the ones you no longer want to worthy organizations. Or if you have a lot of books, host your own book sale, then donate the proceeds to a worthy organization. Either way, you’ll be clearing the shelves for more books.

11. Get up half an hour early each day and use that time to write. You can easily write a couple hundred words during that time. Do that every day, and you will have one or two chapters written within a month.

12. Select a place in your town that you’ve never been to – whether it’s a university campus, a public park, a landmark or even a coffee shop. Then write about your experience. What did the place look like? What kind of people visited the place that day? How did you feel walking through the place? The experience might inspire a short story or essay.

13. Participate in a local write-in. A write-in is a day set aside where visitors can use the time and space to simply write with no interruptions. Universities, writing studios, even some libraries host write-ins. You don’t have to stay the whole day. You can spend one hour or four. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the writing process surrounded by other people who are doing the same thing. If you have trouble sticking to a daily writing schedule, attending a write-in can be just the thing to jump start your progress.

14. Write a review of a book you’ve completed or a movie you’ve just seen. For example, if you saw the film Little Women, how did it compare with other film versions? How did it compare with the novel? Even if you’ve never written a book or movie review, trying it once or twice is good practice to develop analytical skills.

15. Visit a different bookstore once a month. Even if you don’t buy anything, browse the current releases to see what is being published.

16. Visit the library once a month. Even if you don’t have a library card or borrow books, there are plenty of resources to browse through. Read the newspaper or a magazine, do some research, or bring a notebook to write with little interruption.

17. Find a writing buddy and meet with them once a month. Having someone along on your writing journey can keep you motivated.

18. Join a Meetup group of writers or book fans. If you’re working on a screenplay, for example, check your local Meetup to see if there is a group for screenwriters. Or maybe you prefer poetry or non-fiction. Whatever your passion is, find like-minded individuals to share it. If there isn’t a Meetup group that meets your interests, start one of your own.

19. Learn about a different writing style or genre. If you’re a business writer, maybe you want to transition into doing personal essays. Find a class or two about writing essays or stock up on books about that topic.

20. Volunteer for an organization that provides reading services to the visually impaired. Many students and seniors have difficulty reading because of their impairment. Organizations like the Blind Service Association in Chicago

need volunteers to read and record everything from textbooks to magazines, whatever is needed. Check to see if there’s a comparable organization in your area.

There you have it – 20 ideas for resolutions for literary types. Hope you see one or two that you’d like to try. You may find it opens up new opportunities in unexpected ways.

 

Cool Gift Ideas for Writers and Communications Pros

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Editor’s Note: In the spirit of the holiday season, this post is republished from December 2018. 

Happy holidays, and ‘tis the season for gift giving. I’m taking a break from my usual posts about writing to indulge in a little brainstorming for gifts for the writing and  communications professional in your life. The gift can even be for yourself.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on your gift list. Many of these ideas were inspired in part by the 2018 version of Writer’s Digest holiday gift guide.

1. Books. Naturally, books will fall on any writer’s wish list, especially books about writing, reading or creativity. What writer wouldn’t want to add to their library? There are plenty of books available about becoming a better writer, improving your habits, overcoming writer’s block and more. Check out some of these book suggestions.

2. Writer’s tools of the trade. Every writer needs a dictionary, thesaurus, AP Stylebook and/or University of Chicago Manual of Style to complete their library. Add The Elements of Style and a basic grammar book, and their library is complete. They might have a dictionary, but since they are updated annually, it never hurts to give the writer on your list a more current version.

3. Caffeine containers (also known as coffee mugs). No writer or communicator should be without their supply of caffeine. Check out this collection of humorous coffee mugs from Café Press that are sure to put a smile on your face.

4. A really, really nice pen set. Many writers begin writing their stories longhand, so they need plenty of writing instruments to get the job done. Consider giving them a really nice stylish pen set (within budgetary reasons, of course), or a stock of their favorite pen, if they have one. Working with a stylish pen can put them in a more serious frame of mind when they write. Add a stack of notepads or legal pads, and your writer friend will be well stocked and ready to write before the New Year begins.

5. Professional development. Instead of a physical item, consider the gift of experience or education. Continuous learning is important to most writers and communicators. Writers are constantly searching for ways to improve their own craft and become better writers. Consider a gift of a Writer’s Digest subscription or an online course through Mediabistro.

6. Writing exercises and word puzzles. Brain power and creativity are key for writers. Word puzzles and writing exercises can help boost a writer’s creativity. Try magnetic word games, for example. Each magnet contains a word, and with 100 or so word magnets, you can create numerous combinations of some pretty imaginative poems. Put them on your refrigerator, and let the family create their own mini-short stories as they grab the milk.

Another option is the Writer’s Toolbox, described as “more exercises and games to inspire ‘the write side of the brain.’ Get the family involved with a Once Upon a Time storytelling card game. One person begins as the Storyteller and begins telling a story using the elements described on their cards, guiding the plot toward their Ending Card. But other players can interrupt the Storyteller with their own elements and the right to take over as the new Storyteller. All these options are sure to be fun for you and the whole family.

7. A book of writing prompts. Occasionally writers need help generating story ideas. To get the creative juices flowing, they might appreciate a book of writing prompts. Before you know it, the writer in your life (or even the writer in you) will be off and running on their next story.

8. Do Not Disturb signs. Some years ago, I saw a sign that read “Do Not Disturb. Genius at Work.” I laughed at the time, but I think it succinctly describes the sentiment most writers feel when they are at work. Writers are creative geniuses who need privacy and quiet, uninterrupted time to plot, daydream, and craft their stories. Let people know that once that sign is on the door, it’s time to get down to work.

I hope these ideas give you a head start on your gift shopping for the writers in your life. And don’t be shy about giving a gift to yourself. The more you invest in yourself, the more you improve your writing life.

Happy shopping and happy holidays.

Do You Have a Holiday Writing Plan?

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The Christmas season is in full force. There is much to do – shopping, baking, decorating, attending parties, socializing with friends – you name it. This is on top of your usual obligations – work, school, housekeeping, family time, volunteer work, and self-care. There isn’t much time left for your writing practice.

Or is there?

It all depends on how you allocate your time.

If your writing is important to you or if you are currently working on a deadline, then reaching your writing goals is critical. To reach those goals, you need to have a plan. If faced with this dilemma – and most of us are – you have several options:

1. You can put your writing practice on hiatus.

Going on hiatus will obviously clear the way for you to enjoy your holiday more without worrying about what your next essay will be about. Then when you begin working again, you come with a fresh eye. On the other hand, a hiatus can take you out of your writing rhythm. You could lose momentum on the current work-in-progress. Come January when you sit back down and review your story, you might lose sight of where your story is going. Then you may have to start all over again.

2. Decrease the time you spend on your writing practice.

This approach might make the most sense for most writers. You can still make progress on your current work while still making time for your holiday activities. Here’s how it works. If you currently write for one hour a day, you might decide to write for only half an hour. Or instead of writing six days a week, perhaps you only write three days a week. The scheduling is up to you.

3. Maintain the status quo in your writing practice.

To maintain your current writing schedule will mean reassessing your holiday activities. Are there any that have lost their meaning for you? Do you really need to go to every party you’ve been invited to? Can you skip sending out holiday cards or the holiday bar crawl? The choices are yours.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to maintain your writing practice during the holidays, here are a few suggestions:

1. Set priorities. How much of a priority is your writing? If it’s important to you, you will automatically make more time for it. Other activities will go by the wayside as a result.

2. Make an appointment for your writing. Make an appointment with yourself to write just as you would make a doctor or hair appointment. When you see that you have three one-hour writing sessions in your appointment book, chances are you will be more likely to stick to that schedule.

3. Set realistic goals for your writing. What do you want to accomplish? For example, if you decide you want to write one chapter for your current novel during the month of December, you need to figure out how to make that goal. But make sure that goal is reasonable and achievable. Writing a 1000-word essay or a 3000-word chapter of a novel is probably more achievable than writing 50,000 words.

If you want to learn more about making a writing plan for the holidays, check out the Books & Such Literary Management blog.

When you maintain a consistent writing practice throughout the holidays with all its assorted pleasurable distractions, you may actually feel more joyous throughout the season. Why? Because you love to write and you know how you feel when you write. There is no other greater joy than to do what you love during the holidays.