Writer’s Conferences have evolved

Last week I attended the Write To Publish conference. And I’ve watched it evolve over the decade plus I’ve been an attendee. Most conferences have followed the same pattern of evolution according to some friends who attend various ones across the country.

Then:

Back in the day everyone brought paper copies of proposals and articles along with ready pitches memorized. I had a three-inch notebook with sleeves to hold all my clips and proposals. Before that, I had six copies of my proposal, each in its own thesis binder.

I carry my clips and samples in a three ring binder with plastic sleeves.

Now:

This past week I had three folders. One had one-sheets and the other two were copies of my proposal. Two publishers requested my proposal to be emailed to them. And every magazine I pitched to did not even want to look at clips. Instead they’d prefer emailed articles.

Then:

Two contests

Now:

At this year’s conference there were more contests to enter for several genres—for both published and unpublished writers. Contests are a great way to support a conference and give authors and would-be authors wonderful accolades. Entering contests for unpublished authors challenges entrants to polish their work and practice submitting according to guidelines. For those of us who are published and win, it adds credentials to our by-lines that open more doors for future publication.

Then:

Ninety-nine percent of the classes offered were about writing in a variety of genres including articles and poetry. One class on proposals and query letters.  Another on marketing and over time one on marketing using the internet which evolved into social media. A class or two on a speaker’s platform usually rounded out the schedule.

Now:

Classes on website building, blogging and successful marketing on a myriad of platforms are offered alongside fiction and nonfiction writing classes, including articles both for the web and periodicals but no poetry. Speech classes cover more than live talks, adding podcasts and YouTube videos. A writing career is more than putting words on paper, and conference class offerings are reflecting that more and more.

Always the same

One aspect of conferences that hasn’t changed is the kinds of attendees. You will see the alumni who network with faculty and conferees alike with grace and encouraging words. Among them are the returning unpublished alumni showing more confidence from their experience in the past, anxious to reconnect with friends who get-them as a writer. And the first-timers whose faces are overshadowed with a bit of terror as they look around at a room of strangers.

 

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Jodee Starrick and I became BFF after meeting at a conference a few years ago.

 

By the end of the conference those newbies have found friends and made valuable connections and those of us who attended every year are encouraged and refreshed with a notebook full of notes and requests for our words.

How have you seen conferences change? How are they the same?

 

 

No Reality Shows for Budding Writers

The  airwaves are full of  reality shows that focus on talent, American Idol, Next Top Model, Americas Got Talent to name a few. The one that best exemplified the journey of a writer is The Voice. Four coaches, all well-known successful singers in their various genres, sit in chairs facing the audience. Hopefuls sing to the chair backs pouring their heart into their 90 seconds of music, sight unseen—no prejudging of appearance. During that time, based on what the coaches hear, they may push the button that turns their chair around signaling that coach is interested in having that individual on their team. If more than one coach turns their chair around, the contestant gets to choose which team he wants to be on.  These teams compete musically with each other until there is only one Voice left.

Parallels

The Voice parallels the experience of writers who enter contests. We put our best words on paper, polishing them to attract the judges. We agonize and get nervous before we submit our piece, hoping it grabs the attention of the sometimes fickle judges. The bottom-line, the final choice for a winner may have no rhyme or reason. Watching The Voice, I may hear someone I love and not one judge turns around. While another singer that just doesn’t move me grabs all the judges’ attention.

The things these competitors have in common with writers are their preparation. All of these singers have been asked to compete by special invitation because they have worked at their craft. While they work their day job, they sing wherever they can at night. They may take lessons or be backup singers for other artists. Each has sacrificed much in their lives for the privilege of following their dream of a successful career.

Serious Writers Prepare

Serious writers write every day. They take classes, attend webinars, and join critique groups. Following the instruction and encouragement of successful writers, agents and editors improves their chances of standing out.

The Voice is looking for a unique artist that will stand out in the music business. When we write, that same stand out quality must permeate the page. We need a unique style, a unique plot line, quirky characters, creative phrasing that will put us on top in the contests.

Contestants Take Risks

I admire the contestants for taking the risk, putting themselves out there hoping someone will turn their chair around. When no one does, they graciously thank the coaches for their time and leave the stage with grace and dignity. I’ve been in meetings at conferences with agents or publishers that just were not interested in what I was pitching. The conference experience was worth the time despite the rejection.

Writers are faceless

Contests are always a challenge but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Like the contestants on The Voice, we writers are faceless. We are judged not on our outward appearance or experience but the words we have carefully crafted that speak to them from the pages we have submitted. Unlike the TV contest, we may not get to hear the comments as the judges debate the value of our work.  If we are not the winners, we will more often than not get no feedback at all.

Getting Readers to sit in the chair

Unlike these contenders for stardom, our carefully crafted words rarely go viral on YouTube. Sometimes as we network with other writers, we may acquire a mentor who comes along side holding us accountable to finish our work, pointing out our weak sentences and lack of strong moving theme like the coaches on The Voice taking the prodigies to stardom.  Unlike these musical artists, we work alone.  We don’t form bands or ensembles to blend our unique abilities.  We draw from others feedback and coaching, but the work is all ours. The sweat, the tears, the time spent at the keyboard is all ours. The ultimate success is based on how many people we can get to sit down in a chair and read our words.

How do you feel about writing contests?  What kind of experiences have you had?