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How to get the best out of conference workshops

By On Aug 1 2012, 12:10 am

Right now, we’re in the midst of Conference Season. Every summer the number of writing conferences seems to increase, starting with the Romantic Times Convention in the spring and then moving on to the Romance Writers of America Conference, RomCon, Authors After Dark, Lori Foster, and lots of others, with new conferences Don't Forget Me springing up every year. Most of these conferences offer workshops, along with the parties, meet-and-greets, and signings which, let’s face it, are often the primary reason we go. Are the workshops worth it? Based on my experience, I’d say yes. But also based on my experience, I’d say there are ways to get the maximum out of workshops. So here, in no particular order, are some tips.

1. Don’t Go By Title Alone. Most workshop presenters spend time trying to come up with catchy titles. Sometimes those titles are irresistible—“Secrets Of the Bestselling Sisterhood”? I am so there! But sometimes they’re also a little misleading. One workshop on increasing your promo effectiveness turned out to be a workshop on writing press releases. Since I already know how to write a press release, I ended up leaving after the first ten minutes. Look at the workshop description and look at any bio of the presenter you can find. If the people involved look good too, give it a try.
2. Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone. A workshop on the twelve stages of intimacy (“oh yuck”) was actually a great overview on the levels of character intimacy that work in different genres. If I’d avoided it because I’m not a fan of pop psychology, I’d have missed some good stuff, including Sophie Jordan talking about switching from steamy historicals to YA…

3. Don’t Ignore Your Own Knowledge. One PR pro advised authors to establish Tumblr accounts rather than going on Twitter because Tumblr was the Next Big Thing. To which I can only reply, um…no. On the other hand, a writer described the Pinterest demographic as being the same as the romance novel demographic, and based on my limited experience and the figures she showed, I’d have to say I absolutely agree.
4. Only You Know Your Career Goals. Right now you’ll find lots of self-publishing workshops at any conference you attend, and a lot of the presenters will tell you that you need to make that plunge. But you’re the only one who knows where you want to go with your writing. Similarly, you’ll hear advice about which genres are hot and which are declining, but you may have a particular affinity for that declining genre and you may hate the one that’s on the rise. If you look at something and hear alarm bells, pay attention to your own feelings.
Having hit both RWA and RT this year, I can tell you I highly recommend conferences. They give you a chance to network, to party, and to visit cities where you might not go otherwise (Kansas City? Well, okay). And they also give you a chance to attend some very cool workshops. Trust me, if you’re offered a chance to listen to Nora Roberts or Susan Elizabeth Phillips reflect on their writing process, it’s well worth the cost of a plane ticket! Oh, and one last tip—bring a notebook with you or you’ll be like me, begging paper from my neighbors.

Meg Benjamin is the author of the Konigsburg Series from Samhain. Book Six, Don’t Forget Me is available now. Book Seven, Fearless Love, will be released on October 9.


2 Responses to “How to get the best out of conference workshops”

  1. Druit Stant says:

    Good piece of advice. Conferences can be useful but sometimes they really just touch upon a subject and you have to learn the real stuff elsewhere.

    I got interested in press releases but in conferences they just tell you why you must send press releases without going over it’s components, how to write it and how to distribute it. I looked around and found an eBook though that helped me a lot at:

    What I didn’t know was that press releases get indexed by Google and that drives online traffic too.

    That was my 2 cents. Thanks for the post.

    • Meg Benjamin says:

      I agree–knowing how to write a press release is very useful. But I used to teach how to write a press release so it wasn’t necessarily something I needed to hear.

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