Q&A: 3 Reasons to Attend Writers Conferences

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Q: I’m working on a book, but it’s not finished yet. Should I attend a writers conference anyway, or should I wait until my book is finished and I’m ready to pitch agents and editors?

A: Don’t wait. There are many benefits to attending writers conferences beyond pitching.

Classes

Writing conferences offer great teaching on a variety of writing techniques, as well as about the business aspects of a writing career. So yes, you should absolutely attend a writers conference while your manuscript is still in progress, because you will learn things you can immediately apply to your work.

Platform

Part of embarking on a writing career is building a platform, which is industry jargon for making a name for yourself. When we talk about networking, we often focus on getting to know people in your niche, but being known is just as important. Your platform encompasses your reputation and the number of people you’re connected to. Even as a newbie, you can start forming relationships with industry professionals. If you don’t have a manuscript to pitch, you can still sit with an agent or editor at dinner and ask about their work. Connect with them online. Then when you are ready to pitch, they may remember you. One of the best ways to become known in your niche is to volunteer at a conference.

Friendships

My single favorite thing about attending conferences is the friendships I’ve developed with other writers and freelancers. Many of my closest friends and most trusted colleagues are people I first met at a conference. Those relationships alone are worth the price of admission and then some. Just to give one example, I got to know Ben Wolf, editor-in-chief of Splickety Publishing Group, through the Florida Christian Writers Conference and the Realm Makers speculative fiction conference. Because of our friendship and the platform I had built, Ben recruited me to copyedit Havok magazine, which has become one of my favorite roles.

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Meeting other writers is the best reason for attending a conference. Realm Makers 2017. Photo by Kristen Stieffel

Find Conferences Near You

I consider traveling to conferences to be an investment in my business, but for a writer just starting out, the expense may be hard to justify. So do as I did and start locally. Here in Central Florida I attended the Florida Writers Association conference (which is coming up in October) and the Florida Christian Writers Conference (February) several times each before I started traveling to national conferences like American Christian Fiction Writers.

Search the writers conference category at Shaw Guides to find a conference in your region, or try searching the internet for the name of your state or province and the words “writers conference” or “writers association.”

If it still seems hard to justify the expense of a conference, consider that conference fees are tuition in your continuing education as a writer. It’s an investment that pays off.

Q&A: What’s the deal with spaces after a period?

Q: I saw a post online that said only people over the age of forty put two spaces after a period. But I’m under thirty, and my college professors said to use two. I’m confused. Which is correct?

A: Both are correct in different circumstances.

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As with so much else that publishing professionals get needlessly worked up about, this is a style choice, not a matter of right or wrong.

Three of the most popular style books currently in use, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association), all call for one space after what we call terminal punctuation—that is, whatever marks the end of a sentence, whether it’s a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Continue reading

The Prophet’s Chronicle Storyworld

One of the things fiction allows us to do is examine hypothetical situations that don’t exist in the real world. A novel is a large-scale thought experiment. This is true of any fiction, but doubly true in speculative fiction. The whole point of science fiction and fantasy is to explore worlds that don’t actually exist.

The storyworld in which my first novel, Alara’s Call, and the other books in the series are set is modeled after nineteenth-century Europe, with all the small countries close together and interrelated royal families and court intrigues. But for all its differences, Europe was long united by a single dominant faith, and most countries had similar governing systems. In my stories, I want to examine several contrasts. This meant I had to set up the storyworld in ways that differ from Europe. Continue reading

Q&A: Do I Need Italics for Flashbacks?

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Q: I used italics in a scene with a flashback, but my critique partner said I should never use italics. Here’s the part I put in italics:

He sat in the cold hospital waiting room, feeling numb. This was just like when Mom died. We did all we could, the doctor had said. 

I thought characters’ memories were supposed to be italicized. Now I’m confused. What’s the right way to do this?

A: Confusion is understandable, for a several reasons.

First, you’re not the only one who’s confused. Your critique partner is—I’ll be generous and say “overstating the case.” Whenever someone gives you a never in regards to writing, your inner warning klaxon should go off. Writing is an art, and cannot be governed by rules involving always or never. Continue reading

Identifying the Passive Voice

I’ve written before about When Passive Voice is Permissible. Strunk and White admit that “Use the active voice … does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.”

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But one of the biggest problems writers face in critique groups is the problem of partners who flag passages as “passive” when they’re really not. Often verbs of being (be, is, was) are flagged as “incorrect” or “passive.” They are not. They are not particularly strong verbs, but they are not passive in and of themselves. Continue reading

The Difference Between Infringement and Plagiarism

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I must.

Don’t steal. Don’t lie.

Writers of all people should know that passing someone else’s words off as your own is Not Done. Yet it happens often, sometimes with spectacularly embarrassing results, even to professionals. Continue reading

Use Story to Make Your Ideas Stick

Folks like Copyblogger who teach copywriting often emphasize the importance of story. That’s because a story gives our hearts and minds something to hold on to. Stories make ideas sticky. But the thing is, the story has to be in your work for the right reasons.

Anecdotes are engaging and relevant.

Like flashbacks in narrative nonfiction, anecdotes used to illuminate informational nonfiction must be engaging. That is, they should have entertainment value as well as informational value. We want interesting stories about fascinating people.

Such stories should also be relevant to the point and not just thrown in because someone told you to “start with a story.” Continue reading