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.

Use Storybreaking to Edit Your Novel

One of the hardest things about editing your book is keeping all of the information straight and in the right order. That’s one reason I advocate for outlining. A plain outline doesn’t suit everyone during the drafting process, but once we reach the editing phase, having a visual depiction of the story will help us edit more efficiently.

One technique that’s not often taught to novel writers is storybreaking, which is a screenwriting technique. Screenwriter Vik Rubenfeld calls storybreaking “The Most Important Hollywood Writing Technique You’ve Never Heard Of.”

When Rubenfeld wrote his article, he expressed surprise that more writers don’t know this technique. He linked to this interview with Vince Gilligan, a screenwriter for The X-Files and one of the creators of Breaking Bad. Continue reading

Editing Your Book with Track Changes

When you work with an editor on your book, you will probably use the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. This can be a little daunting if you’ve never used it before, especially when you get a file back with more red on it than Sweeney Todd’s apron.

First, don’t panic. Remember your editor is there to help you, and those red marks are meant to be instructive, not destructive.

Schedule a time when you can go through your manuscript slowly. If there‘s a change you don’t understand, feel free to ask. Continue reading

When To Outsource Your Grammar

When we talk about the mechanics of a manuscript, we are ultimately talking about details: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the like. Style is also a component of mechanics, as is manuscript format.

But remember that when I introduced the Elements of Nonfiction Editing Checklist I said it was in order of importance. There’s a reason Mechanics is the last category on the list. It’s the least important.

Which isn’t to say that it’s unimportant. Continue reading

Using Words as Words

Often when we’re writing nonfiction we need to refer to words in such a way that the term being used is itself the subject of the discussion, rather than the concept the term describes. If I say “My Sunday school students have difficulty understanding the concept of propitiation,” it means something very different from “English is her second language, so she has difficulty understanding the word propitiation.”

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When in your writing you need to discuss the word or phrase itself rather than the concept described by the term, put the term in italics. Continue reading

Write With Clarity

When writing for a general audience, we want to ensure that the language we use is clear—the opposite of the kind of bafflegab we looked at earlier.

Language is clear and vocabulary is appropriate to the audience.

The key to keeping your language clear is ensuring that everything can be understood in context. This often requires a careful balance between the concrete and the abstract. Information technology solutions is an abstract. Computer networking hardware is slightly more concrete. Better still is devices that connect your computer to the Internet. Continue reading

Engaging Prose is Active and Varied

To keep readers engaged with the text, use strong nouns and verbs to construct active sentences. Which isn’t to say every sentence must be in the active voice.

The passive voice is used only when appropriate.

Writers are forever being told to avoid the passive voice.

You see the problem. Continue reading