Monday, April 11, 2011

Writers Conference or Workshop?

Tracy Marchini, freelance writer and editorial  consultant extraordinaire, is here to discuss some writerly pursuits and tell you about her new e-book. (Remember her awesome post on craft).
From Newberys to Nebulas, wholesalers to world rights, PUB SPEAK: A WRITER’S DICTIONARY OF PUBLISHING TERMS is a reference book for every author.

PUB SPEAK explains commonly used terms from all sides of the industry. Terms defined include those used in contracts and royalty statements, crafting fiction and non-fiction, ebooks and audiobooks, social networking, retailers and distributors, industry and author organizations and awards, and general publishing terms. Designed for both aspiring and established authors, PUB SPEAK can be read through for a deeper understanding of the industry, or used as one would a traditional dictionary.

PUB SPEAK: A WRITER’S DICTIONARY OF PUBLISHING TERMS is available as an ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Amazon UK.

Hint: Contest at the bottom. One lucky winner will get a copy of PUB SPEAK. :)

On to today's topic:

Conferences, Workshops and Retreats: Which is best for you?

For most writers, attending a conference, workshop or retreat is something that is done once a year or so. To be sure you get the most out of your experience, here’s a few questions to ask yourself in order to pick your best option.

1.) Do you want to spend the time writing?

If you’re looking for a chunk of uninterrupted writing time, a writer’s retreat is a fabulous option. I spent a month at La Muse and was able to complete an entire draft of a novel, as well as making friends with other writers and enjoying the French countryside. For most retreats, authors and artists are left to their own devices, and what you get out of the retreat depends on your own self-discipline and the amount of preparation you’ve done before hand.

When I went to La Muse, I had already written seventy pages of a novel. I knew that I actually had to scrap what I’d written and change from a dual-voice YA to a single-voice YA. But since I already had characters and an idea of where the novel had to go, I could jump into the writing process once I arrived. You don’t need to have outlines, maybe you’re just going with an idea. Or maybe you need inspiration. But I think it’s wise to think about what you need at that particular time and what you hope to accomplish while you’re there. The time will go faster than you think, and suddenly you’ll be packing your bags to go home.

If you feel like you need a bit more structure, then perhaps a workshop is the better option for you. The Highlights Founders Workshop I attended was fabulous. We were a small group of twelve people, and we spent each day with prompts, writing exercises and readings designed by our mentor, Kim Griswell. We would have an exercise, write and share. The goal of our particular workshop was to find our voice, and our assignment by the end of the workshop was to deliver “one true story.” Each workshop is different, and the website would tell you if the end-goal was to work on a particular novel that you had already started, or if it was perhaps to inspire or stretch your writing in another way. I wrote the first story I sold to Highlights at this particular conference, and it definitely changed the way I thought about the type of writer I was.

There may be writing intensive sessions at some conferences, but if the goal is to seriously get busy with paper and pen, you may be more successful at a retreat or workshop.

2.) Are you looking for feedback?

If you’re looking for a critique of a particular manuscript, your best bet may be a writer’s conference or workshop that requires you to come with work in hand. Though you may find fellow writers that are willing to critique your work at a retreat, this isn’t guaranteed and depends on the personal goals of your fellow retreaters. It is probably best to assume that all the writers at a retreat are there to write, and not to critique.

If you’re a children’s writer, many SCBWI regional conferences offer 15 minutes or so with an editor, agent or published author who has read your work in advance and is prepared to give you professional feedback. The two national SCBWI conferences (New York City and Los Angeles) host writer and illustrators intensives before the conference, but during the main event you will find panels and sessions, but there won’t be any critiquing.

Usually, the critique slots fill up quickly for established regional conferences, so be sure to submit your registration and manuscript early. (Shameless plug, I do critique professionally if your regional conference is already sold out.)

3.) Are you looking for a wider author network?

If you’re looking to find a local critique group or to meet local writers, a conference is ideal. A regional conference may have 100 – 300 authors interested in the same type of literature that you are writing and reading. You’ll also have the opportunity to chat with fellow writers between sessions and at lunch. It may not be as intimate as a workshop or retreat, but you may be more likely to find writers that live right down the block from you as opposed to across the continent. (Though nobody is really too far with the internet!)

4.) Are you trying to network with agents and editors?

Workshops may be lead by one editor or agent, which you would have more time to get to know as you’d be working intimately with them over the course of the workshop. National conferences may have a hundred editors and agents presenting and milling about, but it can be difficult to make a connection with so many people vying for their attention and time. One of the benefits to regional conferences though, is that you’ll see a variety of editors and agents, and there’s usually more opportunity to chat. You can sit next them at lunch, or perhaps have a quick chat after the session. You may also find that the editors of closed houses are more likely to take unsolicited submissions from conference participants for a limited time.

No matter which option you’re leaning towards, always read the descriptions, feel free to talk to previous conference or workshop participants and come with a professional and open attitude!

Thank you, Tracy!

Since there's so much speculation on self-publishing lately, I asked Tracy why she chose to e-publish PUB SPEAK. Here's what she said:

I think I'm going to do a mix of traditional and self publishing. Right now, I have manuscripts out to major houses and also a picture book geared towards regional presses. I think for fiction, very few people can be Amanda Hocking, and as a debut novelist I'd still want the weight of a traditional publisher. (Especially after I started looking into distribution.) But for this book I thought it'd be best to do it myself because it is a small niche market, and it's not quite large enough (over 400 terms, but that's about 100 pages of print) to do a decent sized hardcover. And, I've always wanted to try to put a book out myself, and this idea seems like the right one!
As promised, there is a contest and just one rule: Answer the following question!

What would a writer do with an exquisite corpse?

Toss your name in the hat! Results on Friday! Good Luck!

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Sarah said...

The idea of a writers' retreat sounds incredibly appealing to me. I've only been to one conference, and it was all right, but the workshops were hit or miss. I have to say--the opportunity to write uninterrupted for a certain period of time sounds better.

Joy Renee said...

To an exquisite corpse a writer would add their 2 cents and pass it on.

I would prefer the intimacy of a retreat or workshop. I'd likely have as much luck connecting with the 'right people' at a conference as I did in my high school cafeteria back when.

I'm also looking seriously at self-publishing.

Old Kitty said...

An exquisite corpse?

Sell it on ebay?

:-) Take care

Lydia Kang said...

Exquisite corpse?

Tell the coroner to hold off for a minute while the writer jots down some descriptive notes for her next WIP.

Creepy Query Girl said...

thanks for all of this great info Tracy! This writer is feeling the taxadermy in the air. Probably didn't spell that right. Oh well. lol.

Unknown said...

What a helpful book. I'm amazed at writers who do other writers such a great service.

Tracy Marchini said...

Thanks everyone for commenting, and thank you again Carolyn for hosting me! :)

I've definitely enjoyed attending all three options, and I think it really is about what you need at the moment. I found out that I was awarded the barter at the French retreat two days after I left my job at Curtis Brown, so it truly was the perfect time to go off, explore and write! It was also a great chance to really sit back and think about my next steps writing wise and career wise.

One thing to keep in mind about retreats and workshops is that they fill up early and they can be competitive, so my advice is that if you're on the fence about going and there's no application fee -- apply anyway. You may find that by the time you're accepted, you could really use said retreat/conference/workshop!

Also, I'm loving all the exquisite corpse answers!

LTM said...

why, call the refined mortician, naturally. That or Andrei Codrescu, of course. (Codrescu taught at my alma mater, btw... ;o)

Great info here, and I love how Tracy broke it down on why you'd use self-publishing, traditional, or regional. Good stuff. Thanks, guys! :o) <3

Hart Johnson said...

I think the idea of a retreat is positively indulgent, though my boss is an MD and has taken a few--she can't get any writing done in her daily life, so getting away for it is ideal... me, I need to fit it into the nooks and crannies... we have neither money nor time for something I can do at home... Workshops and conferences though, seem jusifiable... feedback, classes or a chance to pitch professionals... (not that I can afford either of those EITHER, but they seem more like I could justify them).

As to what I'd do with an exquisite corpse (assuming it isn't mine)... write a murder mystery that involved an embalmer? Or perhaps an archeologist and said exquisite corpse is a mummy! A mummy coming to LIFE--that's it... I'd go paranormal and have a curse... *nods*

Jules said...

As to the corpse: set it on a bus bench with a tin cup in its hand and come back later for a withdraw from the cup :)

Tracy, wonderful concept for the book.

Carolyn, for quite awhile now I've been feeling I was missing someone, it was you. I'm so sorry! Apparently my google dashboard just loves playing games with me. It will not happen again :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Kelly Polark said...

Great wrap up! My best friend and I create our own writing retreats. I love to attend conferences and workshops though for the interaction with writers and great info!

Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for all the information! This is a really helpful post--I'll have to keep this in mind about conferences/workshops/retreats.

Samantha Vérant said...

I've done both-- the national and the regional. Honestly, I got more from the regional event. (Holly Black and Barry Goldblatt were the speakers...)

Chris Phillips said...

Great post. I enjoyed the different description of how each differed by need.

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of a writing retreat. Now I'm very interested! I kicked off writing by attending a conference where I signed up for a few different workshops. These workshops have introduced me to other great writers going through the same struggles that I do on a daily basis, and have helped me tremendously with my manuscript.

Julie Glover said...

I adored the one writers' conference I attended (DFW Con) and wish I had unlimited funds to attend workshops, conferences, and retreats at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, I'm looking for bang-for-my-buck opportunites in my home state of Texas. Thanks for the low-down on their differences.

As to the exquisite corpse, it must be thoroughly investigated by a British matron why a corpse has been perfectly preserved in the secret underground room found below her recently acquired manor! And why is the corpse dressed in finery and wearing jewels last seen with the Romanov family?

Banuta Rubess said...

A writer would take an exquisite corpse, fold it over to the blank page and write chapter one. said...

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