Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Patricia Fry
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A conference might be a one-day event or run for ten days. Most are two- and three-day events, usually over a weekend. Conferences generally consist of anywhere from 5 to 35 (or more) workshops running throughout the duration of the event. Often, they'll have two or three (sometimes more) sessions running simultaneously. At some point during the conference, everyone will come together to hear the keynote speaker -- generally in conjunction with a formal dinner. Sometimes the keynote address is given early on the first day of the conference as an opening to the event.
People attend conferences in order to gain more knowledge, information and resources on a particular topic. Typically, during the day, attendees sit in on presentations and workshops by professionals, experts and others with experience in various aspects of the topic or field. There are often casual mixers and/or elegant dinners in the evening, sometimes accompanied by an awards program or an entertaining keynote address. There is generally a bookstore set up where attendees can purchase books by the speakers and workshop leaders. As an alternative, speakers may be provided with a signing table separate from the bookstore for an hour or so after their presentations.
If you have written a nonfiction how-to, informational or reference book, you may be considered an expert -- or at least very knowledgeable -- on that topic, and you may be able to get a speaking gig at an appropriate conference. If you hope to do more than one or two conferences per year, you will probably be required to do some traveling.
Why Speak at Conferences?
Why should you pursue the opportunity to speak at conferences on topics related to your book? Because this is where you'll find your audience. If you have a book featuring tips and resources for artists and crafters who want to sell their work, many of your readers might gather at a conference on the business of arts and crafts. Maybe your book is a primer for families who want to go green or a step-by-step guide to installing solar power. You might find your audience at conferences related to green living.
Being a writer, you are probably already familiar with writers' conferences. Perhaps you've attended a few of them. If you are promoting a novel, you may be inclined to seek speaking opportunities within these familiar territories.
You may recall listening to novelists speak at writers conferences on character development, how to promote a novel, writing a dynamite opening, tips for a more descriptive way of writing, how to show and not tell, how to use dialog and so forth. You've probably heard novelists talk about their writing journeys. I sat in on a session with a former police officer once who talked about how to accurately describe the appropriate guns and ammo one could use in their stories. I enjoyed a presentation at a conference not too long ago where a novelist shared her research techniques.
But don't stop at conferences for writers. Look farther for opportunities that fit with the content of your book. Sandra Beckwith often speaks at conferences. She says, "My book, Publicity for Nonprofits, was published in 2006. During the first 18 months after the book came out, I spoke at several national and regional conferences. This was no coincidence; I submitted many proposals to appropriate organizations well in advance of the book's release and did a few teleseminars, as well. I was paid for all of them with the exception of one teleseminar, which led to a follow-up in-person paid speaking gig for the organization. I earned almost as much in speaking fees for that book as I did for the advance."
QiGong expert Victoria Cobb says, "Last summer I was invited to teach at a retreat in Michigan. It is a wonderful long-running, spiritual retreat. For over 40 years, these like-minded people have gathered. There are many classes and about 300 people who attend. I was their energy teacher and one of many massage therapists.
"I sold books and DVDs in the bookstore and made bottles of flower remedies, gave massages and taught what I have learned as a student, teacher and healer. This was a remarkable and memorable event! Last year at the event I sold 25 DVDs, 53 books and all 30 remedies. I have been invited back for this July... a rare thing since no one has ever been invited twice in a row."
Getting a Gig
So how do you land a speaking gig at the conferences of your choice?
Nancy Barnes presents workshops and speaks on how to write your life story or memoir.
She says, "It's easy to research conferences now that their information is all online. When I started out I wanted to establish myself as a speaker, so I 'paid my dues' by renting an exhibit booth at an expo. While I was there, I closely examined the expo program and dropped in to watch many other speakers. Then I put together a better presentation -- a better PowerPoint, a livelier description, and a great title -- one that ensured that the expo organizers allowed me to speak at the next conference. (Since they'd met me already as a paying exhibitor, they were inclined to give me a chance.) Once I had my foot in the door at that expo, it gave me credibility when I applied to speak at other events. Now I keep a spreadsheet of ten conferences, and about ten book festivals, with dates a year and a half out, and I monitor their application deadlines using Google alerts to be sure I'm applying for each one."
Here are some ways to get started:
When I locate an event of interest, I study the information presented at the website and, if it seems appropriate, I submit a proposal or I send an email of introduction, based on their submission guidelines. If there are no guidelines posted, I will email or call the director and ask how to apply to be a speaker or a workshop leader. I have a resume prepared listing my qualifications as an industry professional and as an author of books in this field as well as a speaker, and I'm always ready to make workshop or speech topic suggestions.
While some conference organizers are still selecting speakers a month prior to the event, many of them have their programs set practically a year in advance. I've discovered that if you want a speaking gig at a particular conference, you'd better be proactive. Early in 2011, I contacted the director of a writers' conference I wanted to participate in. She told me, "Contact us in October." When I did, I was told that all of the speaking slots were filled and the event wasn't until spring. In this case, I should have checked in earlier than I was told to.
Here's what I recommend: Research conferences that occurred one to four months ago. Contact the organizers of those events. If they suggest you reconnect in six or seven months, make a note on your calendar to contact them in three. They may put you off for another three months, but that's okay -- they know you are interested. Besides, there is always a chance that they are beginning to interview possible speakers for their program next year.
So what can a conference presenter expect as far as expenses and fees? There are nearly as many scenarios as there are conferences across the United States. Some conference organizers are authorized to pay all expenses for their presenters. Some pay for your hotel stay, all meals associated with the conference and free admittance to the conference. Others may give you the conference admission and meals only and pay you a small stipend.
Is it worth it? Margaret Brownley speaks successfully at conferences and has developed a fairly versatile repertoire. She says, "I gear my talks toward the audience. Writers like 'how to' information and readers enjoy an entertaining look at the life of a writer. Since I write westerns, I also give talks on women of the old west. I've spoken at the Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers national conferences. Even though the audiences are mostly writers, my novels sell out at conference bookstores." What more could you ask?
(Excerpted from Talk Up Your Book, Allworth Press, 2012)
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.
Patricia L. Fry has been writing for publication for over 30 years, having contributed hundreds of articles to about 250 different magazines and e-zines. She is the author of 25 books including Talk Up Your Book, A Writer's Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press). For more inspiration, information and resources from Patricia Fry, follow her blog at http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog/.