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Networking through Speaking at Writing Conferences
by Tami Cowden

Return to Public Speaking · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Everyone knows that authors can increase name recognition and readership by public speaking engagements. But there is another advantage to speaking at writing conferences -- the opportunity for networking with publishing professionals. As a speaker, you are often given preferred seating status at meals and events, as well as invitations to parties and social hours limited to other speakers. Since those other speakers often include editors and agents, you have an opportunity to meet these folks in a relaxed atmosphere, and even better, as peers.

So how do you become a speaker? It is a lot easier than you think. Here are some steps to get you started:

1) Decide on a topic. If you write, then you know the sort of things that writers want to know. Take a look at your particular strengths -- what you do particularly well -- and build from there. Are you a whiz at research? What short cuts have you learned? Is characterization your greatest strength -- what techniques have you developed? Do you have a failsafe technique to avoid sagging middles? Share it with others. If you've finish a single book, you've done something most people never will -- and you have probably learned something that could make the task a bit easier for the next person.

2) Plan your Presentation. Once you've decided on a topic, decide how you will present it. Is one hour enough time, or do you need more. Think about workshops you've attended -- what sorts of thing worked for you as a participant? Do you like handouts? Visual aids? Do you prefer hands-on activity, or does a lecture work best for you? All of these techniques are good. Choose the one that you like best.

3) Create a written description of your presentation. Include a catchy title. You've seen brief descriptions of workshops in conference programs. You want a short paragraph description -- kind of like a teaser. Here's the title and description of a workshop Caro LaFever and I will present at RWA National this year:

Anatomy of a Scene: Creating Full Bodied Scenes

Scenes are the building blocks of the novel; learn how to layer the Bones, Guts, Muscle and Flesh of a scene for strong passages that lead to a powerful novel.

Also create a more complete description, laying out the details. This description might be several paragraphs long:

This workshop outlines the four components of a powerful scene.

Scenes are the building blocks of a strong novel. Each scene must advance the storyline, but they can do much more: reveal character, increase tension, develop atmosphere, set a mood, and that is just the beginning.

The anatomy of a scene can be reveal in four layers:

First There Are the Bones. A good scene must grab the reader's emotions. To do this, the characters must themselves have a strong emotional connection to the events that are happening to them, and show the motivation behind their actions.

Next Comes Guts. A good scene must grab the reader's emotions. To do this, the characters must themselves have a strong emotional connection to the events that are happening to them, and show the motivation behind their actions

Next There Is the Muscle. The author's voice propels the scene, while theme keeps it on course.

Finally, the Scene Is Fleshed Out. Using the five scenes, the scene is embellished and mood is created.

Using examples from film and novels, the workshop will demonstrate how these layers combine to create powerful scenes.

4) Build a reputation. Unless your name is Nora Roberts, you probably won't have conference coordinators hounding you to speak. So start slowly. Offer to speak for local writing groups -- and don't limit yourself to your own genre if your topic is applicable to other forms of writing. Libraries and bookstores often sponsor writers' workshops -- call them up or send a letter outlining your idea. Gather feedback from participants -- handing out an evaluation form can help you improve your presentation, as well as gather favorable comments to use in promoting yourself as a speaker. Always thank the coordinators for having you, and let them know if you are interested in coming again in the future.

Do not be offended of there is no payment at first. Many groups offer it; others do not. Some offer expenses, others do not. Don't make commitments you can't afford, but remember that you are gaining valuable experience here.

5) Get the word out. Once you feel ready to spread your wings, starting pitching your presentation to conferences. You need to present you idea anywhere from six to eighteen months before the conference. Use back issues of the RWR to see when romance writing conferences are likely to be held in the future -- most (but not all) conferences listed there are annual. You can also find conferences listed in an assortment of guides and books; www.writersdigest.com has a database of conferences, searchable by date, region, and topic. Send your proposal to the contact information provided in the guide.

Most conferences offer some sort of remuneration for speakers -- ranging from all or a portion of the conference fee waived, through all expenses paid, to a cut of the participant fee. Multi-genre and screenwriting conferences generally pay much better than romance writing conferences, but you may wish to consider whether a non or low paying conference is one you'd like to attend anyway. For example, RWA National offers only $120 for speakers, which would not come close to covering expenses, but as one of the largest conferences around, it offers tremendous exposure and networking opportunities.

6) Fulfill your responsibilities. Once you are in -- have a good time, but also remember you are working. Participants paid to hear you speak and receive your advice, so be willing to spend a reasonable amount of time with them and answer questions. Show up for meals, especially if your meals were comped. Sit in your assigned seat, if seating is assigned (although don't afraid to ask that you be placed near someone you want to be meet!). Behaving professionally towards those who want to meet you is the best way to increase your chances of making a good impression on the people you want to meet!

Find Out More...

How to Become a Presenter at Prestigious Conferences - Patricia Fry

Networking and Promotion at a Writer's Conference - Debby Ridpath Ohi

Copyright © 2001 Tami Cowden
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Tami Cowden describes herself as "one of those people who always wanted to be a writer but did a lot of other things instead." After practicing law for ten years, she began writing fiction in 1997; in 2000 she stopped practicing law and began teaching legal writing at the University of Denver College of Law. Tami also teaches fiction workshops around the country, but says that she now manages to get a lot of writing done as well. Tami writes romance fiction and is the lead author of the recently released The Complete Writer's Guide To Heroes and Heroines. Find out more about Tami's writing, workshops, etc. at http://www.tamicowden.com.


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