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Friday, May 20, 2011

Conferences and Your Wallet $$$$

by Carol Herder

I’m a reclusive writer. I’ve designed a study I love, where I hole up and create story. Unfortunately, I can’t reenact the Bronte sisters’ lives. Sometimes I must venture out into the big bad world. One of those occasions is when I attend the annual Pennwriters Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA this past weekend.

This year, for the first time, I splurged. I spent upwards of $500. When I mentioned this sum to my critique group yesterday, one of colleagues gasped. Very audibly. Yes, many of you are now convinced that I’m totally insane. But I’ll have you know, I’m not. I know this because on Friday morning I attended Brent Maguire’s Psychoses & Psychopaths workshop.

In addition to attending the Friday through Sunday conference I also signed up for Ramona Long’s Thursday workshop, Mastering the Art of Self-Editing, where I learned new tricks to polish my manuscript. Packed with valuable information, I rushed my bathroom breaks to minimize losing any of Ramona’s words of wisdom.

Going to conferences is expensive, but for a writer intent on furthering her craft there is no better way to network and glean new information. Pennwriters does a wonderful job organizing a conference with a solid mix of workshops for beginners, more advanced writers, and progressive workshops for today’s exciting environment.

Thinking it would be a beginners workshop I nearly skipped, The First Page is the Worst, by Jason Jack Miller & Heidi Ruby Miller. But their no-nonsense approach to including “the promise” our first pages must deliver had my creative mind on fire.

Another favorite, Creating a Low-Budget Book Trailer, with novelist Gwyn Cready and filmmaker Mike Marsh, got me thinking about marketing in a new way. And their ideas on saving money and still getting a product that will stimulate book sales had me thinking I might make back that $500!

As well as the workshops there is the free 10-min pitch session with an agent of your choice. Nerve-wracking, but I promise, it gets easier each year. Another stomach-clenching event is the Friday night critique in your genre. This event is worth the possible migraine and sweat-inducing jitters. I spent my evening in the Thriller/Mystery room with author CJ Lyons and agent Barbara Poelle, and got fantastic feedback on my first-page and synopsis.

On Saturday night I slipped on a pair of high-heels and forced myself out of my hotel room to the cocktail party and dinner with the local Sisters in Crime chapter. At the cocktail party I did finally talk about something other than writing, but at the dinner, as we lingered over coffee and dessert the conversation turned to MFA programs. Does a writer need an MFA? I don’t know, but the conversation was another example of the limitless opportunities to exchange information with writers facing the same challenges.

Lastly, conferences produce pages of notes to take home and share with your colleagues. One such nugget I shared is agent Barbara Poelle’s excitement over YA fiction. Two of my best friends are completing YA manuscripts with multi-faceted girl hero’s I’ve come to love. Jenny Ramaley’s tough-girl character, Shay, in her novel entitled, The Disappearance of Dragonflies, is about a brilliant teen struggling with a terrible home-life and what she believes is a dead-end future. From the first page, I identified with Shay and her drive to succeed. Another exciting YA manuscript is Marcy Collier’s paranormal story, Plainly Gifted. In addition to having the normal teenage challenges, Jamie must learn to control a gift she never knew she had. When the “gift” starts to surface, Jamie finds a world with layers she never dreamed existed.

I don’t know if my friends will submit to Ms. Poelle, I don’t even know if my own pitch with agent Dennis Little will produce results. But I know I will write a better first page, my psychopath killer will be a more believable character, and my overall manuscript will have a polish it never had before.

So, was it worth slinking out of my comfort zone and mingling with other creative minds? Was it worth $500? You bet! Every single penny.

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