Carpe Diem

Brandt Dodson 2Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis and comes from a long line of police officers. He was formerly employed by the FBI and served as a naval officer in the United States Naval Reserve. He is the author of several novels and the creator of the Colton Parker series as well as The Sons of Jude series, featuring a fictional district in the Chicago Police Department.

He lives in southern Indiana with his wife and sons.

Brandt has recently written a play titled: “The Bradley Bunch” which is playing each Wednesday and Saturday evening through December 31st at the Great Smoky Mountain Murder Mystery theatre in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

It’s that time of year. As spring and summer approach, so does a plethora of writer’s conferences. These annual events occur all across the country and are excellent opportunities to improve your craft, develop new techniques, and build your network. Making the best of the opportunities requires a bit of forethought and planning and the best time to start – is now.

Most conferences are good; nearly all are expensive. In addition to registration fees which can range from double to triple digits, there will be expenses for meals, lodging and travel. And while the benefits are numerous, there is no such thing as the conference that is right for everyone. I have attended a wide range of conferences over the years. In fact, I was discovered by my publisher at one of them. But I have been careful to choose the conferences that were right for me, while keeping an eye on the budget. If you are looking at attending your first conference, or planning on attending a different one, there are some steps you can take to maximize your experience.

The first is to decide what you want to get from the event.

Everyone has different goals and needs. For some, the ultimate goal is improving their craft. For others, networking is a prime concern. For still others, it may be developing new skills in a chosen genre. It is important to know why you are attending a conference and to decide in advance what you hope to gain by attending. There are writer’s events geared toward developing literary techniques, learning to write mystery fiction, romance, sci-fi, and inspirational fiction to name a few. Other conferences focus exclusively on non-fiction. Still others are planned venues for poetry. So deciding your reason for attending is the first step to a successful conference.

I’ve mentioned there are a wide range of registration fees, and not all of the conferences are necessarily a ‘get what you pay for’ event. Some of the more inexpensive conferences may actually be the best one for you, or the one most ideally suited for your needs.

Second is to evaluate the cost.

In which hotel is the event held? Are there discounted room rates? Is there a deadline to register for the discount? Are meals included? If not, are there restaurants within walking distance? Does the hotel have one?

The third step to a successful conference is to learn who is on the faculty.

If your goal is to seek a path to traditional publishing, you would do well to learn which publishing houses are sending representatives. Study the houses that are coming. Do they publish the type of work you’re writing? Are they open to new writers? Will you have an opportunity to pitch to them? Are you familiar with the representative (usually an acquisitions editor) they are sending? What books have they edited? Who are the writers with whom they’ve worked?

The questions that apply to publishing houses also apply to agents. Do they represent they type of work you do? What clients do they currently represent? Have you heard of them? Are they reputable? Are they a member of AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives)?

Who is on the faculty? Are they ‘name’ writers? What is their writing and publishing experience? What can you learn from them? Again, these questions are best answered in light of your goals for attending, but a little research can guide your decision.

Chiffon Scarf on white backgroundA fourth question is how many people usually attend the event?

Where are they in their career? It isn’t true that the larger the conference the better the experience. It is true, however, that the larger conferences offer more opportunities for networking and sharing ideas and experiences. Again, what are your goals? If you are a beginning writer and you want to meet more experienced authors, nearly any event will fill the bill. But if you are farther along in your career and the event is geared toward developing writers, it may not be the best venue for you.

A fifth question is what will I do with the experiences I’ve had?

If you attend the lectures, meet a few people and have a good time, but do nothing with it afterward, then you’ve simply had a good time. Nothing wrong with that. But if you want to network or have made contact with an editor or agent who has expressed interest in your work, did you follow up? If you learned a new technique that will improve your craft, have you incorporated it in your writing? If you had the chance for a manuscript evaluation, did you study the suggested corrections? Did you purchase tapes of the various lectures that were made available? Not all conferences do this, but for those that do, it’s an added value to your experience. If you’re like me, you want to attend all the lectures, but being in two places at once isn’t possible. Purchasing the available tapes can widen your experience.

So where do you go to find a list of the available writer’s conferences? I would suggest: This is an excellent resource for writers at all levels, and particularly for those of you planning to attend a writer’s conference this year whether it’s your first time, your tenth time, or your hundredth time. Making the best of your planned event is in your interest. Only you can make it happen. Carpe diem!