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Planning a Writers’ Conference
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 


Most writers’ conferences occur in cities rather than small towns. Cities are more accessible to registrants traveling long distances, they offer a choice of large gathering places, and they provide a larger pool of competent people to select from for a planning committee. However, a small community can sponsor a successful writers’ conference if careful planning is implemented from the initial stages.

I live in a community of 45,000, plus 23,000 students who attend the local state university. Our public library association, which is a friends of the library group, agreed to sponsor a mystery writers’ conference as part of the library’s centennial celebration in 2004. The person who chaired the core planning committee presented her idea for the conference so well that the library association board voted to give $1,500 seed money as well as sponsorship to the event.

I was part of a core committee made up of local authors, a small press publisher, librarians, a skilled computer person, and an experienced finance person, that weekly for well over a year and conducted more business throughout the week via e-mail. The first mountain in our path turned out to be selecting a memorable name for the conference. Once we’d settled on The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, we were on our way.

The long year-plus of planning resulted in a vastly successful mystery writers’ conference which brought 150 registrants, including 40 published mystery writers, from twenty states. The compliments flowed throughout the day and on the evaluation sheets received at the end of the conference. Again and again, we heard the request to repeat the conference.

The core committee of The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave II meets once a month and chats frequently by e-mail. Planning this second conference should be a great deal easier than when we were feeling our way through the first conference.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few of the things we learned.

Some do’s and don’ts when planning a writers’ conference:

DO:


1.  Allow plenty of time for planning. A full year or more is recommended.


2.  Assemble a core committee. Decide what kind of people would best serve on the committee. Include those with computer knowledge and website programmers, local authors, someone with financial expertise, anyone with publishing experience or other writing-related experience.


3.  Check the community calendar before setting the date. Locking in a date immediately is important. Everything else revolves around the date selected.


4.  Determine the responsibility of each committee member.


5.  Set regular meeting dates for the committee. Not everyone will be able to attend every  meeting, but minutes of each meeting can be sent to those absent.


6.  Lock in dates with the hotel or conference center where the meeting will be held.


7.  Contact authors and invite them to serve on panels or be lecturers at the meeting.


8.  Build a website that is professional and will draw the interest of writers and readers.


9.  Put someone in charge of finding and directing volunteers who will assist with the conference.


10. Initiate publicity long before the time of the conference to familiarize the local community with the event.


11. Line up someone to operate a book dealers’ room and coordinate vendors who will sell items during the conference.


12. Contact authors who are attending and local businesses for door prizes and giveaways.


13. Include a reception/tea/meal of some kind that is strictly a social part of the conference.


14. Call on local experts to address the conference. For a mystery conference the chief of police and one of his detectives would be a good choice.


15. Work out a detailed program and timetable of the entire conference and follow it carefully.

DON’T:


1. Try to plan a full conference in a short amount of time. A hurriedly put-together conference will appear amateurish.

 

2. Make last minute decisions. Plan far ahead and plan carefully.


3. Skip the details. Small details not attended to show up as big problems.


4. Try to offer too much in the time you have allotted to the conference.


5. Give up when authors turn down an invitation; pursue other authors.


6. Forget to include the local chamber of commerce in planning; they can be of  tremendous help.


7. Forget to recognize the core committee at the conference. These people work hard and deserve to be thanked by all.


8. Forget to include evaluation sheets in the program packet. They are of utmost importance in planning the next conference.

You can plan a writers’ conference for your own community that will be the talk of the town if you follow the simple suggestions above.  Stay calm, take long walks to treat stress, and when all else fails, turn to chocolate.


Nancy Julien Kopp's writing reflects both her growing-up years in Chicago and many years of living in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She has published stories, articles, essays, children's stories and poetry in magazines, newspapers, online and in anthologies including Chicken Soup For the Father and Daughter Soul. Nancy hosts the Tips For Writers and Wanna-be Writers at www.womenwithheart.net. She is a former teacher who still enjoys teaching via the written word.

 

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