blog, you'll know that I've been waxing lyrical over the past month over the Newcastle Writer's Festival, a writer's conference that has now taken place twice in my locale. I've been extremely enthusiastic about the festival, not only because it was easy for me to get to (very few of the big festivals are), it was supported through my local Writer's Centre and it was full of people I knew well enough to enjoy hanging out with, but also because it was seriously good for my writing career. I know that, for some of us, our writing time is limited, and networking is often tiring, time consuming, and expensive, but attending a writer's festival, maybe once or twice a year, can make a huge difference to your work itself, the opportunities that present themselves, and your public profile in a way that nothing else can. Here are three reasons why it's worthwhile making time.
1. The courses. You can attend courses at a writer's conference for a fraction of the price that you'd pay anywhere else and they're often the kinds of courses you won't find anywhere else. I'm thinking of the masterclass. Most conferences hold these, and they're usually taught by very high-profile authors in small groups where you can get extensive one-on-one criticism. For example, at the upcoming Sydney Writer's Festival, you can attend masterclasses on such things as writing for young adults, writing comedy, writing a memoir, screenwriting, and writing for digital media. Most tickets are around $75 for a full day of it. The learning is invaluable, but you can also then say that you've "studied with..." which is a nice thing for a literary resume, promo kit, etc.
2. The networking. Writing is such a solitary profession that it's very enjoyable to come out of the cave and hang with other writers. But it's also very healthy for your career. If you're seen, and known, then you'll be invited to participate in projects. You can spend time trading notes with others working in your genre, which will give you perspective and a greater understanding of the market. You'll create an impression that you're a writer, and although an impression is no match for an excellent piece of writing, it's a critical part of promotion. If you're a relative newby, shy, or broke, you can always volunteer to help (volunteers get plenty of perks, like free admission to many events, free food and drink, direct exposure to the guest writers, and a lot of appreciation - plus you'll learn from every event you help out at). It may be that you volunteer to help at the first one, but you actually offer to run a session at the next. Getting known to the organisers is the first step towards being a direct invited participant.
3. The Pitch. Most writers conferences offer the opportunity to pitch your work directly to agents and publishers. In a noisy world where getting noticed is hard, this can be a very worthwhile exercise. Make sure you do your homework, perfect your elevator speech, and come very prepared if you intend to do this (and make the most of the rest of the conference too). Don't bother pitching to a publisher who doesn't publish your genre (pitching your work as a 'cross-genre' manuscript is probably doomed to failure unless you're already famous, in which case you don't need to pitch), don't go in without a prepared and super-concise pitch, and above all, appear relaxed and professional (even if you don't feel it).
There are plenty of other reasons to give writer's conferences a go, not least of which because they're utterly fun and if you pick your sessions carefully to match your own writing challenges and interests (as a reader too!), can be very energising, providing you with ideas, material, and inspiration that you can carry with you into your solitary work, so you produce better writing. That's what it's all about.
Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow
and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark
Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration
with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond,
Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the
Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find
out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.