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Steel-Pen-Writers-Conference-October-2015-5No matter what type of writing you do, you can find a writer’s conference that will help you learn more about your craft. While the price tag on some of the conferences may seem daunting, keep in mind that the impact of a writer’s conference can continue far beyond the few days conference lasts.

Many writers attend conferences wanting to pitch their book ideas to editors and agents. While that approach can work, you’ll see more success if you first sell yourself. If editors and agents like you, they will be more inclined to work with you. You should be looking to establish long-term relationships with editors and agents who will help you produce wonderful books year after year.

While a writers’ conference will bring writers, agents, and editors together, it is up to you to get the face time with an editor or agent.

Do some research before the conference to find out who is scheduled to attend and what genres they work with. Make a list of the people you want to meet in order of importance along with the person’s thumbnail picture that can find on the conference material or website. You now have a cheat sheet to know who to look for and why they would be interested in your book.

Sign up for a pitch session if it is available. These are quick pitches to a specific agent or editor. If the person likes your idea, he or she will ask for you to send more. Be friendly and excited about your idea, but don’t be pushy. Again, you want to sell them on the idea that you are someone with whom they will enjoy working.

Make sure you get the person’s business card. It will have all the direct contact information on it along with the proper spelling of the person’s name. Once the pitch session is over, I will write any notes about the meeting and the person on the back of the card while the details are fresh in my mind. I refer to these notes when I am writing my cover letter to the package that I send the editor or agent.

You can also meet editors and agents informally at the various events at the conference. I know one writer who likes to volunteer as an escort at conferences. He takes the conference speakers, usually editors and agents, from room to room so they can get to their sessions on time. His escorting time also allows him a little time to pitch his book to the person.

Coming across as likable is more important for these informal meetings. People don’t want to stand around talking to someone who is annoying or inappropriate. Another writer I know has pitched his book upon seeing an agent or editor in a bathroom. He hasn’t been successful so far.

While editors and agents are your primary targets at a writer’s conference, don’t neglect networking with other attendees. Friendships developed can increase your pool or potential beta readers for your manuscript, potential reviewers and even other authors who could provide you with a cover blurb for a future book.

Don’t expect something without giving something. Be generous with your information or areas of expertise. Share information with them about markets, other writers, cover designers, etc.

Pass out your own business cards, postcards, and other promotional materials. If the conference has gift bags for speakers or for auctions, see if you can include something.

After the conference, send thank you notes to editors and agents for their time. It doesn’t hurt to follow up on any other friendships you started either.

If you are an introvert like me, it can be hard to step outside your comfort zone to network at a conference. You won’t be the only person who feels that way. Just remember that everyone there is looking to make connections that can help them. Who’s to say it won’t be you?

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DdfpPEkU0AATruuSo I’m back from a three-day weekend in Lancaster, Pa., for the 31st annual Pennwriters Conference. Once again, this conference did not disappoint.

I went looking for some tips to better marketing myself, and I found plenty of that. One session was called “School Visits 101” with Donna Galanti. I went looking for advice for how to get talks in schools. She delivered on that, but she also had information about preparing a presentation and publicizing it. I will be going over my notes from that session more than a few times to try and glean everything that I can from it.

Another session that I really liked was “Writing for New Technologies” with Katie Ernst. This session introduced me to some new possibilities for new markets using new technologies to sell your writing. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by it since I am not an early adopter of new technology. However, I will try these new things out (slowly).

I had two classes and a luncheon talk that were all well attended. I thought I had flubbed the luncheon talk, but I got a lot of good feedback on it afterward.

I got to sit down 20 minutes with agent Louise Fury and talk about indie writing, marketing, and being a hybrid author. VERY INFORMATIVE! I loved it. She was very friendly and I’ve got more information from her that I need to follow up on. This was a new thing Pennwriters offered this year, and I hope they continue it.

I also pitched a couple agents projects I had done as J. R. Rada. This my pen name for YA, fantasy, and horror. I have been thinking about trying to get an agent for my work as J. R. Rada and continuing the indie route with my own name. Both agents asked to see different novels, so we’ll see how this all works out.

A great weekend for recharging the writing batteries!

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RADA-1Pennwriters is the statewide writers’ association in Pennsylvania. I’ll be presenting three sessions at their annual writers’ conference later this month. As part of their promotion for the conference, they conduct a Q&A with their presenters. Here is the one that I did.

  1. What do you think is special about the genre you write in?

I write in a variety of genres, although most frequently, in non-fiction history. The thing that I find most interesting about this genre is that the stories I tell are true, and if I find the right one, they are just as interesting as fiction.

  1. What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing? Did you ever encounter a serious roadblock and how did you overcome it?

The most difficult part of writing is dealing with mean-spirited criticism. I’ve been a professional writer since 1988. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin, but that kind of criticism still bothers me for days.

As for serious roadblock, I busted through one earlier this year. I had a novel idea that I had been working at on and off for years, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I had outlined the book, written a few chapters, and even done research. Something was missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. I kept starting and getting nowhere. In January, I decided to make one change with my main character, and that broke the logjam. I had ideas pouring out of my imagination. One book has now become three, and I am using almost nothing from my earlier efforts.

This particular book is also coming together in a very disjointed way. I am writing scenes from all over the book rather than the typical beginning-to-end process. This has probably kept me from getting stuck on the project again.

  1. What’s individual or unique about your writing space? Do you have a memento or good luck charm on your desk?

My office is my space and filled with things that make me comfortable. On my walls, I have old movie posters, a triceratops head, historical photos, historical newspapers, family pictures, and even a piece of comic-book art. One my shelves (which cover two walls), I have books – lots of books, of course – but I also have fossils, interesting rocks, robots made from scrap metal, Lego creations my son made, and the California Raisins. If I’m really stressed, I have a tank of fake jellyfish that look real. I turn that on and watch them swim around to destress.

  1. What has been the most satisfying or significant project of your literary career?

It’s a tie between two projects. The first would be a biography I wrote about a WWII veteran I met. This man has a fascinating life story. I tell people he has led a “Forrest Gump life” where he has participated in historical events or met famous people almost accidentally.

The other project is a book a couple years back called The Last to Fall. It’s a true story about a virtually unknown 1922 event in Gettysburg that helped saved the Marine Corps. When the book was released, the local chapter of the Marine Corps League started an effort to put up a waymarker near the site where a plane crashed during the event killing two Marines. This Memorial Day weekend, that waymarker will be dedicated with hundreds of Marines attending the ceremony. It’s very satisfying to see the two Marines who died in the crash finally get remembers.

  1. What is your favorite tip or advice for writers?

Don’t sit around waiting to hear back about an article or book you sent out. Get started on the next project. Keep writing.

  1. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?

A motorboat, gasoline, and a satellite phone. That way, I wouldn’t be stranded for long.

  1. If you had a time machine, where and when would you be right now? 

That’s a hard one. Doctor Who has been around for 50 years exploring that topic, although he winds up in London more often than not. I think the first stop I would make would be to Nazareth to meet Jesus Christ. Then, I think I’d like to visit the Old West. Finally, I’d visit the Jurassic period because I’d love to see real dinosaurs.

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2018PWCLogo_4RegSite_header_copy_2I enjoy writers conferences. They give me a writing energy boost that has powered me through writer’s block in the past.

One conference that I have attended in the past and enjoyed is the annual Pennwriters Conference. It alternates its location between Lancaster and Pittsburgh. This year it will be in Lancaster. You can attend lectures, panels, keynote addresses, and luncheons for three days. Learn how to write better, sell more, and market more effectively. You might even find a new author to read. James Rollins was the keynote speaker at the conference I attended, and now, I’m a fan of his books. This year’s keynote speaker is thriller writer Gayle Lynds.

I will actually be teaching three sessions at this year’s conference. I will be demonstrating ways to use e-publishing to help invigorate your writing, doing historical research for authentic stories, and making extra bucks as a freelance writer. I hope everyone will find them as helpful as I find the sessions that I attend.

So take a look at the conference offerings at the Pennwriters Conference Page. The link to the schedule can be found here. You can if there is something for you.

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The keynote speaker at one of the annual writer’s conferences sponsored by the Washington Independent Writers.

For a job that relies on connecting with readers, writing can be a lonely profession. To start with, I have no workmates. I work in my den in my house. Now, that’s not the case for all writers. I have worked for businesses and newspapers where there were desks next to mine and I could speak and joke with the person sitting next to me.

 

Writers do a lot of talking to people for interviews, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to relationships. I do get to know some of the people well. These are people in the geographic areas that I frequently write about or experts on topics that I frequently write about. The vast majority of people I speak with, though, I only talk to once for a single article.

With that feeling of isolation, I find that it’s important for writers to have a support system in place. This includes family and friends, but it also includes other writers. I participate in a weekly writer’s group. It’s nice to meet with other people who share an interest in writing and talk about the craft or simply joke around.

This network comes with some benefits. First and foremost, it reinvigorates me for my work each week. This is important for me, particularly during weeks where I’m feeling very stressed out.

You also find the benefits that come with other networking groups. I hear about writing opportunities, and I can find people I trust when I need some help.

It also gives me a chance to pay things forward and help other writers when I can because I like seeing writers succeed. I might get a little jealous of their success, but I’m always happy for them.

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O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, PA, where the Gettysburg Writers Brigade meets.

 

On any given Wednesday night, on the second floor of O’Rorke’s Restaurant in Gettysburg, you’ll find a group of men and women gathered around a long table. Some of them will be eating, some sipping a beer, many of them talking to each other. Newcomers are welcome to the group, but if you sit down, you had better be ready to hear some unusual topics of conversation. How do you make dialogue snappier? How do you use Facebook to promote your writing? How do you get your novel published? Members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade are all likely to have an opinion on the topics and probably not the same opinion, but that diversity of ideas is what makes the group so useful.

Writing a book is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, but they don’t know how to get started. The blank page that they are expected to fill with words can be intimidating.

You don’t have to face the challenge alone or uninformed, though. The Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade has been helping writers navigate the pitfalls of writing a book for nearly seven years and at the same time offering encouragement to those writers.

Will Hutchison, an author of three novels and two non-fiction books, formed the group in 2010.

“I think writers need to talk to writers and I wanted to get together with some writers to talk,” he said.

Since January 4, 2010, the group has had 372 official meetings and numerous unofficial ones. The official meetings are about 60 percent social and 40 percent writing technique with a little bit of critiquing thrown in, according to Hutchison. It seems to be a combination that works. Group membership has grown from six to eight members to 83 members on Meetup.com and 8 to 12 people on average attending the Wednesday night sessions.

Curt Herring is one of the newest members of the group. He joined in July 2016 when he was looking for tips on how to write a book about his father. A neighbor who was a member of the group told him about it.

“I like the fellowship and I’m learning something new every week,” Herring said. “I look forward to it each week.”

Not everyone in the group is an unpublished author. When the Gettysburg Writers Brigade first began, Hutchison was the only published author, but now he estimates that a third of the group has either had articles, books, poetry or something else published.

 

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Gettysburg Writers Brigade Founder Will Hutchison

“More people are getting published and that’s the bottom line,” Hutchison said.

 

Gail Furford joined the group in 2012 and now has two books published. “I like the input I get from each member,” she said. “I like learning from each other’s styles.

Even the group’s founder learns from the meetings. He has had two of his books published since the group started meeting.

“This group has also helped me write the books. I bounce ideas off the group and get feedback from the critiques,” Hutchison said.

While most writer’s groups are critiquing sessions that can be quite brutal to an insecure author, the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade only does readings once a month. The group critiques must be constructive to help the author and not tear down the writer’s confidence or enthusiasm for writing.

A typical meeting begins with members filtering in a half hour or more before the meeting just to talk about what is happening in their lives. Between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when it looks like everyone who is going to show up is in the room, Hutchison will get the group’s attention. Sometimes there are some general announcements to be made. Other times, he simply gets started on the evening’s presentation. It will be something having to do with writing, whether it’s technique, marketing, publishing or something else. Each week’s topics are decided on by the group at the end of the previous meeting.

“There’s a lot of pressure to have a presentation each week, but this is how the group likes it,” Hutchison said.

He originally thought the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade would meet monthly, but the members enjoy the regularity of weekly meetings.

“It’s fun to sit with people who are going through exactly the same things you’ve gone through writing,” Hutchison said.

Furford agreed. “I’m getting so much more than I expected out the group learning from people’s different styles and the various topics,” she said.

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I facilitated my first writer’s workshop this past weekend. I wasn’t sure what to call it until I started writing this post. It wasn’t a traditional writer’s conference where there are lots of speakers and classes that an attendee can choose from. It also wasn’t a writer’s retreat where a writer’s goes off to some inspiring locale for a week to write and critique writing.

The Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute conferences are a series of three themed weekends. The weekend that I facilitated was for history and historical fiction. The institute is part of Garrett College in Garrett County, Maryland, which is a beautiful place to visit.

Friday night was an ice breaker for me, my fellow facilitator Neil Brooks, and the attendees to get to know each other.

Saturday, we traveled to the Evergreen Heritage Center in Mount Savage, Maryland. This is a historic homestead as well as a nature and ecological study site. The students got a tour of the grounds and were told about the history of the place. Then we settled down outside in a pavilion next to an old sawmill to start talking history. It was a good back and forth discussion, which helped me keep focused on making sure I was meeting the needs of the students. I also had certain points that I wanted to make sure that I hit.

There were supposed to be three different sessions that I taught on Saturday, each with a different topic, but they all seemed to get rolled into one long discussion about how to write history and historical fiction.

That evening, there was another session that was a Q&A with the facilitators about how and why we became writers.

Sunday morning was a half day of meetings. We traveled to Oakland, Maryland, to the Garrett County Historical Society to tour the facility and see the research aides that the historical society has. I talked with them about how to find the facts for a story and how to use them in their writing. We also toured the B&O Railroad Historical Museum to talk more about the value of historical sites for research purposes.

This was different than any writers’ conference that I’ve either spoken at or attended. I liked it and I especially liked not being stuck in classrooms all day. We were out and about enjoying the sun and perfect weather. I feel like the historic sites helped the writers envision the past better and I hoped they found value in what Neil and I had to say.

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A train approaching the B&O Station in Oakland, Maryland, while the Mountain Maryland Writers’ Institute was there.

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collage-2015I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my workshop for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Writers Conference. It’s going to be a PowerPoint presentation. I sure hope I don’t run into some of the problems I’ve have giving PowerPoint presentations this year, such as having no way to project the presentation, having the project die on me during the presentation, and having the host computer mess up my formatting. Maybe fate is telling me not to do PowerPoint presentations!

I’ll be talking about writing historical fiction on Sunday, Aug. 9 from 9:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. I think I’ll be able to offer some useful insights not only about the fiction writing side of things, but also the historical side. I’m coming at the topic from the viewpoint of someone who write both non-fiction history as well as historical fiction.

I’m also sitting on a panel discussion with Tess Gerritsen, Robert Bidinotto, Merry Bond, Harrison Demchick, Leigh-Anne Lawrence, J.P. Sloan, Desiree Smith-Daughety, Mark Stevanus, and Jason Tinney about marketing, branding, and social media. We’ll be sharing tips and techniques to define, build, and get the word out about your books. I think I’ll record this session since I probably won’t be able to take notes while I’m participating in the discussion. This session is also on Sunday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

I’m excited for the conference not only as a presenter but also as an attendee. I plan on attending as many different workshops as I can. There’s a lot of talented writers who will be sharing their knowledge and I’m going to learn as much as I can.

I am definitely looking forward to Tess Gerritsen’s keynote address, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”

There’s also sessions on worldbuilding, creating characters with psychological conditions, and thriller writing. I can see a usefulness of the topics not only with my current writing but also with stories I want to do in the future.

Even though Nora Roberts name is no longer in the conference title, she still supports the group and is hosting a book signing at the end of the conference for all of the presenters who have published books.

All in all, this is a great regional conference. Any authors who live within an hour or two of Hagerstown shouldn’t miss it. Check out the web site here.

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