Planning a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Organizing a writers’ conference is a year-long, time consuming event. Having recently attended the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest, I can appreciate the hard work put in by its co-organizers, Michael Haskins and Shirrel Rhoades, to make everything run smoothly. We’re doing the same thing for SleuthFest, scheduled for February 26, 2015. What steps do you have to take to organize a conference? This is by no means a comprehensive checklist, but here are some suggestions if your group is interested in moving forward with a big event.

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Book the hotel and the date. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to estimate the number of people attending, including speakers, editors, agents, and special guests. Why? Because you’ll need meeting rooms to fit your capacity. How many persons might attend each session? How many tracks per hour will you offer? Thus how many break-out rooms are required? Day by day and function by function, you’ll have to map things out with the hotel liaison. This includes social events like meals and cocktail parties. A contract is drawn up. What is the cost of each meal? How much in deposits are required and when? What’s the cancellation policy? If you’re in Florida, what happens if there is a hurricane warning that weekend? How many rooms of your block do you have to fill? You need a good negotiator for this aspect, and that’s only the start.

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Obtain the keynote speakers. Once you have a date and place, you can put invites out for the key speakers. They’ll be a draw for everybody else and for press coverage.

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Devise a conference budget. This will help you determine how much to charge for registration. Decide if your goal is to break even or to make a profit.

Appoint committee chairs. You’ll want to assign volunteers to take charge of the different roles, such as Programming, Editors/Agents, Author Liaison, Raffles, Publicity, Sponsors, etc. Put your key people in place early.

Brainstorm for programming ideas. What’s your conference theme? What topics do you want to cover? Will you have panels or one-on-one workshops?

Arrange for special events. Do you want to go on a shoot-out at a local range? Visit a morgue? Have a demonstration by K-9 dogs? Offer a murder mystery dinner cruise? Will you fill up the evenings, or will attendees be on their own?

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Once you have laid the groundwork, you’re ready to solicit speakers and post your registration forms online. Assign a publicity person to be in charge of tweets, Facebook posts, and other online promotion. Another one can be in charge of obtaining sponsorships, like for tote bags and for maybe a coffee break. Don’t forget to solicit ads for the program book. Now you’re getting down to the nitty gritty details.

Be gracious and praise your team. Putting on a conference is an effort of love. We need to appreciate the volunteers who work so hard. Giving out token recognition awards or publicly recognizing your team mates at the event itself will go a long way toward getting those same volunteers to come back next year.

Even if your event seems to be a well-oiled machine, be prepared for last-minute snafus. Tell yourself that everything will work out fine. No one will notice the glitches, and they’ll all have a wonderful time.

If you wish to read my reports on conferences I’ve attended, visit my blog at Nancy’s Notes from Florida.

Have you been involved in conference planning? If so, what has been your biggest challenge?

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Planning a Writers Conference

Nancy J. Cohen

Organizing a writers’ conference is a year-long, time consuming event. Having recently attended the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest, I can appreciate the hard work put in by its co-organizers, Michael Haskins and Shirrel Rhoades, to make everything run smoothly. We’re doing the same thing for SleuthFest, scheduled for February 26, 2015. What steps do you have to take to organize a conference? This is by no means a comprehensive checklist, but here are some suggestions if your group is interested in moving forward with a big event.

IMG_0794

Book the hotel and the date. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to estimate the number of people attending, including speakers, editors, agents, and special guests. Why? Because you’ll need meeting rooms to fit your capacity. How many persons might attend each session? How many tracks per hour will you offer? Thus how many break-out rooms are required? Day by day and function by function, you’ll have to map things out with the hotel liaison. This includes social events like meals and cocktail parties. A contract is drawn up. What is the cost of each meal? How much in deposits are required and when? What’s the cancellation policy? If you’re in Florida, what happens if there is a hurricane warning that weekend? How many rooms of your block do you have to fill? You need a good negotiator for this aspect, and that’s only the start.

P1030801   P1030800

Obtain the keynote speakers. Once you have a date and place, you can put invites out for the key speakers. They’ll be a draw for everybody else and for press coverage.

P1030789

Devise a conference budget. This will help you determine how much to charge for registration. Decide if your goal is to break even or to make a profit.

Appoint committee chairs. You’ll want to assign volunteers to take charge of the different roles, such as Programming, Editors/Agents, Author Liaison, Raffles, Publicity, Sponsors, etc. Put your key people in place early.

Brainstorm for programming ideas. What’s your conference theme? What topics do you want to cover? Will you have panels or one-on-one workshops?

Arrange for special events. Do you want to go on a shoot-out at a local range? Visit a morgue? Have a demonstration by K-9 dogs? Offer a murder mystery dinner cruise? Will you fill up the evenings, or will attendees be on their own?

P1030737
P1030767

Once you have laid the groundwork, you’re ready to solicit speakers and post your registration forms online. Assign a publicity person to be in charge of tweets, Facebook posts, and other online promotion. Another one can be in charge of obtaining sponsorships, like for tote bags and for maybe a coffee break. Don’t forget to solicit ads for the program book. Now you’re getting down to the nitty gritty details.

Be gracious and praise your team. Putting on a conference is an effort of love. We need to appreciate the volunteers who work so hard. Giving out token recognition awards or publicly recognizing your team mates at the event itself will go a long way toward getting those same volunteers to come back next year.

Even if your event seems to be a well-oiled machine, be prepared for last-minute snafus. Tell yourself that everything will work out fine. No one will notice the glitches, and they’ll all have a wonderful time.

If you wish to read my reports on conferences I’ve attended, visit my blog at Nancy’s Notes from Florida.

Have you been involved in conference planning? If so, what has been your biggest challenge?

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Crime Writing Resources

Nancy J. Cohen

While researching my mysteries, I often need information that you can’t go around asking writer friends in public. Imagine discussing these topics in a restaurant. What kind of poison can I use that will kill someone right away and is easily obtainable? How can I stage a crime scene by hanging the victim to make it look like a suicide? Does firing a .38 give much of a recoil? What happens when a detective is personally involved in a murder case? What kind of poisonous snake can I have the bad guy put in my hero’s suitcase? Often, I’ll need specific advice to help me set the scene with as much authenticity as possible.

Fortunately, mystery writers have a range of resources available besides your friendly cop on the local force. These are some of the sites where you can get useful information and answers to your research questions. Also listed are well-known mystery conferences. Check out the links. They’ll lead you to informative websites and blogs.

Bright Blue Line: http://scottsilverii.com/
Bouchercon: http://www.bouchercon.info
Crime Scene Writer: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/crimescenewriter/
Florida Chapter of MWA: http://www.mwaflorida.org/
Florida Sisters in Crime: http://floridasistersincrime.com/
Independent Mystery Booksellers Association: http://www.mysterybooksellers.com
In Reference to Murder: http://www.inreferencetomurder.com/
International Thriller Writers: http://thrillerwriters.org/
Killer Nashville: http://www.killernashville.com/
Kiss of Death: http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org
Left Coast Crime: http://www.leftcoastcrime.org
Malice Domestic: http://www.malicedomestic.org
Murder Must Advertise: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MurderMustAdvertise/
Mystery Writers of America: http://www.mysterywriters.org
Sisters in Crime: http://www.sistersincrime.org
SleuthFest: http://www.mwaflorida.org/sleuthfest.htm
The Graveyard Shift: http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/
Thrillerfest: http://www.thrillerfest.com/
The Writer’s Forensic Blog: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/
Write Crime Right: http://writecrimeright.blogspot.com/
Writers Police Academy: http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/

Note that most of these are listed in my writing guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery.

Writing the Cozy Mystery

What sites do you find helpful in your crime-related research?

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