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.

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.

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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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“Heed this advice now!” she warned desperately

Note from Kris: I am in France this week so am handing over the reins to my co-author and sister. Take it away, Kelly!


By PJ Parrish

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day when my friend and fellow author, Tom Swift, happened to stop by and ask if he could join me.

“Yes,” I said cordially.

He sat down, his eyes slipping secretly to the paperback book lying wantonly near my wine glass. “I see,” he said insightfully, “that you are reading a popular author.”

“Yes,” I said affirmatively, nodding energetically.

“Do you like the book?” he asked inquiringly.

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Both of us had just returned from SleuthFest, which was geared for aspiring writers. There was a lot of good advice about plot structure, the differences between thrillers and mysteries, and character building.

My friend wisely picked up on my silence. “So,” he said flatly. “I take it you don’t like the book?”

“It was hard to read,” I said effortlessly.

“In what way?” he asked inquisitively.

“Well, I’m not sure what it was,” I said perplexedly.

“How was the plotting?” he asked ploddingly.

“The plot was okay. But it kind of fell apart toward the end,” I added brokenly.

“That’s too bad,” he said sympathetically. “Anything else?”

“The characters were okay but kind of cardboard,” I added woodenly.

“Really?” he said shockingly.

“Yes,” I acknowledged.

“But the book was a New York Times bestseller,” he interjected suddenly, jabbing at the book pointedly. “You are suppose to love the bestsellers. This one got great blurbs. And all the reviewers loved it.”

“Well,” I said deeply. “I just don’t know what it was about the book that I found tiresome but there was something.”

Tom Swift gave me a nod of his head, shaking it up and down, and then added a small, understanding smile, displaying his Hollywood teeth. “Well,” he said philosophically. “Some books are just like that.”

And with that, Tom sauntered away, slowly and casually disappearing into the misty dark inky black night.

I was left with my thoughts — and that bad book. I was thinking about all the good advice I had heard at SleuthFest. Really good stuff, even a great debate about talent versus technique. But one thing kept coming back to me — the thing all the good authors stressed. Robert Crais had said it best in his keynote speech: “Adverbs are not your friend.”

He didn’t say it lightly. He didn’t it dramatically. He didn’t even say it succinctly. He just said it.

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Writing and Basic Human Needs

By: Kathleen Pickering

A shudder ran up my spine when Clare Langley-Hawthorne asked in her last blog, “When is it time to stop writing if you haven’t sold a book?” I could not imagine never writing again.

That, of course, got me thinking, well why not? Not writing wouldn’t kill me. I’d feel less pressure to perform, my days would free up and I could enjoy all those characters in my head as imaginary playmates. But, then I realized why I reacted so uncomfortably to Clare’s question. Simply put, we all have basic human needs. For me, writing fulfills all six of the basic human needs Anthony Robbins says every person craves for personal happiness. No wonder we authors are addicted to the craft!

Here are the needs as Tony Robbins lists them. I’ve shown how they fulfill my need to write:

1. Certainty – We all want to feel safe in our world. As a writer, I know the world I create is my own, no one can hurt it, change it, take it. I feel safe in my writing cocoon.

2. Uncertainty – We all crave variety, surprise and spontaneity or we’d get bored. Well, heck, do we or do we not get uncertainty and surprise from our characters? They always take us somewhere we don’t expect. Also, the uncertainty of the publishing industry and reader/editor opinion offers no small adrenaline rush in working towards success.

3. Significance – We all need to feel important in our world and often carry a fear of “not being enough.” Writing offers me a sense of significance, in that I feel unique in my craft and how I tell my stories. Being an author gives me a sense of worth.

4. Growth – If we don’t grow, we die. The richness of every book experience, from creating the work to selling, to networking, to celebrating and sharing, all contribute to my personal growth as an author. I feel an internal shift upwards with every book I write.

5. Connection/Love – We all need to bond and feel grounded with others. We all understand this. A perfect example for me was at this year’s Sleuthfest conference. I asked Dennis Lehane what inspired him to write Shutter Island and how he conducted his research. I was rewarded with a smile, an in-depth and heartfelt explanation that ended with, “this book describes me the best.” We all need connection and welcome the recognition in others.

6. Contribution – We act to make the world a better place. I’m not alone when I say I am an author with more than just a story to tell. (My brand.) Every book I write has a purpose, a theme, and mine is redemption. My world view is that we were born perfect onto a perfect planet, and somewhere along the line we lost that understanding. I write hoping my stories will get folks thinking towards shifting our perceptions back to a place of dancing and joy and connection with ourselves, each other and our precious world. I tell you, writing rocks!

My urban fantasy, Mythological Sam – The Call, embodies all six basic human needs of which Robbins speaks. That’s why I love writing and could never stop. Who else gets the opportunity to get their message across with a hilarious, demon-busting call to adventure while meeting their own human needs?

So, I ask you, as an author and a reader . . . how does writing/reading meet your human needs? And which two are most important?

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