Sunday, February 28, 2016

Conference Season!

My writing studio during my residency at Ragdale (Illinois) in July 2011.


It's that time of year again. March and April typically signal the launch of the writing conference season. From now until mid-October, you will find writer's conferences and workshops of all sizes and formats to meet your needs and interests as a writer. Is a writer's conference or workshop in your near future? Here are some things to help you decide.

In my experience, there are three basic types of conferences and workshops:
  • One-day workshop
  • Weekend conference
  • Writer's retreat/residency 
Which one is right for you?

One-day workshop. This is probably the least expensive type of conference. Fees can range from as low as $75.00 to a maximum of approximately $250.00. You may get free coffee and donuts in the morning, but full meals are usually not included. These workshops tend to focus on a single topic, such as getting published, writing non-fiction articles, or the art of copy writing. They are often taught by a single instructor with several assistants. Enrollment can be limited.

Weekend conference. The weekend writing conference is the place to schmooze and network. Fees range from a low of about $250.00 to over $600.00. Most meals are included in the fee, but lodging is often extra. Many weekend conferences are held in large hotels where you can receive a special room rate if you attend the conference.

A typical weekend conference offers classes and workshops on all aspects of writing, including non-fiction, literary fiction, children's writing, commercial fiction, agents, copyright law, etc. You will often find special classes on the craft of writing that cover such topics as writing believable dialogue, creating interesting characters, or drafting query letters.

Some weekend conferences have pitch sessions in which you can make an appointment to meet with an editor or an agent to talk about your book. These are usually an extra fee and require reservations prior to the conference itself. If you should attend a pitch session, please don't try to foist a copy of your manuscript upon the agent or editor. She won't want to take the risk of losing your work while traveling. It's best to make arrangements to send the requested material to the agent or editor after she returns to her home office.

Writer's retreat/residency. The writer's retreat, or residency, can last anywhere from one week to six months, depending upon your funds and available time. The cost for these can range to over a thousand dollars, but many retreats offer subsidized funding through grants and awards. Most retreats have application deadlines several months before the requested dates. Be sure to check the application requirements long before you want to attend, as these are very competitive and may require a lot of advance preparation.

You will find writer's retreats and residencies offered at universities, private estates, and writing centers. The advantage to the retreat is that it allows you work uninterrupted for a concentrated span of time--often in a bucolic setting. You can socialize with other writers and artists or remain a hermit. The typical writer's retreat provides lodging only, but some do include limited meal plans. To apply for a residency, you usually need solid publication credits, a sample of your work, an artist's statement, and references.

The one-day workshop, the weekend conference, a residency, or the writer's retreat? The choice is up to you. To find a conference or workshop near you, check out these resources:

AWP has a searchable directory of conferences and writing centers
Poets & Writers lists retreats, conferences and residencies on their website
New Pages maintains an updated online database of conferences, retreats, and programs
The Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences and Writing Workshops allows you to search by date and/or location for conferences and workshops.

Happy Writing!

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