If you are planning to attend a writers’ conference, chances are you’re facing a schedule which does not allow you to attend every single class offered. Of course, you’ve spent a lot of money to attend and you want to make the most of this opportunity. So how do you decide which classes to sit in on and which to skip?
Know where you are.
Are you just beginning your writing journey? Do you have an idea, some notes, and maybe a few pages typed up, but that’s it? If the answer is yes, recognize that you’re a newbie and own it. There is nothing wrong with being a newbie. We all were at some point. As a newbie, you’ll want to look for classes designed for beginners.
If you’re a bit further along in your journey and have a couple complete drafts under your belt, but haven’t yet delved into the world of editors, agents, query letter, book proposals, and the like, I’d say you’re somewhere in the middle experience wise. Avoid classes that repeat basics you’ve already covered and look for classes to round out what you don’t know.
If you’ve already published one or more books or at least completed multiple drafts, gone through your manuscript with an editor’s fine tooth comb and written your book proposal, a few query letters, and have a one sheet ready to go, you’re looking for the advanced classes. You’ll want to look for classes which will update you on the market’s latest changes and classes that will review subjects you know but can always learn more about.
Set your goals.
This is really something you should do before registering when you are deciding which conference to attend, but if you haven’t already, set your goals for the conference you have registered for. Complete this sentence: “When I leave this conference I . . . ”
Much of your answer will reflect how well you know where you are. (See Tip #1.) Some example answers may be:
- When I leave this conference I will know more about structuring my plot and creating my characters.
- When I leave this conference I will know more about building my author’s platform and maximizing my writing time.
- When I leave this conference I will have at least three new contacts I can grow in the future.
Do your homework.
Aside from reading the class descriptions (which can often be a bit vague), be sure you read up about the instructors themselves. Who they are and what their area of expertise is will often influence the angle or approach they take to addressing the stated topic.
For example, a class covering book proposals which is being taught by someone who works exclusively in the non-fiction realm may or may not be helpful to someone wanting to know how to write a book proposal for a work of fiction. Sometimes instructors branch out from their area of expertise in order to help a wider audience, but not always. If you knew this about this instructor, you may be able to find someone to ask in advance of the class whether or not fiction book proposals would be covered. If you hadn’t done your homework on the instructor, though, and the description said only, “Learn to write a strong book proposal” or something similarly generic, you wouldn’t know what to ask.
Do your research.
Yes, this is different. This is taking your homework one step further and googling the instructors. Why? Consider this scenario:
You have to choose between the following two classes:
- 5 Things You Should NEVER Say to an Editor
- 10 Fatal Flaws of Fiction
Wow. Those both sound like important things to know, right? I mean, no one wants to be the person whose fiction contains a fatal flaw and then says something accidentally offensive to an editor. So how do you choose?
Here’s the thing. Most of your instructors are working writers themselves. They are busy. They don’t always have time to come up with completely new material and will sometimes rehash something they’ve blogged about, written an article about, or spoken about before. This means that often, though not always, it is possible to find at least some of the content for the class you are considering by doing a thorough Google search.
Take the title of your class combined with the instructor’s name and get searching. If nothing comes up with your first try, see if you can remove some details from the name of the class. So “10 Fatal Flaws of Fiction” could be searched as “Fatal Flaws of Fiction.” You can also think of different ways to title the same idea: “Common Fiction Mistakes.”Play around with it and see if you can find something the instructor has shared which might give you an idea of the direction they will probably take the class.
Now that you have some tips to help you decide which classes to take, come back next week to read my tips for maximizing the rest of your time at a writers’ conference.