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Conferences and Retreats --
Your Way to Connect!

"Musings" for August 2004

by Margot Finke

Conferences and retreats can be large, fast paced, and expensive. They can also be small, fun, and interesting, or anywhere in-between. The state of publishing today, demands writers go to at least one conference/retreat each year. Why? Because countless publishing houses are closed to submissions from non-agented writers, and query letters don't always "sell" your story. Many conferences and retreats allow writers to meet editors and agents in a relaxed atmosphere. You discover that they, too, visit the restroom (please, do NOT approach them there!!), have bad hair days, or like you, enjoy weird fillings in their sandwiches. A conference not only shows editors to be warm and human, but provides a wonderful setting for making friends. The following are my secrets for choosing a conference or retreat. Read on. I guarantee that somewhere out there is the one for you.

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#1 -- Will This Conference Fit Your Budget?

Hey, if your credit card is crying "Uncle," go for small, intimate, and inexpensive. You might not hear a mega editor or writer speak words of wisdom, but good things often happen at small gatherings. The important thing is, GO

#2 -- Is It a Reasonable Distance from Home?

If you have to watch your budget, airfares to faraway retreats can wait for another year. The same applies if mother-in-law descends for an extended visit. However, if you just received that nice advance or royalty payment, bring M-I-L along! The SCBWI Nationals are waiting for YOU.

#3 -- Conference or Retreat? Choose What Fits Your Schedule

If the retreat of your dreams is in summer, and you can't leave the kids for a week, try one that is shorter, and closer to home. That "Super Retreat" will still be there in a few years time, when your kids are older. Retreats are often slower paced. At mealtimes, they allow you to mingle with writers, editors, and agents -- more so, if there are after-hours social events. Check out the daily schedule on their website. This will give clues regarding how tightly the events are packed together. Usually, fewer events mean extra time to make contacts, chat, and MAYBE, for a moment or two, snare an editor all to yourself. . . YEA!

#4 -- Think Honestly About Your Personality and Style

This is a biggie. Choosing the right style of conference can make or break your experience. If you are a shy person, who likes to melt into the wallpaper, smaller, more relaxed events, would be a better place to start. You can graduate to bigger and getter over time. Extroverts are likely to enjoy the larger, action packed, multi-day events. For them, the hectic pace makes great memories.

#5 -- Are You a Beginning Writer, More Advanced, or Already Published?

For this, you need to study the agenda. Discover what the editors and other speakers will be talking about. Those new to writing will need to hear information on the basic principles of punctuation, sentence length for genres, character and plot development, etc. More advanced writers will want to hear experts on character development, critique groups, query letters and focus. Those already published will be eager for promotional information and tools, how to find an agent, and how to better negotiate a contract. Being stuck at a conference that does not offer what you as a writer NEED is not what you pay good money to experience.

#6 -- Do Serious Research

The Internet and Google were invented for research. Check out the SCBWI (The Society of Children's Writers & Illustrators), Regional Chapters & Advisors. This website is a calendar of US-wide SCBWI conferences & retreats. Websites are listed. Or, type "Children's Writer's Conferences" (without quotes) into Google. This brings up a huge numbers of upcoming events. Another good resource is The ShawGuides -- this lists writer's conferences and retreats in the US and faraway places. My Writer's Retreats & Conferences (Smart Writers Journal) also lists upcoming events. When unsure about details, e-mail the contact person requesting the information you need.

#7 -- What Do You Hope to Gain From a Conference or a Retreat?

Have realistic goals. The chance of you signing a book deal during those few days, is on a par with your chance of winning the lottery. Just schmoozing with other writers is wonderful -- peers to share the joys of acceptances, and gripe with about rejections. Keep your ears wide open for insightful comments. You can often learn more from listening to a generous, established writer, than you can from an editor or agent. Many times, when you arrive home, you realize a particular writer or editor has inspired you to take a chance, or think wildly out of the box. You have a more defined idea of what direction your future writing should take. A conference or retreat gives you the energy and resolve to explore previously uncharted writing possibilities. Go for it!

Happy Writing MatesI

Editor's Note: Information about Kindling Words, an annual retreat for published writers and illustrators. And if you have a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, be sure to consult the section on conferences.

Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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