You know you've attended a good conference when you come home with a folder full of useful handouts and a notebook blue with writing tips you can't wait to employ. But when you come home from a conference as a presenter and you are equally excited to explore the websites that were recommended and play with the new-to-you writing tools you jotted down, then you know it was a great conference. That's how I felt coming home from Nonfiction 4 New Folks (NF 4 NF) this past weekend.
Put on almost single-handedly by author Pat Miller (with help from husband/transporter/food-fetcher John, and "welfare wench" Aileen Kirkham) the conference is a nurturing place for writers trying to hone their true stories to publishable perfection.
This year I talked about research and the importance of seeking out details that inform the reader about the setting, the characters, and the context in which the story takes place. Writing for magazines was also a focus of mine, and how you can reuse your research to craft one or more articles to maximize your efforts and income.
Unlike other conferences where speakers rarely get to sit in on other workshops, I got a chance to listen to three excellent presenters -- Karen Blumenthal award-winning author of Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different; Melissa Stewart, a prolific science writer; and Nancy Sanders author of Yes You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career (among many others).
When I got home I couldn't wait to edit backwards as Nancy suggested. (It's a little tricky at first until you get the hang of it.) And I'm going to look at nonfiction books differently now that Melissa shared her scheme for categorizing NF based on structure and style which makes tons of sense to a writer. And I can't wait to read Karen's book about Steve Jobs and her upcoming book about Hillary Clinton now that I know some of the stories about how she did the research.
There are dozens of writers conferences every year, and it's difficult to choose the right one. Do you go for the big ones where you'll miss more workshops than you take in, or go small and intimate? Travel cross country or stay local?
Here are my suggestions:
1. Choose a conference based on your abilities. Be honest with yourself. Are you just starting out? Then skip the conferences that cater to a broad spectrum of writers. You will see and hear a lot about editors and agents, but it won't help you hone your craft which you need to do before you think about getting an editor or agent. Look for a "Nuts and Bolts" conference that focuses on how to write. However, if you have a manuscript that has been revised and critiqued to the point where there is nothing more you can do, then find a conference with plenty of editors and/or agents attending. That will give you the permission to submit to them even if they typically have a closed door policy.
2. Choose a conference based on the type of writing you are interested in. If you write fiction, you have dozens of conferences to choose from, but nonfiction writers are not so lucky. NF 4 NF in Texas is perfect for a beginner. 21st Century Nonfiction Conference in NY City is good for writers ready to submit and published authors. Workshops put on by the Highlights Foundation cater to both.
3. Do you want to make friends? If you wish to remain anonymous, then a giant conference is right for you. It is easy to get lost in the crowd.(It may sound negative, but it's the truth) But if you want to build a writing community that you can bounce ideas off of, commiserate with, or form a critique group, then go small. NF 4 NF had only 32 attendees, and Pat purposely shuffled critique groups so that everyone got a chance to meet. Many "Neffers" have kept in touch. This can happen at a larger conference, but it takes a lot of courage to network if you aren't used to it.
4. Check out the presenters. Google the speakers, review their websites, and read their books. Do you like their work? Do they write the kinds of books that you aspire to write? Then that's a good indication that you will learn from them.
5. Check out webinars. If a conference seems too intimidating, cost prohibitive, or conflicts with your work schedule there are many online courses you can sign up for. Look for ones that specify children's nonfiction.