Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Planning a Writers' Conference Part 2

I’ve blogged about how my writers’ group conference committee approached planning our first major event this past spring. Now I’m listing what we learned (sometimes the hard way) from the event itself as we gear up for 2011. Hopefully these items will be helpful for anyone out there looking to plan a similar event in the not-too-distant future.

Choose a venue that fits your needs. Large conference-type facilities are pretty sparse in my corner of the world, so we had to get a little creative. Since we were very conservative in our attendance goals (not to mention budget), we decided on our arts council, headquartered in a beautiful old Victorian mansion. As it turned out, our registration far exceeded our expectations! The location was high on historical significance (it’s a local landmark) and character, but extremely tight on space and maneuverability. Since we only expect our attendance figures to grow (fingers crossed), we had no choice but to find somewhere else for next year. We just booked a hotel with meeting rooms that seem to be a much better fit for what we’re doing—until we outgrow that (here’s hoping).

Ask attendees for feedback. This is a quick and easy way to brainstorm for the next year. We provided everyone with a formal evaluation in their registration materials and asked for suggestions for speakers, topics, and any other types of programs they would like to see. There were some recurring suggestions, so we’ll be keeping those in mind for sure as we start planning the day’s schedule.

Invite agents and editors. A caveat—we aren’t quite at this level yet, but I’ve already sent out some inquiry emails asking about the best way to locate these industry pros. But this is a huge selling point, and one of the biggest reasons writers attend these types of events. The enticement of possible publication is almost always irresistible to most writers.

Secure a killer keynote speaker. Last spring I went to a conference that featured James “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” Frey as the keynote, and they sold out. Our keynote was a developmental manuscript editor who spoke about incorporating writing and art into our everyday lives. We aren’t quite at the James Frey level yet, but for my money, our keynote’s presentation was the relevant, moving, and inspiring message that our crowd needed.

Find sponsors. Any event, no matter how small the budget or scale, can benefit from securing a few sponsors. It’s a win-win—financial or in-kind support for your event, free publicity for them.

What about you? Any other tips for planning a terrific writers’ conference?

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