As great as the Tin House workshop was, smaller conferences can serve much the same purpose with the added benefit of personal interaction with the presenters. During the Wordharvest conference in Santa Fe I was able to talk with each of the authors who presented, as well as the conference hosts. The authors at Tin House, at least the year I attended, primarily kept to themselves at lunch and during the breaks. I had the impression that they were available for us during the classes, but preferred to be left alone outside of class. All completely understandable, but if you want a more personal experience, a slightly smaller conference might be a good choice.
At Wordharvest, Anne Hillerman and Jean Schaumberg, conference organizers, were available at every session and break to discuss the conference or writing in general. At the conference, another writer recommended the hotel bar for late night networking. The lounge area at the conference hotel, the Inn and Spa at Loretto, was full of conversation late into the night. My husband and I spent a nice evening with Peter Joseph from St. Martin’s. I not only learned about the editing process at St. Martin’s, but I connected with someone whose life is completely different than my own. I’m a quiet person, so I felt a bit out of my element, but in a solitary profession you have to find ways to connect. The writer’s conference is one of the few opportunities for meeting a wide variety of people associated with publishing. Where else can you talk with a publisher, published author, or an agent who may know someone who just happens to have a personal interest in the subject you’re writing about?
In a later post I’ll introduce the writers I work with in an online writer’s group called GD3. We formed after working together at Tin House. Without a doubt, the critiques and connections I have made through my relationships with the GD3 women has greatly influenced my writing. And, if I hadn’t pushed myself out of my comfort zone to connect with other people at Tin House, I would have missed the past six years of work with some amazing writers. Most conferences offer after-hours opportunities to socialize. If your natural tendency is to head back to the hotel room to catch up on emails, resist it. Make the effort. It will pay off.
Something else to consider is the structure of the conference. Wordharvest changed their design this year so that we spent a full day with one author. Our first day was with Margaret Coel who writes a mystery series set on the Wind River Reservation. (http://www.margaretcoel.com) Her craft workshop broke the day into mini-lessons with many opportunities to write and share with the group. Her lessons were designed to elicit responses from first-time writers as well as those with had published multiple books. The format worked great, and Margaret was an excellent presenter. She was warm and interesting, and having written a series that’s been around since 1995, she had plenty of experience to back up her teaching. Bill O’Hanlon presented the second day with a focus on publication. He was a very dynamic speaker – energetic, funny, with 30 books worth of publishing experience, and sound advice. He has an excellent website on publishing with great free advice, and books to purchase as well. http://www.getyourbookwritten.com