Hampton Roads Writers Conference 2013

The 5th annual Hampton Roads Writers Conference was held at the Westin Hotel at Town Center in Virginia Beach September 19-21.2013postcard

The conference began Thursday evening and ran through Saturday. Because of a previous commitment, I was unable to attend the Thursday evening session. I arrived Saturday morning, registered, and went to the plenary session, featuring keynote speaker, Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling Young Adult author of the WAKE series, VISIONS series, and UNWANTED series. Being neither a YA reader or author, I was curious as to what she had to say. An hour later, I added Wake to my list of books to read.

A “first ten-lines” review by a four-person panel of authors and agents followed the keynote address on Friday and Saturday. The panel members confessed to be nit-picky in their comments, and one might ask what could be learned from listening to critiques of someone’s first lines. It was for me and many others, a lesson in what is required to grab the attention of the reader and make them want more. One of the panelists said that it was once believed the first page or two were the most important because that is what someone who picked up the book would glance through before deciding to buy it. While that is still true, he pointed out that the author must now pay close attention to the first 25 pages, because that is what a reader sees if he or she downloads a free sample from amazon.com. If you can’t hook the reader in those 25 pages and make them want more, they won’t purchase the book.

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Ron McManus and Kevin Maurer

Sunday’s keynote speaker was Kevin Maurer, co-author of No Easy Day. I had read the book and was eager to meet him and to hear what he had to say. I wasn’t disappointed. His account working with former Navy SEAL “Mark Owen” to write the book held everyone’s attention. I also attended Maurer’s session on interviewing for nonfiction. He is a fascinating individual and a genuinely nice guy.

Other sessions I attended were: Copyrights and Wrongs – Fair use of quotes and other things to avoid a lawsuit; First Person Problems – The specific challenges and opportunities of writing in first person; Where Does My Story Start – How to write a winning first chapter; Show and Tell, Interviewing for Nonfiction – Getting the story right; Writing What you Don’t See – How a point of view can drive a plot; and The Bookkeeping Side of Writing – Literary dollars and sense.

All of the presenters did a fantastic job. Of them, I found Virginia Beach author Lydia Netzer to be both energetic and informative about the craft of writing. She not a teacher by training, but if she taught a writing course, I’d be the first to sign up.

The youngest attendee of the conference was Koyoko Leaman, a 12-year old girl who was accompanied by her parents. Her first-10 lines were critiqued, and I was in a session where she read the first chapter of her manuscript. Remember the name. This young lady is already a posed and talented individual, one from whom I’m certain we will hear from in the future.

So, if you’ve never attended a writers conference, do so. Your expectations will be exceeded. And if you’re fortunate enough to live in or near beautiful and history-rich Hampton Roads, Virginia, join Hampton Roads Writers and plan to attend the 2014 Hampton Writers Conference. You won’t regret it. Hope to see you there.

Five Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference

Have you wondered whether attending a writers conference is worth the cost. The price can range from $200-$300 for a small local conference to $1200 for Thrillerfest in New York. And that’s just the registration fee. Including travel, hotel, and incidentals, the total could exceed $2000.

South Carolina Writers WorkshopI attended my first writers conference in October 2008, the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach. At the time the plot of Libido’s Twist was forming in my head and the words were appearing on the screen of my MacBook Pro. My creative writing education, however, was limited to reading a few books. At the conference I attended every session I could squeeze in. I was amazed at how much I learned. But there were also these slush fests, ten or thirty page agent critiques, and pitch sessions. All of it was foreign to me; and to be honest, I did not know enough to fully comprehend what any of them were. In contrast, this year I participated in the thriller slush fest, had a thirty page critique of my manuscript, pitched to a pitch coach, pitched to three agents, and had a query letter critique.

Hampton Road WritersI have now attended four SC Writers Workshop Conferences and one Hampton Roads Writers Conference. So, are writing conference worth the cost? What can I expect if I go?

1. A chance to meet and talk to fellow writers: I know this is a generalization, but I believe most writers would score on the “I” side of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. We are, by nature, introverts, quite happy to write in isolation. “I” time energizes us. On the other hand, we dread book signings, interviews, and self-promotion. When you attend a writers conference, you have the opportunity to meet and talk to people for all walks of life who, like you, also love to write. The vast majority of the attendees are not earning a living with their writing, although most all would love to do so. Learn from the experiences and mistakes of others.

2. Attend multiple sessions on the craft of writing, publishing and promotion: Writing conferences provide an incredible learning opportunity: You will be amazed by how much you learn attending the sessions taught by the conference faculty of authors, agents, and editors, covering a wide range of topics.

3. Meet and interact with agents, editors, authors, and publishers: Writing conferences provide an unique opportunity to meet and interact with these individuals during their presentations and at social events during the conference. But remember, it’s bad form to pitch your manuscript to an unsuspecting agent in the elevator—unless they ask—or leave your manuscript leaning against their hotel room door. That comes across as creepy.

4. Meet and hear from successful authors: The keynote speakers, depending on the conference, can be NYT bestselling authors. For example, I’ve heard and met Michael Connelly and Steve Berry. And at the 2011 SC conference, Andrew Gross, a bestselling author who co-wrote several books with James Patterson before going it alone, was behind me in line for a drink at the reception before the night before the start of the conference. My wife and I struck up a conversation and ended up talking to him for about fifteen minutes before others came up to meet him. And, even if you don’t meet the keynote speaker, other successful authors teach sessions during the conference.

5. Receive direct and immediate feedback: Be it a slush fest, critique, or pitch, the opportunity for feedback on your manuscript and writing is alone worth the price of the conference. Everyone I have interacted with has been helpful and constructive in their comments. Remember, they are they to help you and to discover new talent and clients.

ThrillerFest VIIIHave I convinced you to attend a conference in 2013? I will once again be attending the Hampton Roads Writers Conference and the SC Writers Workshop Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’m also tempted to attend ThrillerFest VIII. I hear it’s well worth the cost for a thriller author, especially one hoping to find an agent.