Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Writing Conferences: A Review

This past weekend I attended the "writing" conference LTUE (Life the Universe and Everything) in Provo. I want to give this conference a good review...but I can't. Not this year.

 Aside from the opportunity to spend a little quality time with my mom, the conference was a disappointment.

It has become a tradition the past couple years to take my mom to a writing conference for her birthday. The past two years (2011 & 2012) it was LDStoryMakers since it happened to be in May near my mom's birthday. We really liked it the first year and so went again. We had planned to go to that one again this year, but because of my job in Mississippi, I won't be able to make it. Instead we went to LTUE, a writing conference geared more toward fantasy and sci/fi fiction that we've been to before. 

Maybe it's my growth as a writer, or my exposure to other, better organized conferences, but this one was disappointing this year. Overall, I'd say the problem is that it was poorly organized.

First of all, it was scheduled the weekend of Valentine's Day (from February 14-16). I had to celebrate with my Valentine a little early (which wasn't a huge deal, but STILL).

Second, very few of the class titles or descriptions accurately described what the classes were about. We attended a class called The Economics of Super villainy, which could have been AWESOME, but turned out to be very dull. The class, rather than focusing on tips for how to create a super villain that affects your setting's economy, it seemed to be more of a nerd session where we talked about a myriad of super villains from comics with no real tie to how to write. I could do a better job--and I'm not much of a super villain or super hero kind of writer (or reader).

The majority of the classes or presentations were panels of the same authors over and over, most of which got off the listed topic. Hardly any of them were useful in writing technique, or publishing how-to.

A lot of the presentations involved "shameless plugs" for every author's book or short story or website. I have no problem with self-promotion, however, if an author shows up to be on a panel or to give a presentation to a class and all they do is talk about their work, I will not read or buy anything from them. If, however, they show up with a prepared presentation and know what they will say before they say it, and they give good, useful advice on writing or publishing--then I will be more likely to look them up, read their work, and buy their stuff.

Overall, I came away with a very good idea of how NOT to run a conference.
DON'T put a panel together of random authors and let them just talk about random things.
DON'T make up any old name that sounds interesting (such as xenobiology) and have someone talk about how it's really not scientifically possible for an entire hour when the audience wanted to have good advice on how to include aliens in their fiction. FICTION.
DON'T invite an author to give a presentation if they're not willing to prepare first--these days I expect a power-point or some kind of visual aid (maybe it's drawing on a whiteboard), prepared notes, and a point to the presentation. For instance The 5 plot structures of Picture Books was a GREAT presentation, because I knew exactly what I would get out of it--5 different plot structures of a picture book.
DON'T leave a presenter without the appropriate materials. I attended a couple classes where the presenters came fully prepared with power-point/visual aids, but were stuck in rooms without the technology to accommodate them. Not the presenter's fault--bad organization.

I recognize that it is HARD to run a conference. Very hard. And it takes a lot of work. Also, this conference is very affordable. For students you can attend for free. For non-students it only costs $30 for the whole thing. I'm definitely not ready to run my own conference...but, in the future when I am, I'll have some good ideas on what to do and what not to do.

Some ideas on how to run a writing conference:
DO invite authors who are good a presenting and are willing to prepare their words/presentation in advance.
DO have sponsors/donators and get a good fund going.
DO take a lot of time preparing and planning in advance.
DO heavily consider the title of classes and the actual subject being addressed.
DO include short, informative descriptions of classes with the name(s) of those presenting.

Like with everything, it's a process. I'm sure the organizers of the conference will get better as they go and learn. There were a couple presentations that I LOVED. One of which was given by Craig Nybo. So, check him out, and if you want someone to present at your writing conference who has good advice and enthusiasm--he's your guy.

What writing conferences have you been to? Good? Bad? Meh?
Tell me about them!

Write on!


  1. Good points! LTUE can be very hit or miss. I went to a panel two years ago about religion in science fiction, and the panel moderator was a devout atheist. How the organizers thought that made any sense is BEYOND me. Another one was on Faster Than Light (FTL) travel, but the panelists spent the entire time talking about how it was impossible and how to ignore it in your writing. Half the time, I think the moderators just aren't prepared.

    1. Yes! That's exactly what it's like. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way, but I hope they get it together in the future. Thanks for reading and commenting!