One of my goals has been to give a workshop at a writer’s conference, and I finally got my chance to do is last Friday. Even better, Janet Syas Nitsick (who also contributes to this blog) and I did it together. The topic was Effective Marketing Strategies, and we started working on it early in October. I thought I’d do a post about the aspect of speaking in a public forum. In this case, the public forum will be from the viewpoint of giving a workshop at a writer’s conference because I have personal experience with it now.
It was the Heart of America Christian Writers’ Network (HACWN) 2012 Annual Fall Conference in Overland Park, Kansas (near Kansas City), in case anyone wants to know which conference I attended.
Janet and I are really good friends. We are in a couple of writing groups together and met when a librarian gave me her number (way back in 2008) because Janet was another author in the area. So I called her to find out more about her experience with writing and publishing, and from there we started critiquing each other’s work. The friendship formed from there. 😀
Back to topic…
I wanted to work through the process of what to do if you decide you want to teach a workshop at a writer’s conference.
1. Submit your proposal
Janet was the one who gathered up the information on the conference since she was currently a member of HACWN. She hunted down the information on what they wanted. Basically, they wanted to know our qualifications for giving the workshop and a brief summary of what our workshop would be about. This probably took us a could of days to narrow down what we wanted to do, and we read through each others’ credentials to make sure we remembered everything (and also to make it clear and brief).
In about a month, Janet was notified that our proposal was accepted. My first reaction was, “Oh crap. Do I really want to do this?” LOL Janet is used to public speaking since she’s done so much of it, but I haven’t given a public speech in front of a group of people since college, and I graduated in 1998 with some extra classes back in 1999 to 2000. It’s been twelve years since I stepped outside my comfort zone to get in front of a group to speak. But this was a very important goal to me, so I was determined to do it (and it helped I wouldn’t be giving the workshop alone). I think sometimes keeping our focus on the goal is the best way to push through our fears. (I was tempted on several occasions to back out and let Janet do the whole thing herself because I was nervous about it, but she knows where I live and would have probably dragged me there to do my part. So I had good incentive to stick to it. ;))
My point to going through all of the above is that as writers we need to keep growing, and we can’t grow as long as we’re stuck in our safe little world. This breaking out of the little world doesn’t have to be giving a speech. It could be writing another genre or trying something different in your genre that’s never been done before. There are many ways we can explore possibilities and see what else is out there.
3. Plan the workshop.
This is the brainstorming part. I printed out a few blog posts I had done that related to to the topic, and we worked through things we wanted to include in the workshop. I’d say we spent a good six hours on this part. We didn’t do it all in one day but spread it out to a couple of days so we’d come back refreshed and get some distance between brainstorms.
4. Break down the topics into 3-4 main divisions.
Now, this will depend on how long your workshop is, but I found that having a small number of broad categories was easiest and then breaking topics down from there. Since we decided to focus on marketing, we picked these main topics:
- Packaging of the book: which I think is the most important part since without a quality book, no other marketing strategy is going to matter
- Online marketing
- Personal marketing (which is when you’re in person at book signings and craft shows, etc)
- Marketing Don’ts
5. Decide key points you want to tackle under each main division.
This was hard because there was so much we could have added to our workshop but knew we had only 50 to 60 minutes. On the surface, that seems like a lot of time, but it really isn’t when you consider everything that is involved in marketing. We ended up doing a dry run through our speech a couple of times and narrowing down what we had time for, what we didn’t, and adding other things that seemed good to include. I want to quickly add that we had to drop the fourth category (Marketing Dont’s) due to lack of time, but we did incorporate some of those in the other three categories so they were still there.
By the way, the speech changed every single time we did it. We didn’t write it all down and read from the paper. We made notes on 3X5 cards and winged most of it. In the Speech class, the teacher made us use those cards, and it ensured we would make eye contact and use our hands while giving a speech. I hated it at the time, but now I’m glad she didn’t give us the easy way out.
We’d go through our speech, delete parts of it and add other parts, switch things around, etc. So it was a process to get it to the point where we were both happy with it. I think we spent two days doing this (so roughly eight hours), but that included messing up and starting over…and a lot of laughing at our mistakes.
6. Practice the speech over and over until it’s ingrained into your subconsciousness
It felt very awkward to give a presentation to bunch of empty chairs when we ran through our speech the first two times. After that, it got easier until we started to recite the thing from memory. We chimed in to help the other and knew when one would speak and the other would add something to support what the other was saying. If you’re giving a speech with someone, it sure does help if you are in tune with the other person and comfortable enough to laugh at each other’s mistakes.
We gave a full practice speech on October 31, twice on November 5, and once on November 8 (the day before the workshop was going to happen). And you wouldn’t think the span between November 5 and the 8th would be a big deal, but when we ran through it on November 8, we stumbled through a good 15 minutes in the beginning. While it was funny, it was also scary because we didn’t feel prepared to go in front of a group of people. So the next morning, we skipped some workshops to practice in places where we could be alone. We actually practiced the first 15 minutes about four times. Once we were comfortable with that, we did the whole thing, and that was twice. I learned that if you can get started in the speech, you can get through the rest of it with little effort. (Just like when you sit down to write and it takes a few minutes to get warmed up.) We did run through the entire speech right before our workshop which was at 3pm on November 9.
7. Give the speech.
It really helped to go through all the practice sessions. Something to keep in mind when giving a speech is that there will be times when someone will ask a question or might need something explained further. I think practicing a speech over and over helps you to know where you left off when you are interrupted. And there were a couple of times when Janet and I messed up, but since we laughed it off, the people listening to us also laughed. The laughter really helped to loosen me up, as did the questions a couple of people asked. I found it was easier to wing it when the questions started because it became more of an interaction instead of something where we stated out everything we had rehearsed.
There were a couple of interruptions as people left to talk to agents and publishers when their appointment times came or when someone came to the workshop after having talked to an agent or publisher. But having rehearsed our speech as often as we did, we were able to pause, welcome people in and continue on.
8. Figure out what worked and what didn’t.
We’d like to give another speech in the future as a team, so we’re already working through the what did we like about what we did, what didn’t we like, etc. And we’re also brainstorming new workshop ideas. I think evaluating yourself (no matter what you do) can help you do a better job next time.
As a side note, we both learned that just because you give a workshop at writer’s workshop, it doesn’t mean you’ll sell any paperbacks. You will probably have better success if you speak to an audience who is interested in your actual book’s topic. For example, if you wrote a book about dog care and are talking to dog owners, you’d have a better chance of selling your book than if you’re talking a wider audience. Don’t get me wrong. I loved doing this. I feel led to talk about marketing books and the realities of being an author with other authors, but if you’re looking to sell your books, I’d say your audience’s tastes will impact sales.