Last week, October 15 through October 18, 2015, I attended and presented at the annual Florida Writers Association conference. As usual it was one of the best and biggest conferences I attended all year, topping out with more than 800 people in attendance. FWA goes a few things that others conferences don’t, and I’m surprised no one else has thought to mimic this conference. The biggest difference is that speakers have the opportunity to send in their handout sheets in advance, and FWA prints and binds them into a notebook that every attendee receives. No one can attend every seminar—four or more seminars take place simultaneously—but everyone gets all the handouts. In this way attendees still obtain valuable information in the handout books, regardless of whether they attend a seminar. In addition, attendees can take notes in the handouts notebook, so all their notes are in one place.
This year the Royal Palm Literary Award banquet had two new features. In the past presenters read the loglines—the quick summary—of each winning entry before announcing the title of the winning entry, but often attendees could not quite hear or understand what was being read. This year the loglines also appeared on two huge screens, so all in attendance could read along and understand the concept of each winning entry. In addition, the awards presentations were greatly speeded up, so that despite the long list of categories and winners, the awards portion of the evening went by quickly and maintained its excitement throughout. Way to go, FWA!
With my twenty-five or more years of experience attending seminars, classes, and conferences for writers, and with my forty-plus years of experience writing and editing, it would be easy to think I know it all and having nothing more to learn. Not so. I attended new and informative seminars on subjects such as how real-life bodies and buildings react to bullets and explosions as well as how the human brain reacts to stimuli. Every seminar I attended taught me something new or inspired me to write new and better things.
I also gave four presentations. One focused on how to avoid pitfalls when hiring an editor. One challenged attendees to a short editing test, and I followed it up with a thorough explanation and discussion of all the flaws intentionally built into the test. I read some funny errors I’ve found in manuscripts and then explained ways to avoid making the same or similar mistakes. One seminar revealed information on how writers can beat the competition and increase their chances of selling their work. What an honor it is to impart helpful information to fellow writers!
One of my favorite events was a Gong Show-style pitch fest, where writers were given three minutes to pitch their novels to a panel of six agents. If any agent lost interest in the pitch or spotted a big flaw in the pitch, he or she could hit a gong. Presenters who received three gongs had to stop presenting, but regardless, all presenters got great feedback from the agents after each pitch. Best of all, at least one woman’s pitch had agents vying over who would get to see her manuscript first. How delightful!
In the end I left the conference inspired to dust off an old manuscript of a novel I started writing more than twenty years ago. I want to apply all the knowledge I’ve learned since then and see if I can improve it to the point that perhaps I might be one of the writers who gets to pitch her novel to an agent or a panel of agents at a future writers conference.
As writers we should never become so tainted, self-confident, arrogant, or defeated that we stop attending gatherings of writers. Writers are the greatest folks, not only because they have such a big interest in all things, but also because they warmly and willingly share their knowledge with others. I strongly recommend that everyone look for meetings, seminars, and conferences in their area and then attend.