Sunday, January 24, 2010

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

The Roanoke Regional Writer's Conference, held Saturday at Hollins University, offered a choice of 26 different 45 minute seminars. Of course, many were held at the same time, so you had to pick.

This was the third such event in as many years, and I have attended all of them. I go for networking purposes, to see who I can see and, frankly, to be seen. To remind folks I still exist, if nothing else.

I think a beginning writer, someone who hasn't published much or who hasn't read at least 100 books on writing, as I have, would find this event quite valuable. I think it is certainly worth the $50 it cost to attend.

However, I learned new information in only one of the seven seminars I attended. (I could have attended eight, but chose to sit out one hour in order to spend time getting to know a new friend. Relationships are always worth it to me and I felt like that was as beneficial as anything offered, and definitely worth my time.)

My favorite parts had nothing to do with the classes I attended, which are summarized below. Instead, it had to do with spending time with people, old friends and new. I enjoyed seeing my former professor, Jeanne Larsen, in particular, because she has always supported me and believed in me and I greatly admire her work.

I was also pleased to see Bonnie Cranmer, a fellow former Hollins Horizon student whom I have known for years, Becky Mushko, Mildred Sandridge and Beth Rossi, who are fellow members of the Roanoke Pen Women, and Michelle Shimchock, who was my student in my October class on freelancing. Others I knew I saw in passing and I was glad to see them, too, even if I hardly had more than a chance to say "hello" as we dodged one another in the hall.

Social Media

Unfortunately, the social media seminar I attended was a bust - I was looking for something more. I was hoping for information about how to use social media and make it work for you but that was not forthcoming, at least not in that talk. There were other seminars on social media scheduled but after that one I dismissed the whole idea of learning anything about that topic.

My notes from the class include this: "It's lonely in Twitter when you have no friends," a line spoken by one of the conference attendee. I have a twitter account with few friends so I could relate, but I don't work this social media so I am
not surprised.

The remaining notes consist of, "create a sense of community and an intimacy" and a few websites. The speaker was so busily hyping the virtues of Twitter that she sped by the other stuff so quickly that these few websites were all I wrote down:,, tumbler,, I know what a few of them are but will have to look up the others. She had other websites in her presentation but damned if I could write fast enough to get them down.

Also, blog posts should only be about 300 words. As you can see, I don't pay attention to this at all in this particular blog.

Writing NonFiction (or what was this again?)

The second seminar, entitled "Opening Pandora's Box: Reliving a Painful Past to Write a Helpful Book for Others," also left me scratching my head. While the presentation was interesting, I wondered what the title actually had to do with the information presented. The speaker was the author of Stand By Her, a book for men who are affected by women who have breast cancer. He spoke mostly about his journey as he wrote the book and what he learned about how to write a nonfiction book.

These are my notes:

Get the idea.
Have a strong drive and passion/strong vision.
Create a platform for credibility.
What do you want to say?
Write a book proposal. Remember it is a business.
Write a chapter by chapter outline.
Create and analysis of the market - who will buy the book?
Write a sample chapter.
Find your voice.
"It's not a simple journey."
Write a bio.

As you can see, while this is a nice summary of the nonfiction writing process, it doesn't have much to do with going back into your past to write something that will help others. Oh well. I guess the seminar was poorly named. I think it would have been better to have called it, "How I wrote my book."

Self Publishing

Next up was a panel discussion on self-publishing. I arrived a little late and missed hearing the first two speakers. Becky Mushko, over at Peevish Pen, was one of the panel members. She has self-published a number of books. Becky is very informed
about the publishing process and I have a lot of respect for her opinion. At least one of the other speakers, a professor from W&L, appeared to disagree with every word she spoke.

Becky and a few others touted the virtues of Infinity Publishing, a print-on-demand publisher with whom she has good experiences. Other names bandied about included ex libris and authorhouse. Websites to look at include and

The cost of printing a book raised eyebrows. My friend Michelle dropped me a note during the discussion asking me, "Are they all rich?" after hearing numbers ranging from $499 to $7,000 for printing costs. I wrote back, "They believe," meaning that these folks believed enough in their work to find the money to front the book. But they might also be rich, too, I don't know.

Self publishing is, if anything, a lot of work. Not only the work of writing the piece but also marketing it. However, other folks noted elsewhere during the event that any book published is going to require extensive marketing on the part of the
author. Book publishers are demanding that the authors do more of this work. "It ain't like it used to be," which turned out to be the unofficial theme of this event, was a battle cry.

Overcoming Writers Block

The next seminar was. "When the Muses flee: How Writers Woo Inspiration Back When They Hit Writers Block." I think my subheadline above is a lot shorter! Anyway, I enjoyed the speaker, Mary Hill, who was very interesting and entertaining.

Apparently the biggest obstacle for writers is fear of stinking. To overcome this, "Accept that you stink," and move on. Next problem? No good ideas. Overcome this by letting the come. She offered many nice suggestions for this, including,, and, along with living your life, walking in nature, reading, and creating a memory map.

She mentioned the memory map but didn't go into detail as to what that actually was. Does anyone know? I think I know but would be interested in hearing others' thoughts on this.

Anyway, she also suggested "trying the ridiculous", googling the words "writing prompt" and similar things. She also said to get a notebook and write stuff down because otherwise you forget. I have notebooks strewn everywhere with stuff I can hardly read in them; I suppose it is time to start another one.

She also mentioned loneliness as a reason for not writing, and I found that interesting because I don't recall hearing it before. She suggested a writing buddy or a writing group, even a writing coach,to help with this problem.

I also have the word "biorhythm" written in my notes; as in, write when you are at your best.

The Law

Freelance Writing and the Law was an excellent seminar. Dave Cohan, a lawyer with Gentry Locke (where I once worked, by the way, in another life), gave a great presentation on copyright and the legalities of writing.

I always need to hear someone tell me that I could lose the farm and get kicked in my donkey butt if I libel someone, so this was a good reminder. He also gave a very thick handout with his PowerPoint presentation on it, for which I was grateful. I really like handouts.

The most important things a writer needs to remember about copyright: the stuff you write is yours until you sell it or give it away. Read your contracts. Have a contract. I can't tell you how much stuff I have written without any kind of contract (most everything, actually). Take steps to protect yourself.

Beyond Blogging

This was, hands down, the best seminar of the day for me. Maryke Barber, a librarian at Hollins, offer up "Free and Fabulous Online Tools." She actually demonstrated these things, and I and everyone else in the class sat with our jaws open. She also gave a hand-out, yay!

She offered an excellent presentation on RSS and readers, such as Google Reader, and listed several options for readers if you aren't a Google fan. For the first time, I realized how useful this thing could be if you learn to use it.

She talked about, which any Virginia library user can access. I was the only person in the class who knew it existed (I use it a lot). It is a database of journals, many with full-text articles. Very good for research. Since I am on my county library board, she received many bonus brownie points from me for this mention.

Next she talked about "social bookmarking," which allows you to access and share favored websites. This is,,, and others. I have heard of these before but didn't realize what they did. Again, marvelously useful stuff.

What really wowed me was "bibliographic management software." I sat with mouth agape, thinking of all the papers I'd had to footnote when I was in college, as she demonstrated how this add-on for Firefox would save your links and then create footnotes in your MS Word documents. What a time saver. Not only that, for the first time I understood the allure of Firefox. I have Firefox and use it for a few things but it dawned on me the add-ons, which Internet Explorer doesn't allow, are what makes that a superior browser. Lesson learned.

I thought she could not top herself but then she went on to introduce us to "wikis." She showed us how to create a website using Wiki software. Once again, my mouth hung open. Actually, I think I might have drooled during this part.

The websites to check out include,,, and I haven't had a chance to look into any of this yet but you can bet I will.

Don't Bother Freelancing

The last event was a panel discussion. I was dismayed by the message, which seemed to be, "Don't bother freelancing if you want to do it as a career, it can't be done anymore." There was lots of talk about the lack of pay, the loss of jobs, the way the media has changed, the loss of print media. The message I came away with was "Be Entrepreneurial," as that is the only way to have any modicum of success, and "The old way is dead." I was left with the strong impression that I should find another career if I want to eat. I would be interested if others took that panel session the same way or if I was the only one who heard it like that.

After about an hour of that, I had heard all I could stomach, and I left. By then it was 5:30 p.m. and I was tired, anyway.

And that was the writer's conference, as I experienced it. And yes, I would go back again, even if this sounds a little negative. The good outweighed the bad.


  1. Thank you for having blogposts over 300 words—that is, posts with actual substance. When I read someone's blog, I'm looking for interesting content, and you often have it. (Maybe the 300-word limit only pertains to business blogs? I wish that presenter had shown us her blog.)

    Like you, I also got the most from Maryke Barber's session. It was the most helpful session of the day.

    As for self-publishing (or vanity-publishing), you don't have to be rich, but you do have to have a bit of money to gamble in case your book doesn't sell. And self-publishing/vanity only works for niche markets. I won't go that route anymore. I'm writing much more commercial stuff now.

  2. Thanks for giving me the cliff sounds like you went to all the seminars I would have gone, had I gone. To be perfectly honest, I had no desire after attending the one two years ago. Of course if I was still freelancing it would have made more sense, although it sounds like it was the same message I heard last time...don't freelance, no money, yada yada yada. Sounds like the blog seminar gave you some great info and naturally the best part of the whole thing sounds like meeting and networking with fellow writers, etc. I think I would have gone if there was even one session that had something to do with book publishing, (other than self-publishing), or agents, but I didn't see anything like that. Sounds like you enjoyed I spent that $50 on a sofa bed and table from the Patrick Henry hotel sale! Oh yeah, 300 words in a blog post???? Pfffft, I can barely fit 300 words in a comment!

  3. This was excellent. Thank you for passing it along here. I would go next year if the Beyond Blogging women comes back. I didn't understand much of it but would like to.

    The only way I am making freelancing work is to make up for the low pay per feature story by selling photos and shorter stories that come easy, like the one I'm posting this weekend about a new restaurant in town. I just happened to be eating there and the rest is inevitable. I didn't think I was there to cover it but all my friends seemed to know I would.

  4. I had wished to attend the Writer's Conference this year but couldn't. Thanks for the cliff notes.

    PS I agree with Becky about your blog post length!

  5. Hi, and thanks for the positive feedback about my presentation "Freelance Writing and the Law" - I enjoyed it. I would add one item to your comment that "the stuff you write is yours until you sell it or give it away." If you are writing for your employer, as opposed to freelance, the stuff you write during the scope of your employment automatically belongs to your employer, even if there's no written employment agreement. In all other cases, the stuff you write is yours, even if someone else has paid you for your work, unless you have signed a written agreement that the work is to be a "work made for hire" and you assign/sell your copyright rights to another person or company.
    - Dave

  6. a bit late here but... yes, did enjoy seeing you as well and want you to know if you ever want to talk social media, I'm here for you! Blogging is an art and you, my dear, are an artist of talent... keep doing what you do, you do it so well! Look forward to seeing you again soon ;~D


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