Today, I'd like to share an article which appeared in Apollo's Lyre in 2007. The statements made by participants in the Muse Conference are as valid today as they were in 2007.
One of the most overlooked and neglected ways to hone your craft is to network with other writers. Getting together with other writers at a writers’ conference allows you to brainstorm new marketing and story ideas. It also is an opportunity to talk to editors, publishers, and agents.
For many of us, however, there are obstacles. Conferences may be located too far from home with registration, travel and lodging expenses. Lack of time is also a factor. We have “day” jobs and family obligations making it difficult to be away. Some of us may have physical limitations which complicate attendance.
Welcome to the innovative world of the on-line writers’ conference. The MuseItUp Conference occurs twenty-four hours a day, in the privacy of each participant’s own home. This conference was the
brain-child of author/editor, Lea Schizas.
The idea for the conference came to Lea a few years ago. She asked MuseItUp Club members how many had attended a “real” conference. “Their answers fueled that need...to set up an on-line writers conference... too expensive to attend, too far away..., have some sort of a disability...”
Lea immediately prepared the conference site and contacted her friend, Carolyn Howard-Johnson. Together they promoted the conference and enlisted the aid of presenters. Those chosen “had to send a proposal on what their workshop would be, what and if any lesson handouts were to be given out....We wanted to offer published and non-published presenters equal opportunity to join our panel...the important part for us was to base their expertise on their workshop.”
Lea made up flyers and pamphlets which were given to the presenters to pass out at writing events approximately six months before the event. Both Lea and Carolyn posted notices in several groups and their own newsletters. Most of the presenters had a link with a write up in their own newsletters and sites. After six months of almost non-stop work, the Conference was ready to open its doors.
Arranged in two parts, the first was the Interactive Chat Lounge scheduled for various times during the week-long conference, where participants could chat live with the presenters, asking questions and receiving immediate responses. The second part was a twenty-four hour a day Virtual Conference Hall. The Hall was set up so participants could ask questions and a thread of informational responses would follow.
The list of presenters was impressive considering that all of them volunteered their time. Included were publishers, editors, fiction and non-fiction authors, poets, and marketing experts. Some hold sessions on more than one day on different topics as well as participating in the Virtual Hall where other experts answered questions.
Over one thousand people from Canada, the United States, Greenland, New Zealand, Africa, United Kingdom, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Taiwan and Mexico have registered for the conference.
Included for free were Conference entrance, workshops and handouts, random daily door prizes, excerpts of presenters’ workshops, and other donated articles. The conference continues for participants with an ongoing private Conference Board plus workshops and chats scheduled all year.
Hope Clark has presented information on grants and generating writing income. While Hope made herself available both in the Lounge and the Hall, she preferred the Chat. She received appropriate questions and “can’t remember a question that drew me off topic or seemed too specialized to be useful to all.”
Patricia Harrington introduced techniques of mystery writing in her Chat. Pat felt “it was an opportunity to share a passion...and to network. Networking, improving skills, meeting folks and doing promotion/publicity are part of being a successful, published author.”
Karina Fabian participated as a panelist in a chat about faith in fiction and as an attendee. She also initiated an impromptu chat on world-building when she saw people asking questions on this subject. Karina now holds a week long forum on world building. Karina said “While I found many of the writing workshops pretty basic in their advice given my own reading and experience, I was a novice at marketing and learned so much. I got a lot of practical tips, had a few of my works critiqued, and garnered a lot of ideas...”
People who attended the conference responded positively about their experiences. Agata Antonow had “always wanted to go to a conference, but taking the time off work always seemed a bother and traveling to the US...can be a hassle. The on-line conference took care of the long-distance travel issue...”
Sharon Schafer had never attended a writing conference and wanted to learn what it was all about. Sharon says “As a writer, you never stop learning, and I knew a conference would be a great learning experience.” She found each presenter helpful, and once she figured out the system, she found the instructions easy and navigated each of the conference areas.
Peggy Fieland visited the Virtual Conference Hall. She sent poems to one of the presenters for evaluation and asked questions about publication. She networked with other participants and joined a writer’s group. Next time, she plans to attend some of the chats and found she was “interested in far more than I thought I would.”
Barbara Ehrentreu usually “attends at least one writing conference during the year, but this year being unemployed, I knew I probably wouldn’t have the money to attend. So I decided to go to this one since it was Free!!” Barbara was able to attend almost all of the chats, and in the Hall, asked questions of people she didn’t meet in the chat lounge. While Barbara liked both formats, she “ preferred the virtual conference because you could go there at any time and the presenters were very good.”
Kathryn Anzak attended a number of chats, but didn’t realize at first that she could sign up for more than one chat at a time. Once she found she could sign into several chat rooms at one time she had “up to four presentations going at once. One chat tends to move slowly, two is a little more lively, but three...is the best...The chats that included handouts for discussion were very helpful and good for reference later.”
According to Lea participants were “wowed because they not only had the privilege of asking questions to our Presenters all week and via our real time chat workshops, but they got to keep...amazing writing reference ebooks to refer back to over and over again.”
For some, this was a first time writer’s conference while others had attended “live” conferences before. Pat Harrington has done both and she “thought the virtual conference was outstanding. The price was certainly right; and I think that it was possible to learn as much and have as much fun meeting new people as the in-person conferences.” Hope Clark has also done both. “For the number of people involved, this one ran very well...The rules established up front made this conference experience pleasant and seamless.” Barbara Ehrentreu feels “one thing both (types of) conferences had in common was exposure to authors, editors and publishers. At live conferences you could speak in person to these people, but you didn’t have their full attention. Here there were no distractions, and you could ask follow up questions if you needed to do that.”
For Kathrn Anzak, who has never attended a live conference, “the on-line conference allowed me to rub elbows with fellow writers without having to fight with anxiety or even have to dress. Often I attended the chats in ‘jammies’ and slippers, with cat on lap and coffee in hand.” Neophyte, Agata Antonow is now determined to attend a live conference. “Having attended the virtual conference, I think I have gained some confidence about conferences and have seen that it really can be a friendly atmosphere.” Virginia Grenier found herself “inspired. I have others opinions on how to market my stories. I have different points of view on character sketches, how to build settings, etc. I believe all writers grow just from talking to one another.”
Lea, herself, “couldn’t attend a ‘real’ conference because of lack of funding and too far to travel, so this was an experience...along with the rest of them who registered and attended. The networking and mingling...made me proud to be a writer. Everyone was very helpful, informative, but more than that, they displayed the same qualities I pride myself of possessing: honesty, integrity, and willing to help a fellow writer.”