Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Have you attended a virtual conference yet?

Cyber Conferences – A Growing Alternative to Costly “in-Person” Conferences?

by Jodie Renner, editor & author

(TKZ's beloved "den mother," Kathryn Lilley, is feeling under the weather today, so I volunteered to fill in for her. Get well soon, Kathryn!)

Live, in-person conferences -- stimulating and great for networking
Do you attend many writers' conferences and/or book festivals? Since I started editing books 7 years ago, I've been to a lot of writers' conferences (including Thrillerfest & Craftfest 4 times) and a few great book festivals (notably the Tucson Festival of Books). I've also presented workshops and participated in panels at several in the last few years.

Overall, I've found writers' conferences to be a stimulating and enriching experience, not to mention great for networking and selling books. And best of all, I've made some lasting connections that have turned into great Facebook and blog friends. And finally met up with other blog and social media friends in person!

For a detailed, comprehensive list of “real” in-person writers’ conferences in North America in 2014, click HERE.

But traveling to conferences and book festivals can be costly and time-consuming.
The down side is it can get really expensive flying across the country and continent to attend live conferences and book festivals! (I'm in Canada and an excellent one I attended was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.) Also, for a rather hyper, type-A introvert like me, all that stimulation can be exhausting! By the second or third day I end up missing great stuff to grab a nap!

So if your finances are tight or you just don’t have time to interrupt your paying job or writing schedule, cyber conferences might be the way to go. Now we just need more of them!

Advantages to attending an online conference:
Virtual conferences are a great way to get a lot of useful info and even interact with presenters without getting out of your sweats – or pyjamas! And more importantly, without spending big bucks on plane fares, conference registration, hotel costs, restaurant meals, etc. Not to mention the packing and traveling time.

Presenting a webinar - a learning curve.
Recently, Caralee Hubbard, the president of the Calgary Assoc. of Freelance Editors (CAFE) contacted me about presenting a webinar at an upcoming Cyber Symposium for Editors & Writers. The topic was a breeze – we quickly agreed on “Spark up Your Stories – Add Tension, Suspense, & Intrigue.” I’ve written lots of blog posts and a whole book (Writing a Killer Thriller) on this subject and knew I had lots of value to offer fiction writers and editors, so that was the easy part.

But I’d never presented a webinar, and with my busy schedule, have only viewed a few so far. In addition, their preferred format was PowerPoint for the main screen, with me smaller in the corner, speaking live. That sounded fine, except that I’d also never presented a PowerPoint before, so I had two new skills to learn on time for the conference on April 11. But I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, and I figured it was time I learned to do webinars and audio/video presentations anyway, as I could apply that skill to present short clips on my websites, blog, or YouTube on various topics to do with on writing compelling fiction or indie publishing.

So between editing, packing to move across the country, and doing income taxes, I've been learning
how to present a webinar and also PowerPoint, starting with getting the right equipment.

I think I've got the hang of it all now!

A few great virtual writers’ conferences I /we missed:

Indie ReCon
Too bad I didn't know about Indie ReCon’s FREE virtual conference, 2013, for indie authors. Events and presentations included costs of self-publishing, building a publishing team, and using social media. In 2014, they decided to go back to a live conference, held in February. It will be interesting to see what happens for 2015!

The 2013 Muse Online Writers Conference, Oct. 7-13, 2013
This one looked great! Missed it?  Mark your calendar in advance for the 2014 Muse Online Writers Conference on Oct. 20-26.

WANACon International, February 21-22, 2014 -  Kristen Lamb’s excellent WANAtribe conference - a recent one I'm kicking myself for missing.

Here’s the info from before the conference:

"Welcome to WANACon Feb 2014. The conference you can should attend in your PJs.

“Why spend your hard-earned money on plane tickets, overpriced food and hotels when you can have the conference experience right from the comfort of your own home? YES. WANA has made it that easy with live presentations in our state-of-the art virtual classrooms. This is as close to the conference experience as possible, only every seat is the BEST seat.

“WANACon is a truly interactive entirely-online Writer’s Conference. No Yahoo loops or text based online conferences here. You’ll be able to chat with the presenters, see most presenters via their webcam, see a slideshow or the presenter’s screen, type text questions if the pets or children are making noise, and of course, pass notes behind the moderator’s back.”

And if, like me, you missed this conference, you can still purchase recordings of the various excellent presentations. Check it out HERE.

Two notable upcoming online conferences:

Nonfiction Writers Conference, May 7-9, 2014.  This is their 4th annual cyber conference, so these people really know what they’re doing! Looks like they’ve established an excellent model for other writers’ conferences to emulate.

Their brief description: “Once again we will feature 15 speakers over three days, all conducted via teleseminar. No travel required–attend from the comfort of your couch via phone or Skype! Recordings and transcripts are available, depending on your registration option.”

And I love this feature: You can choose your registration option, depending on whether you want to save money and just listen and view live on their schedule, ($99), have both live access and downloadable recordings of all the sessions ($199), or opt for live access plus recordings and Word doc transcripts to review at your leisure ($299).

Cyber Symposium, a PD Event for Editors & Writers, April 11-12, 2014. This online event, organized by the Editors’ Association of Canada - Prairie Provinces Branch (EAC-PPB) and the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors (CAFE), is the virtual conference where I’ll be presenting my webinar called “Spark up Your Story: Adding Tension, Suspense, & Intrigue.”

Check it out here and scroll down for info on the webinars and presenters. Eight webinars are scheduled, on a variety of topics of interest to both writers and editors. As Caralee Hubbell, President of CAFE, says, “See you in cyberspace!”

Readers – do you know of any other good upcoming virtual conferences of interest to writers and/or self-publishers? Or have you had any experiences attending or presenting at cyber conferences? Please share in the comments below!

And by the way, I just found out that my editor's writing guide, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION (formerly titled Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), in addition to having won a Silver Medal from FAPA and an Honorable Mention from Writer's Digest, is now a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards and also just received a great review from IndieReader.


  1. Thanks for that Jodie :) I really should do WANACon one day! I think virtual conference is the future.

    1. Yes, and you live in England, don't you, AD? So your travel costs to any conferences in North America would be even higher! Hope to meet you in person someday at one of the conferences!

  2. Being far from pretty much everything, this is a great way for me to do stuff. Currently I am taking private acting classes for my audiobook production via Skype. I would love to be able to do some other types of conferences that way.

    1. What a great idea, Basil! I don't even use Skype, and I really must start - especially since one of my sons is now a student in Europe!

    2. My wife uses it to chat with her family in Korea as well as those in BC and the Lower 48. It is worthwhile to be sure.

      Also, our Alaska Writer's Guild does the Board of Directors meetings via multi-party video skype. It is pretty awesome.

  3. I would LOVE this!! I'll have to check them out.

  4. I've attended the Muse Online conference twice but not in the past few years. The last one I "went" to, the featured instructor whined about how busy she was on a daily basis and it was disconcerting to several of us "attendees". I wondered about her professionalism - we all have bad spells but we usually don't inflict them on our students.

    I'm glad to see that The Muse group is still in action. Overall, they run a pretty good conference and I'd recommend them. I'm going to revisit their site as well as some of the others you listed. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Editing to add that the first Muse conference I attended was in 2006 - still have my notes.

    2. I agree, Jeannie, that that definitely doesn't sound professional! Imagine if figure skaters or dancers or Olympic athletes whined about all the practice they have to do! I say if you make a commitment, just suck it up and perform! :-) Offer value to the attendees - that's what they're there for!

      Thanks for sharing. I'm sure the Muse online conference is generally excellent!

  5. I think online conferences that I've looked into are way too expensive for what is involved on the part of the sponsors, but then I'm a techie type and I know how much they are saving on the whole hospitality stuff like name tags, facility fees, printed materials, catering, etc. Sure, it's savings, but who is saving dollars, the sponsors or the registrants?

    If I'm paying $100.00 - $150.00 for a conference, I'm also aware of the savings for the online conference, so it sort of feels like the registrant is getting ripped off. Not to be pessimistic, but the cost savings should be a combined incentive for both sponsor and registrant.

    1. You make some good points, Diane. But from a participant's point of view, it's still cheaper and more convenient to log in and participate from home. A lot of in-person writers' conferences are in the $200-$500 range for registration. Plus the added costs of travel, hotels, restaurants, etc.

    2. Sure. I've taken several writing classes at Gotham Writer's Workshop and the 10 week courses are around $350-$395, something like that. Their online system is pretty complex and the tools for commenting/critiquing by the instructors are impressive. It's when the tools are clearly of value that I feel like I got my money's worth.

      Hotels and travel costs are definitely what keep me in town (Tallahassee) for the TWA conference and the reason for missing the Florida Writers Conference last fall. It just costs too much anymore.

  6. I've taken advantage of a couple of free Writers Digest webinars. Loved them! I hung out drinking coffee at my writing desk while listening to knowledgeable speakers.
    I suspect we will be seeing a great deal more of this type of educational opportunity. Thumbs up!

    1. Tom, I didn't know Writer's Digest offered some free webinars in addition to their paid subscriptions. Thanks for the heads-up! I must check that out. :-)

  7. Thank you for posting this Jodie. I'm a frustrated writing student because I live in a rural area with no local writing classes. Attending virtual conferences may be the answer.

    1. DeDe, I hope for your sake as well as others in rural areas or with limited funds for traveling and hotel costs, that virtual conferences really catch on and start spreading like wildfire!