Here’s part three of my Summer of Conferences posts.  In Part 1 I talk about Fishtrap. Part 2 was about Willamette Writers and the Hawaii Writers conferences.

View from Hawaii Writers Conference

View from Hawaii Writers Conference

After attending both public radio and writers conferences for a number of years, I find a positive experience really depends on your attitude and the preparation you do ahead of time. I’ve gone to conferences generally to network, promote my latest projects and learn something new. Here are some tips I can offer if you’re thinking about investing time and money to go to a conference:

1. Open your mind and let go of expectations. Don’t assume everyone is dying to hear about your project or book. Think about meeting people and learning about them as people, not rungs on a ladder to success. Do your best to promote yourself and your passion but set the bar low on expectations. You’ll leave yourself open to getting more out of the conference.

2. Study the schedule and presenter bios and photos BEFORE the conference.  A good many interractions happen in the hallways, events and after a workshop or session. Be very choosy about which session you’ll attend. Try to learn as much as you can while you’re at the conference.

3. Be prepared to meet anyone, not just people you THINK may be helpful to your career. I don’t know how many times people have been rude or have ignored me when I meet them at lunch and then later I’ve presented at a panel and they’re friendly after they find out who I REALLY am. That’s just plain silly. Don’t be a conference snob. Be nice to everyone!  The worst case scenario: you’ll make friends!

4. Prepare a postcard or small flyer ahead of time with your project or book idea. Have the title, your name/contact info and a short book/project blurb in 25 words or less. Include a great photo to draw attention to the idea. It’s simple and something you can do and print out in color at home. You don’t need a lot of copies. Just enough to hand out when you meet people.

5. Practice your pitch at home in 25 words or less. Write up your blurb and then paraphrase it. Say it in front of the mirror or with a friend. It can’t sound memorized. Just conversational. I even added a bit of Hollywood to my pitch about my memoir: It’s “Joy Luck Club” meets “Terms of Endearment.” And an editor at a prominent publishing house loved it!

6. Have fun! People love hanging out with people who are having fun. Don’t you? Guaranteed, if you’re having a good time, people will want to meet you. That’s just human nature.

Check out the flyer for my memoir that  I took with me to the last writers conferences. And send me your tips for getting the most out of conferences!

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I’ve been going to two different conferences the last couple of years: Willamette Writers in Portland, Oregon and the Hawaii Writers Conference, formerly in Maui and now in Honolulu. Because my “track” has been non-fiction memoir writing, I’m going to speak from my personal perspective about the value of both these conferences.

Sunset on Waikiki

Sunset on Waikiki

While the Willamette Writers Conference is a  conference covers screenwriting, fiction/non-fiction, the strongest aspect of the conference seems to be the screenwriting workshops and sessions. Under the leadership of Screenwriter Cynthia Whitcomb, WW has brought in some top names in the industry. I think WW has done a better job with the caliber of agents and producers they’ve brought in from Hollywood than the Hawaii Writers Conference. However, the non-fiction track was limiting and not as helpful to professional writers who make a living from their work. I found the legal consultant session extremely helpful though. Overall the agents I talked with were a mixed bag too and given how many women are working on memoir, I would have wanted more memoir sessions. The non-fiction track isn’t as strong as I would have liked it to be this year. Yet it’s my understanding WW has a good record of authors getting their books published through the conference contacts. Certainly as a smaller conference, there is more chance for interaction between gatekeepers and writers.

View from lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Royal Hawaiian Hotel at conference

The Hawaii conference has brought in Michael Arndt (screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine), I didn’t see many film agents and producers listed. I’d recommend the WW conference for screenwriters and filmmakers over the Hawaii Conference.

Overall, the Hawaii Writers Conference (formerly the Maui Writers Conference) held the strongest non-fiction/fiction publishing track at any conference I’ve attended. The list of presenters was impressive this year. I found the sessions really fit together well. You could stay in one room for the next session that followed through with the literary track. The sessions flowed well into each other and built on each other, so that at the beginning of the day you could learn about query letters and proposals and by the end of the day you’d be well versed in publishing contracts and rights issues.

And it is Hawaii after all. Though I preferred the Maui location because there was more interactivity and (come on, it was Maui!), I found agents, editors and publishers even in the Honolulu setting were friendly and didn’t mind you approaching them. Still everyone was welcoming and positive. Even in my consults, agents and editors walked out the door with me to give me their final words of wisdom.

Maui shore

Maui shore

(Another observation: I’d say roughly two-thirds of writers conference attendees are women. And yet as echoed by my interview with Debra Gwartney, a good of writers published are men.)

Next up some advice to make the most use of your conference experience. Remember writers, these conferences including the travel are deductible, so save all your receipts!

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Thanks to Harold Phillips, an actor friend who twittered he was in a webisode, I happened upon a creative fundraising and marketing tool for an indie film project in Portland. Mike Vogel wrote and directed “The Waiting List,” a feature-length comedy currently playing at festivals, as well as the bike-themed short “Claire Rides a Bike.” He is also author of the Needle Award winning novel “Isn’t That Bigamy?” and runs Front Avenue, his production company. I asked him about his funding/marketing videos.

Tell me where you got the idea for these videos.

Mike Vogel

Mike Vogel

Everyone worked for “deferred payment” on my first feature, “The Waiting List.” So the second time around, I wanted to at least attempt to secure some sort of funding. After I wrote the script for “Did You Kiss Anyone?” I made a production schedule, budget, and a handsome PDF with headshot photos and charts and all that. But then it occurred to me that I don’t know one person who would drop $10,000 to be an equity investor in a feature, let alone ten or twenty people. But I know a handful of people who might donate $20 or $50, and so if I could target those people and the people they know, then maybe I’d have enough to cover basic production costs. But in order to get those contributors engaged, I wanted to give them something upfront, not just the promise of a movie I hadn’t shot. So, inspired by webisodes like “Wainy Days” and shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I outlined the first five episodes of “Did You Cast Anyone?” and started asking favors from actor friends.

How do these fundraising/marketing videos represent the project you want to produce?

Both the movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” and the webisodes “Did You Cast Anyone?” are comedies. But the webisodes are much broader comedy. Goofy, silly things that are better suited for the web. The actors in the webisodes will actually be in the movie playing the characters they talk about in the webisodes. The webisodes will continue into production and post-production because it’s a good way to build an audience regardless of whether or not that audience is donating money right away. Hopefully they’ll feel more involved and will want to tell friends to go see or buy the movie when it’s available.

How’s it going so far? Has it accomplished what you wanted?

We’ve received a few donations on our website DidYouCastAnyone.com but not enough to start shooting yet. There’s a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) style of filmmaking that I think is dead. If it’s not dead, it’s totally uninteresting. DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) is a lot more exciting. Ideally, the webisodes might help us find someone who wants to invest $10K or $20K in an independent film. But even if that doesn’t happen, we’re building an audience for a movie before we even make the movie. And we’re having a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

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julieradio1

Julie Sabatier (Photo: Cameron Browne)

There’s nothing more DIY than funding your own bliss and independent radio producers really know how to do practically everything themselves.

One of the talented and inventive radio producers I’ve worked with is Julie Sabatier. She produces an amazing show , Destination DIY,  about revolutionary do-it-yourself projects and really explores the topic in unusual ways. Her most recent show describes various way people represent themselves. I found the “avatar” section really fasincating especially in light of all the social networking sites now. You can hear it online as well as other fascinating shows. Sabatier has built up a following through podcasting her show as well as distributing it regionally. 

Sabatier recently wrote in response to the “Brain-picking” posts and described an inventive way she deals with numerous requests:

radio zine image“Though I still consider myself a bit of a “newbie” I have started to get some requests for mentorship. I struggled with it in a very similar way that you did, Dmae. Sometimes it turned out great and lead to opportunities for all parties, but many times emails went unanswered and good, solid advice unappreciated. This is one reason I put together a lot of my answers to frequently asked questions in zine form. I have no problem asking for a couple bucks in return for this little collection of information. And it’s great to be able to hand off something already finished to people who just want to know the basics.”

I thought this was a fabulous idea to give a primer to people as well as make $2 each time. Check out her “How to Make Radio” zine as well as her online archives of shows. We’ll be hearing a lot more from Julie Sabatier and Destination DIY in years to come!


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My previous post, The Karma of Giving, got a lot of mixed responses. Check out the comments section for some passionate thoughts on the role of the artist in supporting other artists. 

Cherie Blackfeather wrote:

“Even the idea of funding my “bliss” sort of offends me these days. It is not my “bliss”, it is my imperative. It is what I need to do and it is – what the community needs me to do (whether they are conscious of that or not).

(c) Creative Commons license

(c) Creative Commons license

The tough reality of American culture is that most creatives need to fend for themselves to make a living off their “bliss.” I wish we had a culture that provided a salary for artists, writers, performers and media producers simply because that is their talent. Ultimately it is up to us to find our way through our own drive, persistence and hard work. 

That said, I believe each of us can make a living at what we love doing. But the proper groundwork must be laid so we don’t fall into that category and stereotype of the “starving artist.”

I found this article geared toward writers, but I believe it’s pertinent for other artistic disciplines. It’s titled 10 Questions Writers Must Ask Before Quitting Their Day Job on Writersdigest.com, still the leading source for writers about writing.

The writer, Jeff Yeager, asks some tough questions and offers insight on the hard decision many people make about making a transition to their bliss.

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Adrienne Fritze is a mom, artist-entrepreneur and arts business educator driven by creative urges and community contribution. Her programs and consulting services are for artists and arts-based businesses with social implications. And she’s helping artists through her Working Artists Network.

Why did you start Working Artists Network?me_and_the_camera2

I saw a need for artists to get what all small businesses and business owners need:

1) business training—from taxes, marketing, public speaking to copywriting, social media marketing, sourcing funding, etc;

2) advocacy efforts for independently employed artists from an entrepreneurial and self employed perspective to effect change in public policies and budgeting—we’re for-profit individuals, mom-n-pops, 2-4 person LLC’s and C-corps – not nonprofits or employees of nonprofits or larger companies and corporations – and we need to be represented in the public arena where so many decisions are made that, so far, have adversely affected us;

3) someone doing what it takes to get basic necessities together for working artists—including healthcare, affordable housing, jobs that allow artists to be artists.

large_adriennefritzeIs it hard to organize artists?

Yes. And to be fair, it’s hard to organize any group of self-employeds or entrepreneurs. By nature business people and artists are creators, and to be bogged down with topics that are not of any interest to someone in that category is not as delectable as the invention of something. The trick is to understand that a business is also an art form—the materials are just a bit different. And collaboration is necessary. 

What are a couple creative strategies some artists have taken during this bad economy?

What I love about tough times is that people who are down right serious about the things they pursue become more tenacious and focused. I think it’s a combination of having less to choose from or use and the need of the creative self to thrive.

Many artists I know have realized they need to focus on single projects. So they’ve shelved the dozen projects they were pursuing before and are going hardcore on the one that will bear the most fruit the quickest. They’ve become deliberate in their considerations—a thing I think of as they being internally bold.

Then they go out in the world and find places to perform their work, to exhibit, to showcase. Many are starting to take courses through my organization. It takes courage to say you deserve to have life be the way you imagine it, rather than cave in to the notion of the starving artist.

How do we dispel the notion or stereotype of the “starving artist” in these times?

There is only one way—for the artist to quit believing in that condition. And then take right action to manifest a bountiful life filled with art, money, love, accolades and whatever else satisfies and fulfills them.

I may not have a lot of money, but I am housed, fed, clothed and my life is filled with EXTRAORDINARY companions. I am free to take action without it being funded. I will thrive!

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Some thank you cards I've received...

Some thank you cards I've received...

I received some comments from experienced creatives about how they handle requests for brain-picking. Most people will respond if someone asks politely and with respect. But young artists and even working professionals need to realize that what they’re requesting is a “favor” and that the mentor is under no obligation to help them.

Todd Melby describes a mentor’s worst case scenario:

“I volunteered to mentor a reporter through a professional journalism organization. When I contacted the reporter, she seemed distracted on the phone. When we set up a time for me to evaluate one of her stories, I prepared and called her at the appointed time. She wasn’t there and didn’t return my call or email. A month later, she wanted to start over and try again. I declined.”

Kimberly Haas lays out the number one obstacle an established working artist faces when someone out of the blue asks for help. This goes for professionals as well as those new to the field.

“I struggle with this. Yes, I want to be magnanimous and supportive of new producers, but maybe because I work in a very specific area of radio production, the requests I get all seem go something like ‘I’m into the same kind of music and want to produce a show just like Echoes.’ My internal reaction is usually, ‘So you want me to help you compete with me?'”

It’s important consider why someone in the business would want to freely hand over information it took them years to acquire. Again I stress offering your own time to volunteer, bartering a skill you have that you can offer in trade or paying for actual consultation time.

Finally, Michael Van Meter makes an important point about following through with a thank you note.

“One item to add to your list: Say “Thank You” after the brain-picking session. A formal card or other handwritten note is always groovy, but at least an e-mailed acknowledgement of the value of the time is an important bit of manners that some recent beneficiaries of my time have blown off.

An email thank you is okay but a thank you card in the mail means so much more! I proudly display mine on my office wall. If someone volunteers their time to talk to you, the very least you can do is send a thank-you card. It really helps reinforce the idea that mentors haven’t wasted their time and are appreciated. This makes the mentor more likely to help someone else in the future!