By Kate McMurray
At RT in 2017, I’m going to be teaching as part of the pre-conference writing workshop, which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve been teaching at conferences for a few years now, and I really enjoy it. Presenting a panel or workshop at a conference is a great way to get in front of readers or share knowledge. I got my start at small conferences and have worked by way up to panels and workshops at the big conventions like RT and RWA.
So here’s how you put together a stellar workshop proposal.
First, the basics: Find out the deadlines! Conventions need enough time to put their programs together, and typically want proposals months ahead of time (8–10 months before the conference or about 2–3 months before registration opens). RT’s deadline is in June or July, usually, and RWA’s is coming up on November 15. Before you submit, read the proposal guidelines carefully, too. Some conferences just need a brief description and the names of the people participating, some want to see your workshop outlines and handouts in advance. Getting your proposal in by the deadline and including all of the necessary information is half the battle.
Second, pick a topic about which you are uniquely knowledgeable. Why are you the best person to teach this workshop? Think about what your particular skills are. For example, a panel on writing sports romance that includes an author who used to be a sports reporter could be really great, because that author can share her knowledge about what it’s really like to be in a locker room. Or, a historical romance panel that includes an author who writes historicals set in China could be really interesting because it’s not the usual Regency England fare. Or, what are some traits that your writing is well-known for? Are you good at deep POV? Vivid settings? Strong heroines? Pitch something you’re qualified to talk about that you think people will find interesting.
Consider the audience, too. Proposals for reader cons and writer cons should be different. Readers generally want something fun and interactive, like a party or a game. Writer cons typically look for panels on writing craft or career management. I’ve heard also that writing conferences are looking for programming that appeals to traditional and indie-published authors alike. Think about who you’d want to attend your workshop.
And, insider tip: Writing 101 proposals are a dime a dozen. One way to make yourself stand out is to pitch something for readers who maybe have published a book or two but are looking to level up their careers. I’ve heard from conference coordinators at a few different events that they’d like to see more intermediate-level craft workshops.
When coming up with a topic, it is also worthwhile to look at what workshops made the conference previously, to get a feel for the kinds of things the conference typically accepts. Don’t copy what’s gone before, but take inspiration.
Conferences are also more inclined to accept proposals that they think will draw an audience, so consider finding panelists or co-teachers who are big draws, especially at a reader con. (Don’t be afraid to ask! The worst thing that will happen is the author will say no. But the first time I submitted a proposal, I asked several big names, and they said yes! Me offering to do the work to put the proposal together probably sweetened the deal.)
And, of course, professional behavior once you’re at the conference is important. You may consider attending the big conferences as a spectator before submitting a proposal, just to get a feel for what the programming is like. Dress well, act professionally, and be friendly while you’re at the conference. If you do get a proposal accepted, put in your best effort; most conferences send out surveys post-conference to get a feel for what worked. If attendees say positive things, it increases the likelihood you’ll be asked back.
And I’d recommend starting small. If you’re new to presenting, maybe sending a proposal to RWA right out of the gate isn’t the best strategy. Present at a few smaller conferences, begin to make a name for yourself, and when you submit to the big conferences, you can point to workshop experience. And be your best self; if you knock the socks off the conference attendees, organizations will start coming to you.
And if you’re first attempt doesn’t make it, try again. Come up with a new idea or polish up your original proposal. For some conferences, the committees change every year, which can give you new opportunities.
Join us for our #RWChat on panel proposals this Sunday 4pm PDT/ 7pm EDT.
Kate McMurray is an award-winning romance author and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers and is currently the president of the New York City chapter of RWA. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.