Pub Rants

Online Writing Events: What’s Working? What’s Not?

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This week, the New York Times started publishing a series of articles under the heading “Six Months In,” looking at what we know now (and are still waiting to learn) after half a year of confronting COVID-19. That got me thinking about my friends in the writing world. We’re six months in, and our favorite writing conferences and conventions have been canceled, postponed, or made virtual. Writing is a lonely endeavor anyway, and it seems it has become even lonelier.

Or has it?

All of us at NLA have participated in myriad online events in the last six months, from one-hour Q&As to multi-day virtual events complete with pitch appointments, critique roundtables, social rooms, and dozens of workshops keyed to various learning tracks. We’ve witnessed event organizers innovate in some pretty commendable ways. The occasional tech glitch and Zoom learning curve aside, it’s actually been pretty great.

But I want to hear from you—all of you writers out there who have participated in online writing events and communities in the past six months. In our new virtual world…

• Are you more involved with writing communities, less involved, or the same?

• Is pitching to an agent or editor online more stressful or less stressful than it is in person? Why?

• Are you connecting with the same folks you were connecting with in person, or have you branched out and networked with new folks?

• How has your critique group adapted in the age of COVID?

• What types of online events have attracted you to participate, and how did they catch your eye?

• What could online-event organizers do to improve writers’ experiences, or what types of things do you wish would be offered?

• Have you attended virtual author readings or book-launch events? If so, what’s worked? What hasn’t?

I want to hear from you! Leave a comment with your thoughts down below. Next month, I’ll report back on the virtual writing world through your eyes…six months in.

(Unfortunately, our newsletter redacted the email we included to receive your responses. Please use the comment section to share your thoughts with us!)

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Ralf Steinberger

3 Responses

  1. Ginny Smith said:

    I would love to hear some thoughts about online events, and how organizers can improve experiences. I’m the chair of this year’s Virtual World Fantasy Convention and we’re hoping to make this a fun and meaningful event.

  2. Hal Jay Greene said:

    I feel bad about skipping all the virtual conferences and conventions this year because I know I should support them, but I just can’t get into attending a panel discussion in my pajamas. For me, 98% of the value of these events comes from the social, i.e., the ability to rub elbows with other writers, agents, editors, etc. in an informal setting. The rest is just “interesting,” a way of passing time and maybe picking up a few pointers in-between social gatherings (the bar con at DragonCon is the best!) The few I felt were worth my time focused on connecting a small group of people in a single targeted Zoom session (I took a workshop with Jody Lynn Nye this way and it was great.) I joined a Wordsmith conference only because I wanted to attend your “Query Letter Bootcamp” (superior, btw). Otherwise I pretty much bailed on the rest of it. What gets my attention is something participatory (not passive) with a clear, high-level focus (i.e. “Query Letter Bootcamp,” not, “Writing Compelling Characters”) given by an authoritative figure and limited to a small number of attendees. The rest is just TV.

  3. Jana S. Brown said:

    So, I’ve been to a bunch of virtual conferences now both as an attendee and a presenter.

    Here’s what I’m learning. I love that the virtual aspect means that people from all over can attend conferences they couldn’t afford to travel to in the past.

    I don’t mind pre-recorded classes, but I find that it’s hard to make them as engaging as ‘live’ classes or in person classes. The standards for lighting and cameras and such means the quality is all over the board. That’s not the fault of the presenters, for the most part, but it does affect the end result.

    I have enjoyed the places where there have been live workshops and opportunities to chat in real time with other authors more than the bundle of presentations and nothing else.

    Two odder things I’m noticing at six months in. 1: I don’t know how to value these conferences. I’m seeing charges all the way from free to hundreds for what is very similar amount and quality of content. So if this were to become a standard I’m not sure where that ‘what would I pay’ lies. I’m sure I’d be willing to pay more than free for most of them, but when I can’t network the same way or get away from the house do I still pay several hundred dollars to sit in front of my own computer and provide my own snacks? I don’t think I would.

    2: I’m burning out on them. Before I could look at the list of conferences and say here are many awesome conferences, but my traveling budget means I can do x conferences away from home and y conferences close to home and that’s it. So it narrowed the field somewhat. Since April it’s pretty much been…ALL THE CONFERENCES ALL THE TIME. And I don’t have enough hours in a day to listen to all of the amazing content (some weekends are showing up with multiple conferences all happening at the same time and I, theoretically, can go to all of it, but I can’t bend physics for that because I don’t have a TARDIS or a time-turner), much less ability to hide in my office every single weekend. So if much of next year is also online – which seems more likely than not – I will be looking for the conferences where I feel like I’m getting something really unique and I’m going to space them out and have to say ‘no’ to more – even the good ones – because it’s overwhelming and starting to steal too much attention away from the writing that is the reason I go to conferences in the first place. 🙂

    Hope that’s helpful.

    ~Jana S. Brown