5 Free Marketing Tools for Authors

by Shannon Bell

Authors, especially when starting out, don’t have huge marketing budgets. What money we do have, we want to hold onto. Whether you have a traditional publisher or go indie, marketing your book is still up to you. This means you need to try to use the various free marketing tools that are available to help promote your book as much as possible.

1.  Facebook Events

Facebook Events are built into the Facebook platform. The idea is to create a “Launch Day” event where you invite a large number of people. You can also invite other authors to come in and do giveaways throughout the day. Offering a gift card or another prize for the person who invites the most people gives you an opportunity to increase the number of attendees–and, therefore, increase the visibility of your book that’s going live on the specific day.

Within the Facebook event, there are many things to help you promote. Create a graphic banner to have in the event so people know all about your book and where to buy it. Contests can be run to give people a chance to win an e-book or swag. You can also ask people to share the event or a link with your book details on it with their friends, which gains even more exposure for you and your book.

2.  Rafflecopter

Rafflecopter LogoRafflecopter is a great website to help you with giveaways. While there is a paid option, you can use the free one–and it will connect to your Facebook author page as well. It manages a giveaway and helps you to broaden your audience at the same time. People will receive entries for the giveaway based upon visits to your author page, sending out a tweet, and other qualifications that you identify when you create the giveaway. When the contest is over, Rafflecopter even reminds you via email to pick the winner.

3.  MailChimp

MailChimp LogoNewsletters are golden opportunities to gain readers and tap into new readers. You have a captive audience when they receive your newsletter in their email inbox. Growing your newsletter is easy, and it can be done on Facebook, Twitter, and more. MailChimp is a free website and tool that will manage your list and give you templates to use to set up a newsletter as often as you wish to send one. An app is available that will even put a newsletter subscribe button inside your Facebook author page.

4.  Later Bro

Later Bro is a website that allows you to schedule tweets on Twitter in advance. You log in and then write out all of your tweets. The benefit to this is that you can schedule a large number of tweets across several time zones. Capture specific hashtags you want to focus on, such as #TeaserTuesday and the genre of your book.


IFTTT - If This Then ThatIFTTT is a web and mobile app that stands for “If this then that.” IFTTT allows you to automate a significant amount of your social media so that you’re not spending so much time in the different platforms. You can set it so that each time you post a picture on Instagram, it is also sent out via Twitter and/or posted to your Facebook page.

The app allows you to link multiple social media accounts, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, as well as a WordPress blog. It saves time and allows you to tap into audiences within the various social media platforms. This way, your book gets the exposure it needs without you having to spend a significant amount of time posting back and forth.

Combining these five, free marketing tools with a well-thought out marketing plan allows you to gain more traction with your target demographic of readers. You can get your book in front of more eyes without spending any money. More importantly, you engage with your readers rather than simply throwing your book up for sale in front of them constantly.

Learn more about author marketing strategies by joining author and blogger Shannon Bell, at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, for CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table, hosted by editor and creativity coach Gina Hogan Edwards. In the second half of the hour, you’ll have the chance to ask questions regarding marketing and social media. To get details for how to listen and learn, click HERE.

Shannon Bell has written multiple books to help authors with their marketing plans, including 97 Facebook Marketing Tips for Authors and Launching Your Book: The Ultimate Marketing Workbook. She is a bestselling vampire romance author and is the marketing chairperson for the Florida Writers Association. Her marketing books, as well as her vampire novels and other books, can be found at: www.amazon.com/author/shannonbell.

Shannon Bell, Author and BloggerLaunching Your Book97 Facebook Marketing Tips for Authors97 Twitter Marketing Tips for Authors







Organizing Your Ideas

Last week, we talked about having a container(s) for your ideas so they don’t evaporate or move on to another creative soul ready to receive them because you are not in a position to use them immediately. The logical next step is to have an organizing principle for your ideas so they don’t simply stagnate or sit neglected, hidden away inside their containers.

The organizing principle should fit logically and integrate well with the types of idea containers you use. You want a finely meshed system, not a monster that has to be wrangled every time you use it.

The concept of organizing dozens or potentially hundreds of ideas can be overwhelming. So it’s critical to think through the process, and perhaps experiment, to find a method that works for you.

If you use only one type of idea container—say, a spiral notebook—then it should be easy to assure those ideas get some attention in their due time. Create a simple reminder to yourself to periodically review those notes. I do suggest, within the notebook, that you have some system for flagging items you may want to return to and use later.

For example, I carry in my backpack a composition notebook labeled NOTES; it goes with me almost everywhere. Anything and everything that comes up, including thoughts on my novel, goes into it whenever and wherever the ideas arise. To find ideas I know I will use later, I mark the upper-outer corner of the pages: Blog Idea, Novel, Book Title, Short Story Idea, Workshop Idea, etc. Sometimes I get more specific: Novel-Scene between GD & Gwen.

Then I review my notebook regularly, sometimes two or three times a week, to pull out the ideas for any current work-in-progress. I can simply flip through the notebook, checking those labels I put at the top edge of the pages. I know what’s there without having to read every word. When I find something I am ready to use, I generally retype the handwritten notes directly into my work in progress (which has the side benefit of often sparking new ideas).

Ideas I intend to use on some later project stay in the notebook, for now. When the notebook is full, it goes on an office shelf and I start a new one, but the ideas in it are clearly identified by the flagging system I use for ease of rediscovering them in the future. Those retired notebooks get revisited when I am actively seeking new ideas.

While I leave my ideas inside the notebooks, intact until ready to use, another writer might regularly rip out the pages, group them based on their category, and then file them in color-coded folders. I used to use the file folder and drawer method, but between streamlined furniture and laptops, and my self-awareness that I’m more likely to go back through a notebook on my shelf than I am to dig into a file drawer, I dropped that method. That’s why I suggest experimentation, to see what works for you. Whether the ideas stay in the notebook or are filed in a drawer or on your computer, they should be revisited every few months.

If you use more than one idea container, tracking and categorizing your ideas need not be any more complex. You may simply need an additional layer of periodically checking each container to decide what to do with the ideas recorded there.

For ideas stored in multiple containers, consider working backward to establish your organizing system.

What do I mean by that? You’ll need to have a notion of what the final, collective organizing system might look like so you can begin. First, consider what type of structure would be most accessible to you? What type of system would you be most likely to return to routinely? What are your options for that? File folders labeled or color-coded by category, as mentioned above? Electronic folders on your computer or in the cloud? Shoeboxes under your desk? Something that might seem quirky or unconventional to others, but that you know suits you? Be creative. Seriously, any method is fine as long as it works for you.

Your next effort then is to label your folders by category . . . or name your computer folders . . . or find and label the shoeboxes—whatever tasks fit the method you are aiming toward.

Once the final organizing structure is in place, set a schedule for transferring your ideas into it. Whatever and wherever your idea containers are, go to them regularly to move the ideas into your organizing structure. That could mean you need to print out email messages you sent to yourself, or copy/paste text messages into a Word document for printing, or shuffling index cards into stacks of related ideas.

Allow time to do the associated tasks on a regular basis. If after a while, you decide these tasks take too much time, consider how you could streamline your system. That might mean reducing the number of idea containers you use or changing the type. Or it might mean defining a different organizing principle or merely simplifying the one you have.

If the initial set-up seems overwhelming, break it down into steps, or set a timer and work on it for just a ten minutes a day until you have the system that will serve you.

Here’s a side tip: your idea container and organizing system can be the same. For instance, EverNote and electronic systems like it are great repositories for everything: web page captures, your original notes, photos, etc. After the initial learning curve of the app/software, you can use this one tool as both storage and organizer. The downside to this type of system–and I’ve heard many users say this–is that they load all sorts of things into it and promptly forget them. Out of sight, out of mind, that is.

Well, there’s no use in filling the bank if you aren’t going to take some of the gold out every now and then. Like any system, you have to regularly lay eyes on what’s in it if the ideas there are ever to be used.

This sort of organizing effort might seem silly to some writers, a waste of time even. But if you do it, if you allow yourself some time to experiment and to develop a manageable, accessible, and usable system that suits you, you will never be without ideas for new projects and you’ll never lose that idea that felt like the best one yet.

Have an Idea Container

Ideas are fleeting. Why is that? How is it that we can receive or—zowie!—be hit by what we feel is a fabulous idea but then, later, cannot even remember it, as if it simply floated away?

It’s too much to consider, really. It’s a shame at how much goodness and creativity may be lost because the human did not take hold and record it.

In one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDTalks, “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” she talks about the different notions of what happens to ideas when we don’t grab them. Do they simply dissolve, cease to exist? Is that how it is? Or does the idea move on to someone else when the original, intended receiver was not prepared to give it the attention it deserved?

I prefer to embrace the explanation that the idea continues to exist and seeks out another willing home, another channel. So if I’m not open and prepared to receive a fabulous idea, then that home—that channel—will not be me.

Great ideas, no matter how splendid, don’t hang around if you don’t capture them. So have an idea container ready to hold them.

What is an idea container?

For some writers, an idea container is as simple as a tiny notepad in a pocket or purse. It could be a deck of index cards. I have a friend who twines elaborate doodles around her ideas, artfully written into a leather-bound journal that is always with her.


Those who are tech savvy might prefer a phone or tablet with a note-taking app, such as GoogleKeepEverNote, or Microsoft OneNote. The good folks at Cloudwards have a helpful article on the best note-taking apps where you can learn more. Another friend of mine simply sends text messages to herself with reminders of her ideas.

In a pinch, whatever is close and available may become your idea container . . . which often isn’t a safe or effective tactic. We have all heard stories of geniuses scribbling world-changing ideas on napkins in restaurants. Those napkins can be so easily tossed. The ideas might as well have not been recorded in the first place.

I find it’s good for me to have several different types of idea containers. These are typically composition books, plain-jane spiral notebooks, and notepads of various sizes. I tried index cards because I was intrigued with the concept that I could shuffle them around to piece together my thoughts about scenes for my novel in new and interesting ways. That didn’t work so well for me, but it might for you.

I keep my idea containers in numerous places—at my desk, beside my living room chair, in my car, in my backpack, in my purse—but always within easy reach.

No matter where you are, and especially when you are doing an activity that often fosters ideas (such as walking), grab those moments—however random they may seem. Try out a few assorted methods of capturing your ideas to see what works for you in different situations.

Whatever you use as your idea container, for goodness sake, use something.

Point of View – Another Look

Last September, on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table, our monthly tele-call for authors, we discussed different forms of POV, the advantages and drawbacks of these forms, and what it means to have a close POV versus a distant one. We also talked about how your choice of POV will be influenced by the genre in which you’re writing.

In this month’s conversation, we will explore POV further and look at:

  • Common POV mistakes and how to avoid them
  • The strengths of a close POV and how to achieve it
  • The craft of using multiple narrators (multiple viewpoint characters):
    • How to create authentic and distinct voices
    • How to transition without confusing the reader
    • How to keep your central protagonist from getting lost in the mix

If you missed the last show, or you’d just like a refresher, here’s a summary of what we covered then so you can be prepared to dive deeper into POV on March 15, 2017.

Common Forms of POV – Their Strengths and Drawbacks

First Person

The narrator is someone in the story, telling the story from his or her perspective. There is a close emotional connection between the reader and the narrator (who is usually the protagonist), but you are limited to showing only what this character can experience. Also, the narrator’s voice is limited by the character’s age, personality, intellect, etc.

Third Person, Limited

The narrator is someone outside the story, and who doesn’t participate in the story, but rather uses the perspective of a single “viewpoint character.” This form allows you to have a fairly close connection to the viewpoint character without having to match the narration so closely to the viewpoint character’s voice. You still can only show what this viewpoint character knows/experiences in a given scene, but you can create additional narrators using other viewpoint characters to give the reader access to more scenes and information.

Third Person, Omniscient

The narrator is outside of the story but may dip inside the head of any character. This means any scene can be shown, any backstory can be given, and any characters’ thoughts can be revealed. The downside is that the reader will automatically be distanced from the protagonist (and any other viewpoint characters) and it can be jarring or confusing to the reader as to whose perspective is being shown in the moment. Most important, there usually isn’t a strong bond with or loyalty to the characters.

Third Person, Objective (or cinematic)

Like watching a scene through a camera, the reader can only see and hear the characters, but cannot hear anyone’s thoughts or have direct access to their feelings. This can be useful when wanting to write a book that lacks a feeling of bias (e.g., narrative nonfiction). Readers, however, will have a hard time bonding with characters whose thoughts they can’t hear, and likely will not be as emotionally connected to the story.

Depth of POV

Depth of POV refers to how close the reader is to the viewpoint character telling the story. This will generally be closer for a first-person narrator or a single third-person limited narrator. To attain a greater emotional engagement with the reader, you generally want a closer (or deeper) POV. However, this close POV also brings its own set of challenges.

To learn more about these challenges and how to overcome them, as well as how to work with multiple narrators, join Editor and Creativity Coach Gina Edwards and our guest, Developmental Editor Heather Whitaker at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, for CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table. In the second half of the show, you’ll have the chance to ask questions regarding your use of multiple narrators, concerns about potential POV slips, and what depth of POV would be best for your story.

To get the details for how to listen and learn, click HERE.

Heather Whitaker is a developmental editor and writing coach specializing in novels and memoirs, including children’s literature, adult literary, and adult genre fiction. Heather’s approach to editing improves the manuscript and increases its chances of success, but also helps the author become a better writer. In addition to manuscript editing, Heather leads ongoing writers groups and teaches writing classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida.

Connect with Heather at:

Website: www.heatherwhitaker.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/heathersmuse
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Heather-Whitaker-Editor-and-Writing-Coach-314170898675804/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-whitaker-15099282


Refill Your Creative Well

Last week, I wrote about post-publication depression, then received feedback from several authors who have indeed faced something that feels like depression after they finished writing their books or published them. This week, I offer an alternative view, a reframing of what this experience, these feelings, may be.

What if the sensations that some authors experience after publication (or after any major milestone in a passion project)—low energy, trouble concentrating, decreased self-esteem, increased anxieties—what if these indications that highly resemble depression are actually something entirely different? Can you consider for a moment that they are completely normal? And, indeed, should be expected at this stage of the creative process? Best of all, what if there are simple things that can be done about them?

We invest time—weeks, months, years—in our passion projects. Often we invest our money too. Most surely, we invest our emotions. When we create, when we write, we are, in effect, giving birth, playing creator. God-like, we build worlds, develop people we call characters, share intimate and detailed stories of our lives, attempt to parse out some meaning from it all. What we create and write is a piece of us and when it is done, something within us can seem missing. After the act of creating, we can feel as though something vital has been lopped off or that everything we had in us has now been poured out of us and into that project. Our well of creativity is drained dry.

During massive periods of productivity, we empty our souls. So the feelings characterized as “depression” in last week’s blog article could simply be our creative well needing to be refilled. The tiredness, lack of focus, increased self-doubt, and other emotions and thoughts that result after intense creative periods often can be alleviated by a simple refilling of the well.

How do we refill our creative wells?

While the exact prescription is different for every artist and writer, the remedy can be found in what inspires us. Those feelings that resemble depression are an invitation to reignite our souls. Consider them as no-holds-barred permission to do what inspires you and brings you joy. Go to a movie, see a ballet, read the novel that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months while you were writing yours, fingerpaint with your grandkids, go sailing with your spouse, decorate your den, put on your rollerskates, go for a hike in the woods or take a leisurely stroll down the beach—find something, anything, that gives you joy and do it. Because . . .

When we re-engage with the things that light our creative fire, there is little room for the rest.

What do you do to refill your creative well? Please share in the comments below.

Please recognize that I am in no way a medical or mental health expert, and this information is not intended to diagnose or to recommend any type of treatment. If you believe you suffer from depression, please seek assistance from a qualified professional.

Is Post-Publication “Depression” a Given for First-Time Authors?

Culling my files recently for idea-notes, I came across an unpublished article that I wrote nearly three years ago. In our last blog post (My Book, My Daughter), artist and author Licia Berry shared her story of nearly abandoning her book after publication, so I was curious about how the experiences of the authors in this article might parallel with or contrast to her story.

When an author finishes the writing and/or publication of a book, the natural, ensuing question is, what’s next? Typing THE END is not the last step, nor is passing the manuscript to your editor, or clicking the “upload” button on CreateSpace.

There are many answers to the question of “What’s next?” which often lead to more questions and options. Does the author move on to the next manuscript? take a total writing break? temporarily delay new writing to focus on marketing this book?

But maybe we attempt to heed our responses prematurely. Perhaps a pause is necessary, not to attend to a lengthy list of non-writing to-do’s, but for tending to the emotions that are bound to present themselves when championing any effort that requires us to be open and vulnerable—any creative endeavor.

The discussions I had with two authors three years ago, which lead me to writing the article below, caused me to contemplate this question: Is it a given that first-time authors will go into something resembling depression after they publish their first book?

On consecutive days this week, I had separate conversations with two authors who recently self-published their first novels. One author spoke about her low expectations for success—not because her book is bad, but because she realizes she doesn’t yet have a following. She is realistic about being an unknown author putting her manuscript out into a sea of other works that are seeking readers. She is just beginning to build her “platform” from which she can eventually build a community of followers who will anticipate her next book.

She is rightly proud of her book. One that began years ago when publishing was a very different industry. She went the route of seeking agents, waiting interminably for responses. After years, yes, literally, years of waiting, she eventually embraced self-publishing. She prepared herself and her manuscript and got it done. Yet she has given herself no time for celebration. She is moving on, lining up her marketing efforts for book one, moving from outline to manuscript on book two.

So her view is long-term and she has a marketing plan. Her second book in the series is underway. Still, as we finished our lunch, I sensed a fragility not normally evident in her. She seemed distracted, maybe even a little unsettled.

The second author just published the first book in her series, too, one that took her less than a year to write, and she is already well into writing the third one. She tells me she promised herself before publication that her expectations for sales of the first novel would not be inflated, unreasonable. She would not allow herself high hopes. Although she has had a successful blog, she too is an unknown novelist among many. She felt she needed to be realistic with herself.

“But when it was done,” she said, “I realized that I must have had expectations. It’s like postpartum depression. I guess I thought somehow that my life would change after my book came out.”

This younger author also had sought out an agent. She succeeded, but eventually ended the relationship after a year without a publication contract. She had not experienced the endless waiting to hear from the agent(s) that the first author had, so, at first, she toyed with the idea of trying the traditional route again. In the end, she did not, but it still took her a while to shift to the idea of self-publishing.

Both of these authors are following the sage advice of experienced writers who say that when you finish one project, you should already have another project underway. So one is focusing on marketing; the other, now that she is finally a published author, is seeking “the next big thing” in her life.

Circumstances that led them to lives of writing, their writing processes, and their eventual paths to publication have been quite different. But in these conversations with them, I saw a similarity in their after-publication demeanor that I can only attribute to a sort of “letdown.” I don’t have the right or the credentials to label these authors as “depressed,” but certainly each has been changed deep to her core, even if just temporarily, by the experience of publishing the first book.

What has been your experience and emotion after publication? Is there a letdown or a relief? Would you label it depression, elation, or something else? How did you manage it? Did it happen again after your second book?

I’d love to hear from you—both first-time and veteran authors.

My Book, My Daughter

It isn’t unusual for artists and writers—even experienced and successful ones—to pour heart and soul into a precious creative project, seeing it nearly to completion, only to abandon it. Have you done that before? This week, artist, author, and speaker Licia Berry shares her personal story of recognizing the abandonment of one of her recent creative projects.

My Book, My Daughter

by Licia Berry

Would you tend to a lone or lost crying child?

I’ve asked myself this question thousands of times over the years—not because I doubted whether I would actually pick up a lost or lost crying child if I found one who needed tending…OF COURSE, I would, as would most of us with a heart!

No, the reason I have asked myself this question so many times is because I have abandoned parts of myself that were alone and crying. Parts of myself that were inner children, that needed healing, that needed to be heard. And recently, I realized that I had abandoned my 2016 bestseller I Am Her Daughter – The Healing Path to a Woman’s Power.

You see, I did all the things an author is supposed to do…I did the back-breaking work of living the material, then the laborious effort of writing it over years, editing and re-editing, publishing, and marketing it on Mother’s Day weekend to raise it to best-seller status…and then I collapsed. I walked away.

I went to France for six weeks on a solo pilgrimage, on the hunt for Black Madonnas. When I returned, I led the I Am Her Daughter Retreat in Santa Fe New Mexico, along with other travel commitments. Multiple creative projects that I’d put on the backburner came crowding forward, clamoring for my attention. I began the sorting process in an attempt to line them up so I could tend to them. Like hungry children, they all wanted to be fed NOW. Soon becoming overwhelmed, I finally turned to tended to myself, getting quiet with my inner vision and exploring my frustration.

That’s when I noticed that beyond all the noisy kids pushing into me, there was a lone little girl off to my left, maybe two and a half years old, looking around as if she was waiting for someone. She seemed anxious and a little afraid as if she just realized she’d become separated from her mommy. In a blinding moment of clarity, I realized that this little girl was my book, I Am Her Daughter, and that I had abandoned her. My initial push to complete, publish, and market the book accomplished, I had turned my back and left her to fend for herself.

Aghast, swift as a lightning bolt, the mother in me went over IMMEDIATELY and picked that child up into my arms. I comforted and placated her, wiping away tears of relief from her sweet urchin face, and apologized for having left her alone for these several months. My resolve to recommit to the book became solid as I saw her smile and felt her relax in my arms. The next thing I knew, she transformed into the book with its beautiful deep indigo cover, laying in my hands.

In the real world, my commitment is to speak, write, and shout from the rooftops about I Am Her Daughter. All of the effort I put into living, writing, and having the courage to publish my book truly deserves to be honored. Reenergized and resolute, I will indeed champion this important piece of work as I would one of my children. And like a proud mama, I can give my creative work the love and promotion that it is due.

As artists and writers develop their unique voice and learn the craft of writing, they travel a journey of highs and lows, navigating often confusing, sometimes frustrating emotions and behaviors. These highs and lows correspond with identifiable stages and cycles in the natural creative process. Once an author can pinpoint and understand which phase they are in, they can better manage the process to avoid fallow times and to make the most of periods filled with inspiration and great production.

Do you have a project, or projects, you abandoned when it/they were seemingly done or almost complete?

Licia Berry is the featured guest on this month’s CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s TableWednesday, February 15, 2017, at 7 p.m. We will continue the discussion about the cycles of the creative process and how writers can manage them.

This is a FREE call in the Author Education Series and you can receive reminders and the call-in details by signing up HERE. 

Author, Artist, Speaker, Women’s Advocate, and Ancestral Healer Licia (pronounced LEE-SHA) Berry is known the world over as The Guide to the Frontier Inside. She has a passionate belief in women’s innate resilience and unique ability to lead humanity into a better world.   Licia’s ongoing quest to nurture women’s inner trust and empowerment has led her to teach and mentor women to claim and walk in true strength on their unique life path since 2001.

Writing on such juicy themes of women’s issues, resilience, ancestral intelligence, consciousness, creative approaches to whole-brain development, leading a spirit-led life, and the Mother Wound, her words have impacted seekers around the globe since she was first published in 1998.

Her 2016 bestselling book I Am Her Daughter: The Healing Path to a Woman’s Power examines the personal, cultural and global Mother Wound for the purposes of healing and evolution.  With deep devotion to the calling to our Tribe, Licia’s work provides a path to belonging, connection, and well-being. 

Learn more about Licia Berry:

Website: liciaberry.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/liciaberryauthor

Twitter: @Liciaberry
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5t9j6m_P9_Xj2cqMyBbr0Q

A Writing Event Right for You – Part 3 of 3

Nothing matches a writing retreat as an immersive experience to focus on your writing and on you, the writer. My participation in several retreats this month has been the inspiration for our series here on workshops (Part 1), conferences (Part 2), and writing retreats.

Retreats are more intensive than workshops or conferences. Some retreats focus primarily on the writing while others concentrate on the writer. The best retreats affect both—skill set and mindset.

Although retreats are often small groups, don’t assume they all are. Some large events label themselves “retreats,” and a retreat can be a one-on-one experience between an author and a teacher/guide/facilitator. Retreats are generally multiple days and can be held in a private home, a retreat facility, or a conference center.

Writing retreats are sometimes themed or genre-specific.

For instance, the annual seven-day women’s retreat I attend at St. George Island, Florida, is called “Fiction Among Friends.” The workshops during the retreat are tailored toward the skills needed by fiction authors, and participants usually come with a novel-in-progress or one they intend to start. Participating in the workshops is optional, so if your writing is flowing, you can keep at it. Ten to fourteen women usually attend and we stay in a lovely beach house on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

A few weeks later, a second group of similar size gathers in the same house, with a similar format for the event, to work on their memoirs and personal stories. Also in the same house, I host/teach a shorter retreat (this week!) with a smaller group of five women. We are gathering for three full days to work on creative non-fiction and personal stories.

So you can see there are many variants to the group retreat format.

The Vision Quest Retreat, hosted by artist, author, and speaker Licia Berry, is an example of a one-on-one event. Retreats of this type are aimed at examining the writer’s vision for their career or for a specific project, the deeper meaning in their work, or the author’s “inner landscape” as a writer and a person. My vision quest took place in a mountain home, but the location changes based on the needs and inclinations of the author. I had an important ancestral connection to the Western North Carolina mountains, so that made it the perfect spot for me.

When I experienced my Vision Quest in June 2016, I came away with a willingness to meet myself raw, open, and honest as a person and a writer. More importantly, I came away with an eagerness to do that. Afterwards (and still, since), I have had a rush of clarity and excitement about my work as an advocate for authors and as a writer myself. Little actual writing was done at the retreat, but that wasn’t the point. All the work there was on me.

For nearly ten years, I have attended at least one writing retreat annually (plus some conferences and workshops too).

My writing and the connections I make among other writers strengthens every time I participate in a retreat. Deep engagement with like-minded authors, safety in discussion, encouragement, self-confidence, and clarity in my writing projects are aspects of retreats that keep me going back year after year. Deep engagement with our inner selves is also vital for our creativity, so self-care during the retreat time is also important (and is something I tend not to do so well in my day-to-day routine).

If you are considering attending a writer’s retreat, here are some of the questions you may want to ask before making the commitment.

  • Is the retreat one-on-one with a facilitator/teacher or is it a group event? If group, how large?
  • How many days/nights is the retreat?
  • Who is the teacher/trainer/facilitator/guide? What are their qualifications and experience to lead the event?
  • Is the retreat open to all genre writers or is it themed?
  • How are the days structured? Are there workshops, classes, or one-on-one sessions?
  • What topics will be covered or what is the primary focus of the retreat?
  • How much free time is there for writing? Is there private and/or quiet space for my writing times?
  • Do I need to be a published author to attend? Must I have a work-in-progress? Will writing prompts or exercises be provided to get me started if I don’t have a WIP?
  • Is a writing sample required when I register?
  • Are any scheduled outings part of the retreat?
  • In what type of facility will the retreat be held: a rental or private home, a retreat center, a hotel or conference center? Is the location urban or rural?
  • If lodging is included in tuition, will sleeping quarters and bathrooms be shared or private?
  • Do both men and women attend? (This is an appropriate question when close lodging is considered.)
  • What time of year and where is the retreat held? What is the weather typically like then?
  • Is a savings on tuition available for early sign-up, as a repeat retreater, or for bringing a friend?
  • Are meals eaten on your own or as a group? Are meals provided in the tuition and/or do retreaters participate in food preparation? Should I bring my own snacks or beverages?
  • Can special needs such as food allergies or physical limitations be accommodated?
  • Must I fly or can I drive to the retreat destination?
  • What is the accepted attire?
  • Should I bring my laptop? A folding table? A lap desk?
  • And the final and most important question: What do I want to take away from the retreat and is that expectation in alignment with what is being offered?

Below are some sources for identifying the right writing retreat for you. Some of the same sources for writing workshops and conferences provide details on retreats too. Although the St. George fiction and nonfiction retreats for women mentioned above are complete for 2017, I’ve provided the links for those recent events so you can see what they’re about.

If you have attended a retreat that you particularly liked, please do share!

A Writing Event Right for You – Part 2 of 3

Writing workshops, conferences, and retreats can provide authors with new perspectives and knowledge, facilitate lifelong relationships with other authors, and connect authors with professionals in the publishing world. When deciding which events to attend, be sure to consider your objectives for going (see Part 1 of 3).

Last week’s post touched on workshops, and today’s focus is conferences. The format of a conference is usually predicated by the sponsor or organizer of the event, which may be a genre-specific association, such as Romance Writers of America or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or a local, regional, or state writers’ association. Conferences may be one day or multiple days, are generally held annually, and are often an assemblage of many different events such as writing workshops, panel discussions, vendor show, manuscript critiques, readings, and author signings.

The size and scope of the conference will vary by the resources of the sponsor-organizer and the needs of their group members and attendees. I have attended writers conferences as small as several dozen people and as large as five hundred. Some writing organizations limit participation in their conference to their members, but most do not.

As I gathered information for this post, I quickly recognized the enormity of the task of compiling any meaningful list of writers’ conferences. Instead, I offer here a list of organizations that have extensive online compilations already. Some allow you to sort by genre, state, date, and in other ways. Have fun exploring and finding the perfect writing event for you!

NewPages.com, which provides news, information, and guides for writers has a conference listing here: http://www.newpages.com/writers-resources/writing-conferences-events

The Write Life has a listing of 30 conferences for authors, bloggers, and freelancers: https://thewritelife.com/writers-conferences/

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs has a Directory of Conferences and Centers which includes festivals, retreats, residencies, and writing centers, as well as conferences, and includes national and international events: https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/directory_conferences_centers

Shaw Guides’ 2017 listing of events is here: http://writing.shawguides.com/Events

Poets & Writers has a database detailing over 200 conferences, residencies, and literary festivals: http://www.pw.org/conferences_and_residencies

Have you been to a writer’s conference? How was that experience for you? Do you have a favorite conference you have been to several times? What conference do you plan to attend in the future?

A Writing Event Right for You – Part 1 of 3

Writing workshops, conferences, and retreats can be fun, interesting, and exciting ways for authors to learn more about the craft of writing. Over time, I have attended all three types of events and I usually come away inspired and always return to my writing with new knowledge to apply.

When choosing to attend a writing event, here are a few things to consider:

  • What do you want to get from the experience? Is there a specific aspect of the craft that you want to learn more about? Is your primary goal to meet and network with other authors?
  • Who is sponsoring, teaching, or facilitating the event?
  • Do you prefer a format that allows for critique/feedback on your work-in-progress?
  • What is your budget for attending writing events?
  • Do you get the most from longer events that are immersive? Multi-day events that cover a variety of topics? Or short events focused on a single topic or aspect of writing?
  • How far are you willing to drive to attend and how long can you be away from home? Do you have a writing buddy who can share the driving or hotel expenses for distant events?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll discuss all three types of events. This week, we’ll focus on writing workshops. Writing workshops are often locally or regionally sited and typically require the least amount of driving and time away from home of these three kinds of events.

Workshops are offered in a variety of formats. Although some multi-day events describe themselves as workshops, a workshop is typically shorter than a conference or a retreat. They may be a short session—45 minutes or 1 hour—during a larger event, such as a retreat or a conference filled with several days of workshop options at one locale; they can be several hours or a half-day long and focused on one single aspect of writing; or they can be a day-long event held at a local venue, such as a conference center or college.

Some workshops are of the lecture/classroom-learning type while others are experiential. For me, the best workshops are the ones that provide a chance, while still at the event, to use what I just learned in my writing so I have a chance to ask questions of the facilitator or teacher.

With the growth in online courses of all types, the offerings of online workshops have also increased. Indeed, the terms course, class, and workshop are often used interchangeably. Like in-person workshops, online workshops are offered in various formats. Some are strictly email-based: you receive a lesson from the instructor via email and all interactions between you and the instructor, and among the participants, are done via email. On the far end of the spectrum, the facilitator might employ a variety of technology to deliver the online workshop: email, pdf forms and tip sheets, prerecorded videos sent via email or available on a private website, and live video conferencing with the instructor or the entire group of participants.

Be sure to research the workshop’s format and structure, the content or focus, and the instructor or facilitator before committing to a workshop, either in-person or online. Know what your workshop tuition includes, especially if it is long enough to span a mealtime.

Some resources for finding workshops include your local, regional, or state writer’s association and Shaw Guides online. If you live near a university or college, they may offer workshops that do not require you to enroll in their degreed programs.

Have you attended a workshop that was particularly beneficial to your future writing? If so, I’d love to hear about in the comments below or via email (Gina at AroundTheWritersTable.com; replace the “at” with @). Next week, we’ll talk about writers’ conferences.