This year, at Colorado Gold, I had the opportunity to attend both the PAL and the IPAL meetings. I also talked to a lot of attendees. I heard some terrific positive feedback about the conference and I heard a few complaints. For the most part, these complaints echoed sentiments I’ve heard before. As authors, we often express the same gripe every year and wonder why we aren’t being heard. Yet, having now served as RMFW conference chair and RMFW president, I feel it important to consider our responsibilities as published authors and our roles in addressing the very things we complain about most. If we fail to do this, we are not contributing to solutions and we have no right to complain.
I agree that many workshops at conference are targeted to beginning or intermediate writers. I’ve done my fair share of complaining on that matter in the past. And, there are always workshops that appear geared toward advanced or professional level attendees but which, in the end, aren’t—something that frustrates all of us. I’ve also expressed concerns about certain presenters being selected each year.
There are topics published authors would like to see: marketing, distribution channels, getting reviews, networking in ways that translate into sales. Not all workshops that purport to be about these topics actually offer any useful information. Like my fellow authors, I want concrete methods not general information on the need to do this or that and am sick to death of not enough detail.
But, here’s the thing…if all we do is complain and never step up and take responsibility, two things happen. Some of the things will not change and we will fail to notice those that do. To avoid this, we need to practice responsible attendance and responsible leadership.
Responsible Attendance (the things to remember for next year):
1. It is my responsibility to carefully read the conference program and make selections. This means looking at session descriptions, not just the one-page schedule. The program booklet has descriptions and labeling to help me select workshops. If I choose to avoid this information, I cannot complain that there were no workshops on…. Or that there were no workshops for…. Since 2009, all conference programs have labeled workshop sessions according to subject (e.g. craft or marketing) and level. I cannot complain something wasn’t offered if it was my own lack of effort that kept me from noticing it.
2. It is my responsibility to look for look for new knowledge and glean new techniques even if the information seems to be “old.” We can always learn more. If I choose not to attend sessions, I must accept that I may have missed out on valuable information that was, indeed, offered.
3. It is my responsibility to understand that some presenters simply fail to deliver upon their promises. No matter how hard conference chairs try to select something for everyone, some presenters don’t follow the proposals they submitted. In these cases, it’s important to convey that to the conference committee so they have that information.
4. It is my responsibility to realize there are many more beginning and intermediate writers than advanced writers in attendance. This means that the majority of workshops will be designed to appeal to them. I cannot ignore the numbers nor can I disparage the workshops that provided me with the skills I needed when I was a beginner.
5. It is my responsibility to look for sessions with deeper layers or those that focus on career development, marketing, and the writing life. I am the one who needs to identify which I want to attend.
Responsible Leadership (the things to do now):
6. It is my responsibility to look for ways to address unfulfilled needs rather than simply complaining about them. If I don’t see what I’m looking for, I need to step forward and help see that those needs are met in future years.
7. It is my responsibility to submit conference proposals (if I am comfortable presenting). Because the only way the workshop selection committee can assure they are offering quality workshops with presenters that follow through is via proposal evaluation, I must provide them with enough detail to make those evaluations and comparisons in any proposal I submit. I must understand they need this information and if I feel my workshop would be unique, I must convey that in the proposal.
8. It is my responsibility to understand attendees provide feedback to the conference committee. Attendees request certain presenters return and complain about others. If I have not attended a presenter’s workshop, I have no right to complain if he or she is asked back—good presenters should be asked back.
9. It is my responsibility to ask about any feedback on my own performance as a presenter and to work to address any complaints received.
10. It is my responsibility to take ownership in the professional level workshops allocated to published authors’ needs and designed outside of the regular proposal process. This means volunteering to plan them and attending them. By making that investment, I am helping assure that they continue. If I fail to help plan them or to attend them, I sacrifice any right to complain if they are discontinued for lack of interest.
The time to take these responsibilities seriously is now. In the coming months, there will be several opportunities to be responsible leaders. PAL and IPAL will be asking for volunteers to serve on the Professional Track committee. Those volunteers will shape workshops to meet the needs of published authors and PAL/IPAL participation (in planning and attending) is essential if this program is to continue in future years. With the new year, the call for regular workshop proposals will go out—fresh new ideas presented in detailed formats are important in shaping the next Colorado Gold conference.
Are you ready to step forward?