What Makes a Winning Conference Proposal?

Conference Prep Chalkboard

During preparations for Colorado Gold last year, I had the opportunity to sit on the committee that selected which workshop and discussion panel proposals would be chosen for conference.

This was my first time taking part in the selection process, and I came away with several tidbits that I thought would be useful for would-be presenters who are thinking about submitting a proposal for future conferences.

First off, a tiny bit of conference workshop trivia from 2015:

  • We had nearly 200 proposals submitted for workshops and panels.
  • 79 workshops and panels were ultimately scheduled, with a handful of these being reserved for Agent and Editor Workshops, Special Guest Classes, and Classes by our Keynote Speakers.

A lot of consideration and planning goes into the selection process on the part of the committee and then by the conference chair(s). Our goal is to ensure we are providing the widest range of classes to suit writers at every level of their career from beginning writers to published authors. As publishing continues to evolve, so will the types of workshops and panels at conference.

During the proposal selection process, the committee focused on the proposed topic as well as the proposal itself. Knowing that your proposal will be one among many, it's worth your time to make sure it showcases your workshop in the best possible way. When putting your proposal together for submission, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your topic specific, fresh, and unique? Conference will always seek proposals on writing craft basics, best practices, how to, and industry standards, but if your proposal comes off as run-of-the-mill during the proposal process, what does that say about your class? There are many ways to talk about outlining, character development, queries, marketing, and publishing as a whole, but if your topic feels stale, it simply won't stand out.
  • Is your topic relevant to the industry's current climate? Publishing is changing at a rapid pace, and authors are savvy to what's going on. If you've presented on this topic before, how have you updated your class to keep it fresh?
  • Is your topic positive in nature? One of the goals of Colorado Gold is to pump up our attendees and fill them with the knowledge and information they need to face their writing with a fresh attitude and renewed excitement. A workshop or class that is geared toward the negative or focuses solely on what not-to-do will have the opposite effect.
  • Have you taught before? It's perfectly fine if this is your first proposal and your first time teaching. We welcome fresh talent! But make sure you share your credentials so the committee can see that you're the perfect person to teach a class on your proposed topic. Also, be sure to include enough content in your description and outline so it's clear you know your subject and are prepared to teach the material. This goes for experienced presenters who are teaching a new course for the first time.
  • Are you submitting a proposal for a discussion panel? How do you plan to engage the audience? How do you plan to moderate the discussion? Have you listed all of the speakers? What topics will you discuss that will provide insights to attendees they can use? Is your topic so broad it lacks clarity? So narrow as to limit its appeal? Is your panel audience-focused? A panel heavy with self-promotion won't appeal to attendees who are looking for usable knowledge to apply to their own writing careers.
  • Does your proposal indicate concrete knowledge or skills?  What do you plan to share with your audience that they can take away and apply to their writing? Be detailed so that the committee can understand what attendees will learn in your workshop or panel.
  • Does your proposal clearly state your audience?  Is it for Beginner, Intermediate, Professional level writers? For everyone? Is it for published or pre-published writers? If it's geared toward already-published writers, does the content pertain to traditionally published, indie, or both? Does the content of your outline match the expected track level?
  • Is your outline detailed enough without being too detailed? If you submit an outline for your two-hour workshop that contains a handful of five bullet points and no supporting detail, it will seem as though you don't have enough content to fill your time slot. Conversely, if your outline for your one-hour workshop is fifteen pages single-spaced, it will seem as though you might not have a firm grasp on your subject matter or enough time to present all the material. Find a balance that allows you to show what you'll cover, how it will flow, how long it will take, and what attendees will take away.
  • Is your outline well organized?  A well-planned outline is easy to spot. It shows the main topic, the sub-topics in the order you plan to present them, and shares a bit of the direction your class will take. An organized outline indicates a solid grasp of subject knowledge and information flow, which results in a class attendees will be glad they attended.
  • Have you proofread your proposal and provided all the information requested? This might seem like a no-brainer, but think about it. Just like a resume, your proposal represents you during this process. Typos and errors reflect poorly on your proposal. You want to give the selection committee every reason to choose yours over another proposal. Do yourself a favor and submit your best possible proposal.

What are we looking for? If you have something that you think will be of interest to the attendees at RMFW Colorado Gold, we invite you to submit your proposals regardless of topic. Based on feedback from our conference attendee surveys, attendees have requested workshops and panels on the following subjects:

Writing Craft

  • Character Development, Character Arcs
  • How to Write a Beginning
  • Plotting Stories and Series
  • Genre-specific Tropes: Dos and Don'ts
  • Pacing
  • Writing Diversity: Other Cultures, Other Abilities, LGBTQ

Author Business & Professional Level

  • Marketing & PR
  • Networking: How-to, Strategies, New Avenues, What's Coming
  • Managing Financials, Taxes, Accounting, Best Practices
  • Contracts for Traditional and Indie Published Authors, Dos and Don'ts
  • Author Events, Public Speaking, Book Signings, Best Practices
  • Industry Insights for Traditional and Indie Publishing
  • Indie Publishing, What it Entails, How to Manage, DIY versus Hiring a Team
  • Social Media Management for Authors
  • Book Formatting
  • Book Reviews, How to Get Them
  • Audiobook Production, Options, How To
  • Cover Design
  • Discoverability
  • Author Platform, Building an Audience, How Tos, Options
  • Author Websites, DIY, How To, Options
  • Readers: Where to Find Them
  • Writing as a Career

This list is by no means complete, but hopefully it triggers ideas and provides some insights about the kinds of things we're hearing from our conference goers about what they want to see. 2016 Proposal Submissions will open January 1, 2016 and close at midnight on April 1, 2016. Keep an eye on the conference page, your email, and the RMFW home page for details.

We look forward to receiving your proposals and building another fabulous conference for 2016!

Conference Chair
Corinne O'Flynn is the conference chair for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Corinne writes stories with fantasy, action, and mystery for all ages. She also runs a local nonprofit by day. When she isn't writing or working, she keeps busy with knitting, raising her kids, and drinking copious amounts of tea. She's also on a mission to collect as many half-marathon medals as possible.

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