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How to initiate, organize, and execute a successful writing workshop

A handy guide for anyone who wants to lead a writing workshop.

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Afterward

I tell students and workshop attendees that the most important things we can do during a session are the things that we can only do when we’re together. A big part of that, maybe the most important part, is answering people’s questions, so I always try to leave at least 10 or 15 minutes for Q&A at the end of every workshop. I tell people they can ask about the workshop material, but they can also ask me anything about writing and publishing if they like. Be mindful of the time, though. If you’re at a conference, someone else may need the presentation space after you, and they’ll need time to set up. Or if it’s the end of the evening, the library staff may want to go home. Don’t overstay your welcome. If people still have questions – and you feel comfortable doing so – you can talk to them outside the presentation space, or you can give them an email address to contact you later.

Have attendees fill out an anonymous evaluation at the end of a workshop. Ask them what topics they’d like to see covered in other workshops you might present. Ask them how you can improve. The better you get at presenting, the more gigs you can land, the more self-promotion you can do, the more money you’ll (hopefully) make, and, most importantly at all, the more people you’ll help.

There are some uncomfortable situations you may encounter at the end of a workshop. You may be asked if you’ll read a participant’s manuscript. Have a response ready. If you don’t mind providing feedback out of the kindness of your heart, say yes. If you charge for manuscript feedback, tell them your fee. Once they hear it, most of the time they’ll walk away. I usually tell people I charge $150 to read and critique up to 10 pages of fiction. That usually takes care of the issue right there. Never be afraid to protect your boundaries. I already read a ton of manuscripts and essays for my day job, and I do pro bono feedback as a mentor for the Horror Writers Association. If I read any more manuscripts, I wouldn’t have time to write. Often, someone will approach you after the workshop and want to tell you the entire plot of their novel. For god’s sake, don’t let them. Don’t let someone keep you talking if you’re ready to leave. Have an excuse prepared so you can get out of there if you need to.

Self-promotion

You can let attendees know at the beginning of the workshop that you have promotional material for them to take when it’s over, or you could pass it out at the beginning. Don’t go on and on about your books, though. People have come to learn about writing from you, not to be a captive audience for your self-commercial. Promoting your work a certain amount is fine, but don’t be pushy or needy. Promotional materials can include your card, postcards with book covers on them (and ordering information), or free writing sample booklets (containing a short story or a novel chapter), either professionally published or made on your printer at home. Make sure whatever materials you give people have your website and social media addresses on them. If you want to gather participants’ contact info for your newsletter, you can tell them they can sign up if they wish, but don’t push them to. Some writers pass around a legal pad for gathering email addresses at the beginning of the workshop, while some have it available at the end.

If you don’t wish to give out any contact information, that’s fine. Do what you’re most comfortable with.

Repurpose your workshop

Your workshop can become an article you submit to a writing magazine or website. You can post it on your blog, in your newsletter, or on your website. You can turn it into a YouTube video presentation. You can offer it as a freebie to people who sign up for your newsletter, you can use it as an extra handout at the next workshop you give, and you can place it on the convention table where everyone leaves their promotional materials. The more bang for your buck you can get out of what you create, the better. I created this article as a PowerPoint presentation first to outline it, and now I have a workshop on delivering workshops that I can present someday. (Talk about being meta!)

To sum up

  • Presenting workshops can be fun.
  • Workshops help you develop as a writer and a professional.
  • Workshops can get you money.
  • Workshops can get you readers.
  • Workshops can get you followers on social media and addresses for your newsletter.
  • And, most importantly, your workshops will help other writers.

Now get out there and start paying it forward!

Further reading & resources

  1. “How Much Should I Charge?” by Lynne Wasnak
  2. How to Charge the Right Price for Your Workshop” by Sarada Chaudhuri
  3. Preparing for Workshops
  4. “Tips for Leading a Writers Workshop” by Zoe M. McCarthy

 

 

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—Bram Stoker Award-winning author Tim Waggoner has published more than 50 novels and seven collections of short stories. He writes original horror and dark fantasy, as well as media tie-ins, and he’s recently released a book on writing horror fiction called Writing in the Dark. A version of this article previously appeared in the Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

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