Conference Scene: Nonfiction

If you’re one of the many writers who prefer fact to fiction, this Conference Scene is for you. Whether you’re writing a history, growing a freelance career, crafting narrative nonfiction, penning a self-help book or otherwise putting truth into words, these events are designed to help you sharpen your skills, expand your network and enrich your career.

The Power of Narrative: Timeless Art in an Urgent Age
Late April 2011 (exact date TBA)
WHERE: Boston University
PRICE: Approximately $125

The organizers of The Power of Narrative know that a conference is only as good as its speakers. “We pride ourselves on securing speakers who are at the top of their field to talk about the process of researching and writing narrative and building a career,” says Isabel Wilkerson, director of narrative nonfiction at Boston University. “We like to mix things up a bit. We put historians on stage with journalists, and nonfiction authors on stage with novelists, to see where the conversation takes us.”

Attendance is limited to a couple hundred writers so everyone gets a chance to mingle with the speakers, including agents and editors from places like The New York Times and Random House, and plenty of authors. “[A recent] conference on the intersection of history and journalism brought together such writers as Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, and the preeminent historian Jill Lepore, of Harvard [University] and The New Yorker,” Wilkerson says, “along with several winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.” Wilkerson suggests you familiarize yourself with the speakers’ work in advance in order to get the most out of their sessions.

The Nonfiction Writers Conference
April 27–29, 2011
WHERE: Wherever you are: This is a virtual conference.
PRICE: $249–699, depending on level of participation

The market for business, self-help and how-to books is huge. But most of these authors make a living not from their books, but from the related services and products they offer. That’s why The Nonfiction Writers Conference includes sessions on how to break into public speaking, strategize book sales, launch coaching programs and generate revenue from e-books and other related products. “Our event empowers authors to build a business around their book, while showcasing their expertise with Internet marketing and social media strategies,” conference CEO Stephanie Chandler says.

Workshop instructors have included literary agent Michael Larsen, publishing consultant Bob Erdmann and former speaker’s agent Jane Atkinson. All sessions are delivered via teleseminar, so you need only a phone to reap the benefits. (The Literary Agent Pitch Fest, however—in which all participants are guaranteed to receive feedback—takes place via e-mail.) Attendees who register for an all-access pass also can download MP3 recordings of the event.

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference
July 22–24, 2011
WHERE: Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center, Grapevine, Texas
PRICE: $295 for the general public; $225 for students; $270 for educators (Visit the website for early registration rates as well as pricing for single-event tickets, optional sessions with literary agents and more.)

George Getshow, writer-in-residence at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, says he could write a book about the conference’s success stories. For example: Bill Marvel, a former narrative writer at The Dallas Morning News who credits the Mayborn event for the six-figure book contract he and R.V. Burgin obtained for Islands of the Damned, which was released this year. Having attended every Mayborn conference to date, Marvel took the podium at the 2010 event to discuss his experiences ghostwriting the memoir, about Burgin’s combat experiences in the Pacific War.

Attendees are treated to workshops and panels from big names in the genre covering everything from journalism to writing from personal experience to the craft of storytelling. Past conferences have featured such greats as Mark Bowden, Mary Karr (The Liars’ Club), Gary Smith (Shadow of a Nation) and National Public Radio’s “This American Life” star Ira Glass.

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference
January 28–29, 2011
WHERE: Hollins University, Roanoke, Va.
PRICE: To be determined; past conferences have cost $50

Although the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference has something for writers of all types, the nonfiction track is particularly strong. And while it’s geared toward professional writers and educators, writers at all levels are welcome.
Founding Director Dan Smith says 2010’s most popular nonfiction workshop was a session with a lawyer who addressed rights issues and the legal responsibilities of the writer. Other workshops have included “The Art of the Blog Post,” “Introduction to Social Media,” “Freelance Writing in This Market,” “Structuring Your Nonfiction Storytelling,” “This Is Not a Q&A: Interviewing” and “Writing Local History.” 

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