Friday 9 May 2014

How To Organise A Writers' Workshop

by JJ Marsh

I fell into organising workshops by accident. In spring 2011, I attended my first local event run by Zürich Writers Workshop. Over one weekend, I learnt a huge amount, not only from tutors Janet Skeslien Charles and Susan Jane Gilman, but also from my fellow writers. So I couldn’t wait to sign up for the autumn one.

However, various circumstances meant ZWW would not have the time to organise another workshop that year. I asked their permission to have a go myself, then talked to my collaborator at Nuance Words, Libby O. We could see there was a demand, we knew some suitable tutors, and with blind optimism, assumed organising a two-day event for thirty writers would be a breeze.

Ha ha. Ha.

TIPE: The Independent Publishing Event

Three years later, we’ve run five different events, and learnt how to avoid a few of the land mines.

Here’s our Ten-Step Programme to organising a successful event:

1. Find out what participants want. Canvass opinion by whatever means at your disposal. Here in Zürich, there are lots of organisations with a broad membership which have a focal point such as a message board.

2. Get specifics. ‘Writing for kids’ is not enough. Young adult? Children? Picture books? Publishing advice or creative input? What EXACTLY do you want?

JD Smith on Cover Design
3. Locate tutors who can meet those demands. If using writers, make sure they are used to running workshops. If possible, maximise their presence by offering the local bookshop a reading/signing event the night before.

4. Assess costs. We’re a non-profit organisation, so we simply need to cover our expenses. We have to factor in flights and hotels on top of venue, equipment, catering and tutor fees, then balance that against how much is reasonable to charge participants.

Writers' Boot Camp
5. Organise a payment system. After preparing invoices individually and chasing late-payers proved to be an enormous headache, we began using Eventbrite, which does the work for you.

6. Advertise. When you know what you’re offering, reduce it to a snappy headline, a two-line teaser and a paragraph with more detail. Find a good image to brand the event. Then get it everywhere – use every network you can find. The Barefoot Snow Walkers Group might not seem the obvious place to find writers, but you’d be surprised.

7. Manage expectations. Communicate with tutors, play whack-a-mole with individual queries and requests, and be clear what you can and can’t deliver. Ensure the day includes lots of breaks and networking opportunities.

8. Prepare practicalities. Technology back-up, feedback forms, logistics of airport collections, signage and hashtags (for Twitter purposes), name badges, pens, Blu-Tak, camera, contact details of key personnel. Review names and needs (I put everyone’s key details on index cards and test myself.)

9. Host. Greet participants, make introductions, take pictures, talk to people during the weekend to get a feel of how it’s going, write notes for follow-up, thank tutors, participants and venue. Collect feedback forms, deliver guests to airport, lie down in darkened room.

Write Con 13 with panellists Joanna Penn, Susan Jane Gilman, Emma Darwin and Andrew Lownie
10. Read feedback, note positives and negatives, ignore outliers (one guy complained about the weather), send follow-up notes, pay bills, write up event on blog, set up a Google alert and then start planning the next one.

Other great writing events in Europe:





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