Tag Archives: Randy McCharles

How to Create an Award Winning Convention; An Interview with Randy McCharles

An interview with Randy McCharles.

We all attend writer conventions, but what if you wanted to start one? Where do you start? What makes a con good? How do you draw in the big literary names?  

Author Randy McCharles founded When Words Collide, A Readers and Writers Festival (WWC) in 2011. Held in Calgary Alberta, which is Western Canada’s hub of genre and literary writing,

I had the pleasure of asking Randy for his tips and insights into establishing a successful writing convention. There’s a link for some special content at the end of the interview so please don’t miss that!

WWC’s tagline is A Reader’s and Writer’s Festival. Why this branding rather than simply making it a writers’ convention or a writers’ and fan convention?

If you are a writer, you will know that there are numerous writers conferences out there, even in western Canada. When looking to start a literary event in Calgary, I didn’t want to start an event like one I could already go to, but something different. I did want to provide a networking opportunity for writers and publishers, but I also wanted to create an opportunity for readers to meet authors they might have read as well as discover new authors. The tag line is a very good description of our event. We chose the word ‘festival’ over ‘convention’ because it is more apt to what we are about. Though we are educational, we are also fun. Smiles and laughter are encouraged.

Our demographics show that almost half of our attendees consider themselves readers. We attract readers by offering inexpensive passes ($45-$55 for a weekend pass, depending on when it is purchased), while most writers conferences cost much more. Inexpensive passes are common to speculative fiction fan conventions that are designed primarily for non-professionals. Very few readers will spend $100-$300, not even to see their favourite author (especially as we also provide several free events where the public can meet our guests.)

Though many conferences and festivals are genre-specific, it has always been my feeling that genres have more in common than differences. Most readers, also, read across multiple genres. The speculative fiction convention model is not common outside of SF&F, but we wanted to see if other genres as well as literary readers & writers would give it a try, so we invited them. To our delight, they came. We now try to have representatives for each genre an well as literary and poetry on our organization board.

There is a very dynamic dealer’s room at WWC. Writers congregate, presses sell books, writers and presses are talking business and making book deals, all the while books are being sold by writing groups, book sellers, and publishers.

Many conferences (and book stores) offer a range of non-book products. Our Merchants Corner is a book-only room, though we do include some art. Our most unique table is the Shared Authors Table, where attending authors not represented by other vendors may have their books sold. This table typical does over $2,500 worth of sales over the weekend. As far as I am aware, we did it first back in 2011, though I have seen the concept more recently at other events.

We also have a hotel-provided snack bar and seating area in the Merchants Corner where people can get drinks, soup, sandwiches, and salads. Something I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Randy explains the rules for Live Action Slush

For a convention to have a good reputation, several factors must come together from programming, to guests of honour, attendee packages, and advertising. I’d like to talk about some of these aspects so that we can understand what it takes for them to work well.

Any event must decide on a mission statement and a business model. Our mission statement is: to bring readers and writers together in a celebration of the written word. Our business model is a fusion of best practices I’ve taken from other events I have attended. A few important concepts are:

  • Inclusive and inexpensive to attend.
  • 100% volunteer run.
  • Multi-track so attendees always have something of interest going on.
  • A safe and fun environment.

Since an event will fail if no one shows up, let’s begin with advertising. While we do have a modest marketing budget and place posters and pamphlets in book stores, word-of-mouth is by far the best advertising. When we started in 2011 we made sure to promote our new event by speaking to writers groups and placing marketing literature in books stores. Even so, we budgeted for 150 people showing up. 280 did, so we were off to a good start, growing each year until we are now peaked out at 750 people. Most people found out about us from a friend. We have no desire to grow past 750 attendees as I find larger events too impersonal.

Guest speakers are tricky as no one can agree on who to invite. If we receive 100 feedback forms from attendees we will receive 100 guest suggestions. Each year we try to invite guests that cover a range of disciplines who are good speakers. If we need to reduce our budget somewhere, we look to the guest budget first (example: finding guests closer to home).

Our attendee package is very simple and economical: a plastic name badge on a string, a 5.5” x 8.5” stapled program book, and a single sheet quick guide. We don’t have a welcome bag, though book bags and fancy badge holders are available.

Our venue, the Delta Calgary South, has meeting space for as many as 15 concurrent events, giving attendees lots to choose from during the weekend. This means our program has over 200 different sessions to plan. Again, using the speculative fiction model, we open the program to attending professionals, encouraging them to speak, take manuscript pitches (if they are acquisition editors), and participate in our Blue Pencil Café, all on a volunteer basis. Each year around 150 attending experts join with our 5 or 6 festival guests to provide a dynamic and diverse program for the attendees.

There are other aspects to the festival, including a hospitality suite, a mass autograph session, a banquet, and even awards ceremonies as we sometimes host awards. As you can imagine, all of this requires a large number of volunteers putting in time and effort. We also try to do things efficiently with the lowest demand on volunteer time as possible.

On the topic of programming, in WWC 2017, there were ~80 panels on craft and business, blocks of time with guests of honour, blue pencil cafes, and pitching sessions. There is a variety of topics which appeal to both readers and writers and this can be seen by the packed rooms at many of the panels. How do you assess and what is needed and then deliver it?

The short answer is: we don’t. Like our staff, our presenters are volunteers. We ask them what they would like to present, and then we try to accommodate them. We do let them know what types of programming, such as what you listed above, we are looking for. This approach has some drawbacks, but in the end I believe it has more advantages. Presenters come up with all sorts of brilliant ideas we would never think of. This approach also greatly reduces demand on volunteer effort to put the program together.

Guests of Honour Guy Gavriel Kay, Diana Gabaldon, Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, Jack Whyte, Kevin J. Anderson, David B. Coe, Robert J. Sawyer, Ian Hamilton, Patricia Briggs, Anthony Bidulka, Kelly Armstrong, Sam Hiyate (The Rights Factory), and Sally Harding (Cooke Agency) are a few of the big selling authors and agents who have come to WWC. Some continue to come back as festival attendees because, as I’ve heard them say, it’s an awesome experience.

Since we are a 100% volunteer event, we do not budget for speakers fees. While we do cover travel and hotel for our festival guests, they, like everyone else, are donating their time and talents to participate at our festival. People need to understand that the business model of many speakers does not include speaking at events such as ours on a voluntary basis. Many of our invitations have been turned down. No hard feelings. That’s just the way it is. The outcome, however, is that speakers who do accept our invitations enjoy events such as ours and regularly accept invitations such as ours. And yes, we are fortunate that many of our guests choose to return when they can.

The main reason that guests return, I believe, is that we are different from most other conventions. We chose to call ourselves a festival rather than a conference or convention, because we want our event to be a party. While many writers do network and learn from each other, they also attend our festival because it is fun. People are having a good time. Our guests have a good time.

The other reason guests return is because we treat them well. Each guest is assigned a liaison to handle transportation and any needs they may have. We provide our guests breakfast and banquet tickets and take them out to dinner a couple of times. They each receive a welcome basket with souvenirs and goodies. In other words, we give them the respect they deserve for agreeing to join us on their own time.

I must say, that attendees really appreciate how accessible the guests have been, not only with their readings and key note speeches, but some hold workshops and most are willing to chat informally with readers and writers.

One of the things that makes us different from other conventions is that we don’t have a presenter green room. I never understood the point of separating the speakers from the people who have come to see them. Our guests usually spend their free time in the Merchants Corner, the Hospitality room, or the bar where they can mingle with attendees.

We also give our guests the option of holding a master class so that a smaller group of attendees can spend several hours with them. I, for one, very much enjoy attending master classes whenever I can.

In 2011 WWC had 282 people attend. 2017 had 750 attendees. WWC has been nominated for the Aurora Award for best volunteer-run organization every year and has won the award 6 times. Incidentally, for those who aren’t aware, the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s Aurora Award is a fan appreciation award so being nominated and winning is a great vote of confidence. Obviously, you have a lot of happy customers! What have they told you why they like WWC so much and what does your volunteer core do to ensure their satisfaction?

We are thrilled to be nominated for the award each year and to have won so often. As you say, the award is for fan-run events (meaning volunteer-run), such as CanCon in Ottawa, VCon in Vancouver, and numerous other volunteer-run events across Canada, ranging from international conventions that are sometimes hosted in Canada to various public reading series.

All volunteer-run events, no matter the size, are limited by the ability of the organizers to put something together. For free. In their spare time. When Words Collide is fortunate in that we have a board of 20+ volunteers to plan each year’s festival. We also rely on an addition 50+ on-site volunteers during the festival. Even so, there is only so much we can do, so we try to make sure that whatever we do looks, from the outside at least, amazing and flawless. We are regularly asked by attendees why we don’t add something to the festival. My reply is always the same. It would require more manpower than we have. This might be a good time to ask your readers if they are interested in joining our board or participating as an on-site volunteer. J We can always use more help.

What tips do you have for anyone wishing to start a convention in their community?

First off, a convention is big. Very big. WWC costs around $40,000 to put on. When Creative Ink (Burnaby, BC) asked for advice getting started, I suggested they do a 1-day event to get their feet wet, which they did in 2015. They learned a lot and went to a full weekend in 2016. Here are some quick tips to consider:

  1. Attend other events to see what they do, what you like, and what you don’t like.
  2. Do what you want to do, not what others want, even if it is totally different (like WWC was in 2011).
  3. Find some good help.
  4. Start small and set the bar low. Grow as circumstances allow.
  5. Spend money wisely and build a modest rainy day fund.
  6. Make sure you have fun doing it.

Something to know is that people are happy to be helpful. If you are unsure about anything, ask around and you’ll get lots of advice. If something sounds like it will work, problem solved.

Any special announcements for 2018?

Our 2018 festival is 11 months away and we have already sold 25% of the passes. We are typically sold out in June, so don’t wait too long to get your pass. The only thing I’d like to say at this time is that we have an amazing line-up of festival guests next year: Peter V. Brett, Harold Johnson, Erin Lindsey, Deanna Raybourn, and Arthur Slade. If you are unfamiliar with these authors, you will want to change that. Literary agent Sam Morgan of Foundry Media is also joining us. Several of our past guests are returning. I’m looking forward to yet another excellent festival.

And now for the SPECIAL LINK: WWC has a variety of podcasts available on it’s website and they’re awesome! Check them out here! Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire you to come to When Words Collide in 2018.

RANDY MCCHARLES is a full-time author of speculative and crime fiction.
He is the recipient of several Aurora Awards (Canada’s most prestigious award for speculative fiction) and in 2013 his short story Ghost-B-Gone Incorporated won the House of Anansi 7-day Ghost Story Contest. Randy’s most recent publications include the 2016 Aurora Award shortlisted novel Much Ado about Macbeth from Tyche Books, the short story Murder at the Mall from Coffin Hop Press, and the 2017 Aurora Award shortlisted novel The Day of the Demon. In addition to writing, Randy organizes various events including the award-winning When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers. To learn more about Randy and his books, go to www.randymccharles.com.

 

 

The Right Thing

I’ve written before on this blog about my experience attending conventions and seminars, but today I want to revisit that subject and take a different perspective. My previous posts have been about professionalism, about making contacts, meeting editors, etc. Today I want to look at the convention experience from the perspective of a fan.

Everyone who writes genre fiction is also a genre fiction fan. This is perhaps obvious! Last spring, the Fictorians devoted a whole month to discussing various bloggers’ inspirations for being a writer, and not surprisingly a large number of those posts ended up being about genre books, movies, and television shows. People who are caught up in the genre milieu are often the same ones who later become the most prodigious content creators.

Certainly some conventions are more for fans than they are for writers and other content creators (as Randy McCharles discussed here just a few days ago). The most recent con I went to was World Fantasy, which going by McCharles’ metrics is probably 95–100% craft, with just a fringe of commercial around the edges. This is a convention for writers to mingle with other writers. The number of con-goers is capped, so it never felt crowded; in fact, as I wandered the hotel hallways and worked my way from one panel to another I found myself coming upon the same faces over and over again. This is kind of wonderful, because you start to make friends and contacts almost without trying.

And some of those faces? They be famous faces.

WFC is a convention for writers, not hordes of screaming fans in Chewbacca costumes (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but as I mentioned earlier, the writers are fans, too. And as someone who wasn’t accustomed to sharing a table with the people who wrote the books I grew up with? Well, this was heaven.

If someone told me I’d sit across a table listening to L.E. Modesitt Jr. wax eloquent about the time he and his friend constructed a makeshift bomb as children and blew a hole in their family’s shed, I’d have told them to bugger off. I chatted on several occasions with Guy Gavriel Kay (and one of my friends who shall remain nameless—never mind, it’s this one—may or may not have stolen his swag bag of books after the con was over). In a very brief exchange, I met Robert J. Sawyer, with whom I later had the pleasure of becoming much more closely acquainted when he visited my city. I also got to meet two of my favorite writers of all time, the husband-and-wife duo of Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens. I had been sitting just one row behind them during one of the panels; I have no idea what the panel was about, because I spent the whole time staring at the back of their heads like a serial killer. Fortunately, I kept it together when I finally approached them. They were ever so gracious to speak with me for a few minutes, even though they were obviously on their way to somewhere more important. And the crème de la crème? Me and several other Fictorian contributors had the unique opportunity to pick Brandon Sanderson’s brain in a small and exclusive two-hour Q&A session.

If I haven’t convinced you yet that cons are awesome, you’re beyond hope. Over the years since, I’ve been to a few different cons, and this experience has been mirrored several times. I’m so accustomed to meeting well-known writers now that I’ve started to view them as colleagues—much more experienced and successful colleagues, sure, but colleagues nonetheless.

I’m sure there are some authors who don’t have the time of day for their fans. I’ve heard horror stories, but I’ve never met them, which tells me they must be in the minority. Or at least, you’re less likely to bump into this kind of author at cons, because they have other places they’d rather be.

The authors I met were all polite and approachable. I never felt awkward around them. When we chatted, it wasn’t all about them; they asked me questions about myself as well. They seemed to enjoy connecting with the masses. And you know what? Meeting these authors only made me want to run home and buy as many books of theirs as I could find. The moral of the story is that being a good and decent human being is not only the right thing to do, it probably has some economic benefits as well.

So it turns out the authors whose jacket cover headshots I lovingly gazed at with hero worship as a preteen, and then as a teenager, and then as a young adult, and then embarrassingly even as a nearer-to-middle-age adult, are just people, not much different than I am. That right there infuses me with hope and optimism.

One day, if a fan ever comes up to me and wants my autograph, or even just wants to say hi, no matter how busy I am or what I’m doing, I’m going to smile in the memory of all these wonderful genre fiction luminaries who came before me and pay it forward. It’s the right thing to do.

How do Conventions Choose Their Guests?

A guest post by Randy McCharles.

Randy McCharles Capone NovelHave you ever wondered why some of your favorite authors appear frequently as convention guests while others are so scarce you sometimes wonder if they are even real people? Well, there are two main factors. The first one is simple. Some authors enjoy and see business benefits of convention appearances and make themselves available. Other do not. You almost have to kidnap them to make an appearance. The second factor is much trickier. Every convention is fairly unique in its goals and finances. The cost of bringing in guests is usually the most expensive line item in the budget, but even more important, each convention has a unique vision of the experience it wishes to provide its attendees. While there is no official breakdown, I have defined six conference models that provide different mixes of content for ‘craft’ (craft development opportunities for writers) VS ‘commercial’ (content readers enjoy such as meeting their favorite authors, hearing them speak, and getting autographs). Most literary events with guests will fall near one of these categories.

Chart

I use “Literary Festival” to describe events that are generally open market bookstores. Readers drop in for a fee of $0 (or near $0) to buy books from vendors and get them signed by authors. Many of these events bring in a few big name authors as a means of promoting the event and drawing more readers. The costs are paid for by selling the tables to vendors. Usually, guests do not provide presentations, though this has been an increasing phenomena. Often such presentations have a separate fee.

The “Trade Show” is similar to the Literary Festival in that it is mostly vendor tables, but they have a larger emphasis on guest presentations and panel discussions. While historically such trade shows deal solely with visual media (film and comics), they are increasingly including authors and books. Unlike Literary Festivals, these generally cost as much as $100 to attend.

The “Fan Convention” is fairly unique in that, unlike most other models, it is not run as a business. Instead, volunteers run it from the top down, with no paid staff. Guests also volunteer, having their travel and accommodations paid for, but generally donating their time, much of which is spent in presentations and panel discussion. Attending these events usually costs around $50.

The “Reader/Writer Festival” is an offshoot of the Fan Convention, or perhaps a return to what many Fan Conventions were in the 70’s. While today’s Fan Conventions often focus on visual media, including film, costuming, and anime, the Reader/Writer festival focuses on books and provides content for readers as well as writers. Like Fan Conventions, these are usually volunteer run, guests donate their time on presentations and panels, and attending costs around $50.

The “Writers Conference” is focused on craft development and is of little interest to non-writers. Guests do receive a substantial honorarium, but are also required to be successful instructors as well as successful writers. They generally offer some books sales and autographs that are open to the public. Cost of attending is in the several hundred dollar range.

The “Writers Workshop” is a more participatory version of the Writers Conference, usually much smaller, and requires attendees to work like university students. The guest instructors, as well, must work like university instructors. Cost of attending is generally much higher than a Writers Conference, and many workshops vet their attendees.

You may have noticed a correlation between guest honorariums and cost of attending. As I mentioned earlier, the cost of bringing in guests is usually the most expensive cost for any convention. Those that offer higher honorariums must find the funds somewhere, usually by charging their attendees a higher ticket price. Conversely, those that offer their guests higher honorariums usually also demand more from their guests, which brings me back to guest availability.

The business of authors is not attending conventions. It is writing books. Taking time out of your writing schedule to attend a convention as a guest is time not spent writing. Some authors do not wish to lose this writing time. Some are willing to sell their time. However, not all convention models can afford to buy it. eg. If Fan Conventions began providing high honorariums like Writers Conferences, they would cost more to attend ($75 instead of $50) and have to make other changes. That price tag doesn’t work for their model and can lead to bankruptcy. Fan Conventions exist, however, because many authors opt to volunteer their time, either as pay-it-forward for help they received earlier in their careers, as part of their brand marketing, or as simply an opportunity to meet their readers. Often all three.

Some authors do make attending conventions part of their business. Especially if teaching craft becomes part of their brand. Many authors love to teach craft. Some even write books about it. You will find such authors as guests at Writers Workshops, Writers Conferences, and Reader/Writer festivals.

So picture yourself as an organizer for a convention. It doesn’t matter which model you choose. You have a guest budget. It may be $5,000 (a small Fan Convention) or $50,000 (A large Writer’s Conference). What kind of guests do you need? Best-selling authors to autograph books? Authors who are not shy and love to talk with their readers? Authors who can give great presentations on craft development? Authors who can help writers with their manuscripts? All of the above? How much can you afford to spend on guest travel? Can you bring someone from the UK or Australia to North America? Or must you limit yourself to $500 flights? Can you afford to bring in your guest’s spouse? (Double the airfare.) Sticking with a budget is tricky, especially when a wide range of factors can impact the cost of bringing in any particular guest.

Let’s say you’ve identified the perfect guests. Are they available? Do they receive 100 guest invitations a year and can only accept 2? Do they even do conventions? Is your convention on their radar?

I’ve been organizing conventions since 2001. I’ve worked on a local fan convention, a regional fan convention (Westercon), an international writers convention (World Fantasy), and currently chair the When Words Collide Readers/Writers festival. After 13 years it is still difficult to identify the perfect guest — someone who delivers on the convention’s vision, is affordable and, most important, is available. It usually takes nine months to secure five guests. Sound like fun? Well, it is, actually. And you do get to meet a lot of really interesting authors.

As a final note I’ll list a few reasons why authors I’ve invited in the past have turned down the invitation (all perfectly valid, especially if they travel a lot):

  1. Air travel is a pain. I only travel to conventions that have a direct flight from my city.
  2. Air travel is a pain. I only travel business class. (This was from the UK and severely broke the budget)
  3. I won’t leave the country. (This was from the US invited to Canada).
  4. I don’t do conventions that time of year; I spend it with my family.
  5. I am already booked that weekend.

There have also been some success stories:

  1. Someone who doesn’t fly came to Calgary by train. From Texas!
  2. Someone who is very busy was finally available after being invited 4 years in a row.
  3. Many authors who are very busy had the stars align and were able to accept their invitation within days of receiving it.

All that said, having inviting innumerable guests to conventions over the years, I have a long list of people I would love to see as guests at some point. I often travel to distant conventions to see them. There is a wealth of terrific authors out there. Reading their books is a pleasure. Meeting them in person, doubly so.

BTW Two aliens walk into a bar and spot their favorite author sitting at a table having a drink. One alien turns to the other and says, “I wonder if she traveled as far to get here as we did?”

RandyMcCharlesRandy McCharles Bio:Randy McCharles is an award-winning author of speculative short fiction, and was included in Year’s Best Fantasy 9. In January 2014, he left his day job to write full time and focus his attention on novel length works. When not making up tall tales, Randy organizes literary events, including chairing the When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers. You can find out more about Randy on his web site: http://randymccharles.com

When Words Collide: A Must-go-to Festival for Readers and Writers

 
When Words Collide is one of my favorite events. It’s a dynamic, cross genre (science fiction, fantasy, romance, crime, literary, young adult, horror, urban fantasy, horrors and more), readers and writers festival. There is a variety of panels ranging from homicide, criminal psychology, taxes, play writing, transhumanism, writing dirty scenes, adapting the novel to script, indie versus traditional publishing to name a few. Coffee clutches along with readings and key note addresses provide great opportunities to hear your favorite authors. Previous years have seen guests such as Patricia Briggs (fantasy and urban fantasy), Michael Cassutt (TV/Film Scriptwriter and Sci Fi), Barbara Fradkin (Mystery), David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson (Fantasy, historical fantasy), Adrienne Kerr (Editor Penguin Canada), Kevin J. Anderson (Science Fiction), Anthony Bidulka (Mystery) and Rachel Caine (Cross-genre). I spoke with festival Chair, Randy McCharles about the event.

WWC is billed as a festival for readers and writers, not a conference. Why is this?
Writers conferences provide content for writers, usually those still learning the basics of the business. More established authors as well as editors and agents are the speakers, and 100% of the content is structured to help new writers enter the game. Readers festivals are mostly opportunities for readers to purchase books and have them signed by the authors, as well as listen to a number of authors read and perhaps speak on discussion panels. When Words Collide is relatively unique in that it addresses both these demographics and provides content for more advanced writers as well. One of the most enjoyable things over all three years was meeting new and interesting people, many of whom I continue to associate with throughout the year. The festival is, after all, a social event where readers and writers gather to meet like-minded people and discuss their interests.

Why a readers and writers conference?What will readers get from it?
When we started When Words Collide, we had no idea who would be interested in attending, but desired to be as inclusive as possible. As it turned out. Everyone was interested. For the first 3 years we collected registration demographics, which indicate that 50% of attendees classify themselves as readers. When we put together each year’s program, we work to include quality content for beginning writers, established writers, and for readers. Some of the reader content includes readings by festival guests and attending authors, an autograph session, a merchants area for popular and hard to find books, and nonstop panels discussions by authors and avid readers on topics of interest to readers. Many readers are also interested in the writing process and attend presentations and discussion geared for writers, especially if authors they enjoy are speaking.

Who are the guest speakers for 2014?
Our editor guest is Mark Leslie, Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo Canada. Kobo is a major player in Canada’s publishing community and Mark has vast expertise in the area of how to be published both traditionally and through self-publishing. We also have four big name authors. Diana Gabaldon is an award-winning author of Historical Fiction whose Outlander series is currently being made into a TV series. Jacqueline Guest is an international award-winner of Young Adult and Historical Fiction. D. J. McIntosh is the author of the internationally bestselling Mesopotamian Trilogy mystery. Brandon Sanderson is a bestselling author of Epic Fantasy, for his own work as well as the final three books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Tell us about the pre-festival workshops you’ve added this year.
We have several workshops ranging from 3 hours to 1 day. The workshops offer a deeper look at the subject matter by masters in their fields and are a great compliment to the more relaxed, shorter events during the festival. More information can be found online.

  • Adrienne Kerr (Penguin Canada) is returning for her 3rd year and will teach 2 1-day workshops on manuscript critiques.
  • Mark Leslie (Kobo Canada) is offering 2 half-day presentations: one on how authors can promote themselves and the other is on the pros and cons of traditional and indie publishing.
  • D. J. McIntosh has a workshop on how to get published based on her own overnight sensation experience. Jacqueline Guest is also teaching a workshop on producing and promoting your book.
  • Jack Whyte is returning to conduct the popular SIWC (Surrey International Writers Conference) master class workshop, Manuscript Strengths & Weaknesses.
  • Alberta Romance Writers Association has a workshop: Monochrome or Tapestry – Engineering your stories for texture and depth.
  • Brandon Sanderson had hoped to provide a pre-festival workshop, but his schedule won’t permit, so he is giving a 2 hour presentation as part of the weekend festival instead.

What are some of the features which set WWC apart from other conferences?
We have brought together several events:

  • The Blue Pencil is a short sit down with and editor or author (who does a lot of editing) to receive some feedback on a piece of your manuscript. The Pitch Session is where you pitch your novel idea to agents and editors. Alberta is not overflowing with agents, so we often have authors stand in who can still give excellent feedback on your pitch and possibly refer you to appropriate agents. We do have several acquisition editors at WWC and they do request manuscripts.
  • The Live Action Slush has grown very popular in recent years. It may have started at SIWC (Surrey International Writers Conference) as Writer Idol, but we changed the name to be more reflective of what it actually is. Essentially, members of the audience submit anonymous first pages to be read and listened to by a panel of editors. Editors raise their hand when they would have stopped reading and rejected the manuscript. The editors then comment on why they stopped. This is a great experience, not just for those who submit pages, but for the entire audience as a great insight into how books are rejected or selected by publishers. Many readers also enjoy these session. It is so popular that WWC holds several sessions focused on different genres.
  • The 50 Minute Workshops are also very popular. In 2014 we will run more than 40 of them. Essentially an instructor gives a presentation or hands-on workshop to a smaller audience (less than 30 people). These may be on any topic of interest to readers or writers.
  • Our Friday Keynotes are also unique. Most conferences have sessions with 1 keynote speaker, as do we. But we also have a 2 hour session where all of the festival guests speak for 15-20 minutes on any subject. The range and mix of profoundness is my favorite part of the festival.
  • One of the most enjoyable things is meeting new and interesting people, many of whom I continue to associate with throughout the year. The festival is, after all, a social event where readers and writers gather to meet like-minded people and discuss their interests.

Where and when is WWC happening?
When Words Collide is always on the second week of August. This year it’ll be held from August 8-10 at The Carriage House Inn in Calgary, Alberta.

How can you make all this happen with a registration fee of $60 at the door or $45 if people register before April 1st?
Attending 3 days at When Words Collide costs $40-$60 (depending on when memberships are purchased), making it a bargain for writers and affordable for readers. We limit invited speakers to 5 or 6, usually 1 editor and 4 or 5 authors working in a range of genres for whom we cover travel expenses and provide an honorarium. Last year we had 150 volunteer presenters (professionals, writers and readers). All organizers and staff are also volunteers some of whom work tirelessly on grant requests, which greatly subsidize our costs. The festival is very much a labor of love. We are always on the lookout for new presenters we may be unaware of, and encourage people to contact us. Unlike most events, we publish our schedule online as it is being developed so that attendees can see our progress throughout the year.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
If you are interested in reading or writing, be it literary or genre fiction, poetry, or even non-fiction, When Words Collide is the one event in Canada that you want to attend. We expect over 500 attendees in 2014 from across Canada and from the US. Each hour of the day has 10 different activities to choose from. You will meet authors, make new friends, and learn as much about literature in Canada as you like. You can even watch our schedule develop online through the year as invited guests and attending presenters confirm their activities. Links to information about previous years are also available.

Randy McCharlesRandy McCharles is active in Calgary, Alberta’s writing community with a focus on speculative fiction, usually of the dark and humorous variety. In 2009 he received Canada’s most prestigious award for speculative fiction, the Aurora Award, for the novella Ringing in the Changes in Okotoks, Alberta which appeared in Tesseracts 12 (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and was also reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 9 (David Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer, ed). When not making up tall tales, Randy organizes literary events, including chairing the When Words Collide festival for Readers and Writers. Information on Randy’s published works can be found on his website.