Tuesday, March 9, 2021

How to Become a Writing Conference Faculty Member


by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

As a conference director, I receive tons of requests to be faculty. Selecting teachers is always a tough job, one I dread passionately. Throughout the year, I meet hundreds of writers who have great “presence” but don’t have a great command of the craft. I look at a career in writing as rungs on a ladder. We begin at the bottom and learn to write. Hopefully, we gain experience and knowledge which moves us up a notch. Then we’re asked to teach. Mentor. Guide. The gamut of requests is huge and as much as I’d love to have everyone teach, there is more to teaching than charisma. It’s time we address exactly what conference directors look for when extending teaching invitations?

What Conference Directors Look for in Faculty
Command of the craft: Like any teaching situation, it’s important faculty members have a command of the writing craft. It’s important to remember we are charged to train new writers and refine seasoned ones so having faculty who are well versed in the knowledge of the craft is vital. Some of the worst advice I’ve received as a writer came from a conference where the director didn’t do their homework. A faculty member told me that telling a publisher they were losing out because they rejected my work was an important tactic in becoming published. (Palm slap to the forehead.) No, no, no. First, writing is a skill not, a military action. Secondly, there are no “tactics”, only skill and ability. If you want to burn a bridge (which could be considered a necessary military skill at some point), then try threatening a publisher or editor with that “tactic” and see how far it gets you.

Choosing faculty who have a command of writing and the industry requires doing some homework. Directors must be sure those they choose to serve are offering good teaching and accurate knowledge. If you are new to writing, chances are, you’re not going to be invited to be faculty. Spend time honing the craft so that your writing smoothes on the page like butter on bread. Gain experience. 

Published authors are better teachers: That would be nice to say but it’s not always true. In today’s world, authors can publish themselves at a whim. I’ve had a few faculty members who haven’t published books but who have proven their skill by writing tons of articles and amazingly well-crafted blog posts. They understand the process of publishing in both self-publishing and traditional publishing. They can discern well and teach good and unique angles. Many editors (and some agents) aren’t published book authors but their knowledge is extensive in publishing. Their gift and love lays within the mechanics of writing and in the business end of publishing. They are avid readers, understand a plot, character development, and yes, the Chicago Manual of Style. They understand the ins and outs of the industry. Everyone does not have to be a published author, but they do need to understand the industry and, again, have a command of the craft.

Writers and speakers and vice versa: You’ve heard it said, if you’re going to be a writer, you need to learn to be a speaker and if you’re going to be a speaker, you need to master being a writer. It’s true. The two go hand in hand. Writers are eventually going to be asked to teach, and speakers are going to need to write so this is not something you can run from. Being a faculty member means you must speak to a group, offer thoughts in good order, lead and teach the craft. Learning to be a speaker only broadens your platform and helps you hone a new skill. I’ve set through conference classes where the faculty member was so dull and dry that I longed for a pillow. Speaking is a skill, just as writing is a skill, and to teach and connect you have to know how. Learn to speak. Become a presenter. You can’t, in good conscience, lead a conference class for folks who have paid big dollars to attend if you are not able to present in a fashion that is both engaging and knowledgeable. Conferees have come to you in good faith, hoping to learn tricks of the trade and valuable information to help them grow their writing career. You have a responsibility as a faculty member.

Faculty members need to be welcoming: In other words, you need to be prepared to welcome folks into your presence, love them where they are, and share your knowledge. People are people. I once heard it said that we could love everybody if they weren’t people. As a faculty member, folks will demand your time and sometimes, very loudly. Learning patience and more so, being willing to stop and talk at any time, is important. I am an introvert, but I change into my extrovert hat, from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. (sometimes later) because as a faculty member, conferees need to draw from me and I need to be available. If you aren’t willing to do that, then being a faculty member is not for you. I’ve likened these times to my days as an office manager for a caregiving company. Sometimes we repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat ourselves. You will be a successful faculty member when you can stop, listen, and repeat with ease. Conferees are learning and our job is to love them as we teach them. I look for faculty members who have “the right heart.” Those who are willing to spend additional time with conferees. Those who want to guide and direct, even if they’ve just said the same thing multiple times. Faculty members who are welcoming and warm, put conferees at ease, offer hope, and share stories about their own bloody knees so conferees feel “normal” and see the process. 

Understand conference directors must choose those who draw: Unfortunately, running a conference requires the numbers game. In order to have faculty, you must have conferees and that requires choosing faculty who draw attendees. You’ve been a conferee, you know this to be true. You want to pay your money to a conference that is bringing you folks with a name. Folks with known success and experience. You get this. And this is what makes it hard for a conference director to choose faculty. To offer the teaching, present a well-rounded group of faculty, and pay the bills, directors must bring in faculty with deep experience. It doesn’t mean that faculty members with lesser experience won’t be chosen, but the slots are fewer. 

You have heard these words a thousand times, build your platform. Learn the craft. Write, write, write. Are you starting to see one of the many reasons WHY? To be considered as faculty, a writer has to become proficient in their skill. They need tried and true experience. This is what makes your conference experience fun, enjoyable, and yes, successful.

If being faculty is your goal, then work toward it. Write articles, practice your skill, write, learn and hone your skill so that you can become a valued and dependable faculty member. Aim for the next rung on the 
writing ladder.

TWEETABLE

Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries and the executive editor for christiandevotions.us and inspireafire.comCindy is the lead managing editor for SonRise Devotionals and also Straight Street Books, both imprints of LPC/Iron Stream Media Publications. She is a mentor with Write Right and the director of the Asheville Chrisitan Writers Conference held each February at the Billy Graham Training Center, the Cove, Asheville, NC. Cindy is a best selling, award winning novelist. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.

7 comments:

  1. Cindy,

    Thank you for this article which is full of insights for every author--whether they teach at an event or not. In my years in publishing, I've rarely seen this type of information. You and I have been on the faculty at a number of conferences. Each time I understand the privilege and responsibility of teaching others. Also I'm keenly aware that my work in publishing stands on the foundation of what I've learned from others during my years in publishing. Grateful,

    Terry
    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

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    1. Thanks Terry. I didn't think the subject had been broached and folks want to know.

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  2. All good stuff, Cindy. When I taught at the Philly conference, so many people I talked with were impatient about the amount of time and effort it takes to "make it" in the publishing world. But it DOES take time, patience, and a willingness to relax into God's hands and plan. It's part of the process that makes us good writers. God doesn't waste a minute. You have mentored so many, including me, in the writing craft. You live out what you have written above. And we are all better writers for it.

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  3. Awwwww, you make me smile. Thanks

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  4. This is wonderful information, Cindy! When I teach at writers conferences I not only teach about the craft of writing, I also share the dos and don'ts I've learned from 30 years worth of experience. Writers appreciate having these insights. Great blog post!

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