How to Land Panelist Spots at Writing Events + Call for Panelists!

How to become a panelist at writing events

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about author interviews over the past couple of months. Today, I want to talk about another powerful opportunity for connecting with both industry professionals and readers: being a panelist at conferences and conventions.

In this article, I’ll explore:

  • The difference between conventions and conferences
  • What to expect from virtual vs in-person events
  • How to land panelist spots at events
  • Your opportunity to apply to be a panelist the next Weeknight Writers event!

By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be ready to send off your first panelist applications!

The difference between conventions and conferences

convention is an event aimed primarily at fans of a specific genre, show, or book series. These can be great places to sell your books if they focus on the appropriate genre.

conference is an event aimed primarily at authors and/or other publishing professionals. You can sell books at conferences, but they are better used as opportunities for learning and networking. 

This distinction is important because the type of event dictates the type of panels. A convention might have a couple of panels on writing, and a conference might have a couple of panels about specific fandoms, but the two events will look quite different overall. 

Virtual vs in-person events

For the past year, all events have been virtual events. As more people access the vaccine, however, this will start to change. This makes it important to be aware of what makes virtual events different from in-person events.

The most obvious difference is that virtual events can be accessed from your home. This is great because you can attend events hosted by organizations in any part of the world. I’ve participated in virtual events run by people in the UK and had panelists from places like Portugal at my own events. The lack of travel costs has also allowed me, and many others, to participate in more panels this year than ever before. Disabled authors in particular can benefit from these events since there’s less worry about accessibility needs.

Virtual events can also be less intimidating when you’re new to panels. You often won’t be able to see the audience, which can reduce stage fright. Virtual moderation tools also make it easier to streamline conversations and screen out potentially harmful questions. All in all, virtual events offer a lot of benefits, especially for marginalized authors.

On the other hand, there are some things a virtual event can’t replicate. Nothing will ever be quite the same as walking through the dealer’s room at a real-world convention or hanging out with other authors at the hotel restaurant/bar. Face-to-face conversations have a different energy to them. If you can make it to in-person events once you’re vaccinated, I encourage you to do so.

The good news is the strategies listed here are effective for both types of events. I’ve used them to land panelist spots at in-person events and virtual ones, and you can too!

How to land panelist spots at events

With that in mind,  let’s go over the strategies you can use to land panelist spots at events.

1. Start small

Big events like Dragon Con receive thousands of panelist applications every year. When you’re a little-known author, it’s hard to stand out from all that competition. Applying for panelist spots at small events is, frankly, easier.

Small events also offer other advantages. You get to build your skills as a panelist in front of smaller, more comfortable audiences. You’re more likely to build a personal relationship with the organizers, who in turn will be more likely to invite you back. Smaller groups are also more easily able to form strong communities, showing up for each other time and time again. I’ve seen this at my own events: by the end of the day, most of the people participating, including audience members, have connected with each other.

There are a few ways to find these types of events:

  • Google conferences in your region. If you live in or near a decent-sized city, there’s probably at least one local writing conference and one local genre-based convention.
  • Crowdsource event information. Post on your Twitter account and in your writing groups that you’re looking for events to participate in. If you know someone who regularly appears on panels, ask how they find those opportunities.
  • Subscribe to writing publications. Many publications about writing host their own conferences. Some also regularly publish lists of writing events.]

Pro tip: If you find a site talking about an event that has already happened this year, bookmark it. Many writing conferences are annual events.

2. Visit convention and conference pages frequently

Large events often have a newsletter you can join to find out about calls for presenters, but this isn’t always the case with smaller events. To keep track of when these events are attracting submissions, you’ll need to either follow their official social media profiles or check their websites often.

Personally, I like to do this on a scheduled basis. At the end of every month, I spend an afternoon looking at social media profiles and websites for organizations that host writing events.

3. Apply to speak on specific panels when possible

Well-organized events typically have at least some of their panels chosen months ahead of the event. You can find these topics listed in the “schedule” area of an event website, then list the 2-3 topics you’re most interested in discussing in your application email. This shows organizers that you’ve done your research and are interested in their event, not just “speaking opportunities”.

How do you know what panels to apply for? Well, if you’re interested in a topic and you have some ideas about it, you should apply. Most writing events don’t expect you to show up with a long list of credentials related to your specific topic. Of course, if you do have those credentials, be sure to include them in your bio!

4. Pitch appropriately

Many writing events also offer some way for people to pitch their own panel ideas. Take a close look at the types of panels the event has hosted before and offer something similar. If you attended the event in a previous year and were inspired by a specific panel, mention it. This shows the organizers that you understand what their audience wants.

5. Stop being your own gatekeeper

Most of all, be confident in your right to speak on panels. You are an author. You have published at least one book. It may not feel like much when you compare it to career authors with twenty, fifty, a hundred novels in the world, but to most people, one published book is huge. You learned a lot and put hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours into your book. You have something to say on panels, probably more than you realize.

So go for it!

Storycrafting Sessions: Exploring Story Structure Call for Panelists

Looking for a small but awesome event that’s welcoming to first time panelists? Well, I have good news for you! The next Weeknight Writers event is coming up soon and we’re looking for panelists right now!

Weeknight Writers is a writing group dedicated to providing accessible educational and community resources to fiction writers all over the world. We have previously hosted two conferences, one general writing conference and one worldbuilding deep dive.

Storycrafting Sessions: Exploring Story Structure is a one day virtual writing conference happening on July 3, 2021. We are currently accepting applications for panelists who wish to discuss the following subjects:

  • Plot vs Story: Balancing Action and Emotion
  • Beyond the Hero’s Journey: Alternative Story Structures
  • How to Plot a Series
  • Identifying and Developing Secondary Genre in SFF

Interested in any of these panels? Apply today!

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