A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow account of the weekend (blood spatter, helicopters, and Spice Girls … oh my!), here’s a rundown of the who, what, and would I return to the WPA?
What is it: For the past eight years, former detective Lee Lofland has hosted the Writers’ Police Academy, an “interactive and educational hands-on experience for writers to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics.” The 2016 Writers’ Police Academy was recently held at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for over 250 attendees – including people who flew in from as far as the Netherlands, Bangkok, and Germany. Although the road trip from Minneapolis seemed long, it wasn’t as long as it was for the internationals. 🙂
Why did I go: There are a couple of stories that I’m working on that involve characters who are in law enforcement. And while I am fortunate to have experience with law enforcement (my previous career as a cops and courts newspaper reporter) and while I still have friends who work as cops, I felt like attending this conference would help give an “authentic” dimension to my law enforcement characters.
While that was a big part of it, what put me over the edge was the announcement that Tami Hoag was keynote speaker for the conference. (And I love me some Tami Hoag.)
The other part that I assumed, but wildly underestimated, was the ability to network at this conference. I attended with some fellow Twin Cities Sisters in Crime members, but ended up meeting a TON of writers – folks who are at different parts of their publication journey. While I couldn’t meet every single person at the conference and while there are some people I wish I could have met earlier or spent more time with, there are a handful of people I’m hoping will be lifetime friends.
Would I go again: Before I give this section the emphatic, resounding YES that it richly deserves, I have a few caveats. I think that if you’re a writer, especially one who is working on a police procedural novel or any kind of story that involves fire / police / or EMS, I cannot stress how valuable this conference is. The instructors at WPA are veteran public safety personnel. In many cases, the instructors “tweaked” the presentations that they give in their respective fields to either shorten an eight-hour PowerPoint into an hour-long session that highlighted the main points for writers or generated material that specifically addressed creating authentic characters or scenarios for our stories.
Also incredibly generous and valuable? Several of those instructors gave us their emails or phone numbers, saying “hey, if you need any further information, don’t hesitate to contact me.” I cannot say enough about the professionalism and generosity of the instructors that we encountered. There were also several authors that gave presentations that talked about the importance of research in our writing.
So will I go back next year? I’m not sure if I’ll make it in 2017. And that has nothing to do with the conference itself, but more about my overall conference plans for next year. I hope to have my novel ready for querying agents next year and want to attend a conference like Killer Nashville or New England Crimebake. Several mystery conferences have pitch sessions and I want to go to at least one of them. I also have plans to attend Murder & Mystery in Chicago in spring 2017. Although these “local” conferences (i.e. – cheap plane ticket or within driving distance) are easier on the pocketbook, there’s still an expense in attending a convention.
Will I go back again? Absolutely. The police component is not *huge* in my stories, but I write mysteries. During this year’s conference, I was able to fix two lingering questions / problems that I have in my current work in progress, as well as get some killer background information for another project I’ve had on the back burner. Between the people I met / networked with at the convention, the instructors / staff for WPA itself, and the information and sources I was able to acquire this weekend – I cannot say enough about the value of WPA.
Action Plan: I’ve tried to establish a “plan” that guides my path to publication. And it will come as no surprise to the people who really know me, that I’m pretty shittacular at actually following my plans. (I’d blame the fact that I’m the mother of little children, but no … it’s me.) However, if I’m going to be shelling out hundreds of dollars for a convention, I need to have an action plan at the convention’s conclusion – not just go and marvel at how hunky the hot cops were. Here’s my action plan that I’ve developed after attending the 2016 WPA:
- Do a search of #2016WPA and start following the folks who generated posts from the convention on Twitter (and Instagram, if applicable.) I feel a bit like a social media whore if I start trying to friend strangers on Facebook, but Twitter is a better venue for this sort of thing. I’m doing this to make my social media platform more robust and potentially attractive to future literary agents.
- Go through the business cards gathered and follow up with those people via social media or email.
- I received a book from a conference attendee, as well as just bought one off of Amazon by a new friend/author I met at WPA. Read those books and write reviews for Amazon and Goodreads.
- Email the instructors that offered PowerPoints and get those for my “Research” files.
In conclusion, and to quote my mom’s and my favorite movie “Shag,” I had “the most fun.” My experience at WPA was a valuable one for my writing career (not to mention the fact that I totally fan-girled Tami Hoag and danced like a fool to the Spice Girls.)
I heard someone refer to WPA as “a writer’s Disneyland” and honestly … that’s pretty accurate. It was a weekend well spent. My sincere thanks to Lee and his team for a wonderful convention.