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The Best Story Conference is a Virtual One

Lauren Hill

Lauren Hill, holding a pair of the Sanuk sandals she writes about to help pay her surfing bills.

A writer I know wrote a book sitting at her landlord's dining table in Ontario, then flew to a beach cabin in Bali and wrote the sequel. Meanwhile, she's an employee of a publishing house in New York City.

She goes in to "the office" about twice a year. The job of "escritor" has evolved so much recently.

The carefree nomadic existence of "surfer/writers" like Lauren Hill, the Queen of Funky Sandals, would not be possible without virtual story conferencing.

The interesting thing is that virtual conferences are actually better than traditional sit-down meetings. And not just for the writers with sand in their toes.

Getting on the same page

People think writing is a completely solitary activity. Yes and no. There is a reasonable amount of sipping a piña colada beachside and tapping away on a laptop. But writing a book is a highly collaborative team process involving senior editors, copy editors, graphics and layout artists, and then the publicist. An agent is involved too, personal "readers," and in many cases the subject of the book.

The virtual story conference gets all these people on the same page, and keeps them there, with no "dreaded overhead."

Only the sky overhead

Publishers hate overhead. Hot Desking can reduce expenses, but it doesn't eliminate them. Outsourcing is risky, all too often devolving into an expensive quality nightmare. The virtual story conference frees up writers to spend their days in the most productive writing environment (aloha!), allows publishing houses to hire the perfect person for each book, and keeps production costs low by eliminating unnecessary downtown office space.

A virtual story conference is basically just a Free Web Meeting, so there is no "overhead" at all. Only sky. And we all know what is up in the sky.

One sky, one cloud

Traditional conference calls by telephone hooked up with computers and the Internet in the 1990s, and they have been inseparable since. It is a marriage made in heaven. They are still living in "The Pink Cloud" after all these years. In fact, the marriage gets better every year, as new teleconferencing Features are introduced.

We can now be connected from anywhere

The Cloud connects up our whole planet so that virtual story conferences can take place anywhere.

The telephone still carries the audio signal, so you can hear everybody clearly and there are no robotic voices like you get on Skype calls.

The mobility of the telephone also gives participants the complete freedom to go anywhere. With a Mobile Conference Call App, you can attend a virtual story conference from your surfboard, if you like. Just don't drop your phone.

The Internet has the fiber optic muscle to do all the heavy lifting of data, like the video feed if you are Video Conferencing, and the Cloud is everywhere now.

The laptop provides a nice big screen for the videoconference, and a simple, mobile platform for Free Screen Sharing. What are you sharing? Everything! All your Word Docs, PDF files, web links and pictures– you can upload anything into an online story conference at any time.

Want to refer back to a paragraph in the first draft? It's at your fingertips. Now it's on their desktop.

Virtual story conferences are actually better than sit down meetings, because every participant is sharing together in a collaborative way on the same screen. You can even send text messages to participants on the side, so as not to distract the main train of thought.

Writers and publishers both love the fact that all of this is free, and requires absolutely no communication infrastructure beyond the phones and laptops we all have. Free Web Conferencing is super easy to set up, too.

Easy setup

relaxing while workingScheduling a virtual story conference is a breeze, too, just like the one blowing in off the reef across the beach. Just go online, and use Call Scheduling to select the participants from drop down menus.

Use the Outlook Add-In or Google Calendar Sync to find out when they are available and choose a meeting time. Send them Invitations, and a set up some Automatic Meeting Reminders. The Cloud will do the rest.

After all, you could be catching a few rays, or finishing your outline!

One of the great joys of conference calls is the fact that they don't waste anybody's time getting to the meeting—even if you are in the same building. At the meeting time, everyone just picks up their phone and says hi.

Meetings take place in your own online Personal Meeting Room, which has Moderator Controls so that background noise (like surf, or poolside waiters) can be screened out. Two great features for story conferences are Call Recording and Transcription, so that no one needs to waste energy-stealing minutes. A story conference is an explosive creative process, and you don't want to miss any good ideas.

Life is a beach

Work on the BeachOf course, not all virtual story conferences include writers lounging in tropical locations, but the image of working on a beach is a compelling metaphor, and this blog was, after all, written by a writer, and, um…

"A little Dreaming is a good thing in Life."

Online story conferences work just as well for collaborative teams in the same building, the same city, or the same State. The Internet is now a State of Mind, offering connection, collaboration, and communication. The old "Pink Cloud" offers zero overhead, and the freedom to create the perfect work environment for us quirky, creative types.

"Professional Dreamers," if you will.

There is only one thing that web conferencing won't give you, and that is discipline.

My friend was telling me that monsoon season is surprisingly popular at the writer's community in Bali. There is nothing like 16 straight days of torrential rain to get caught up on her deadlines.

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