Last fall I did something I’d been actively avoiding for a long time. I went to a writers’ conference.
My arguments against it seemed valid, even felt valid. Why spend that much money? I can’t spend the time doing that. I have other things to do. I don’t want to travel. What can a bunch of other writers teach me about my writing? (Ok, since I’ve talked about writing groups I had a good answer on that last one, but it worked for avoiding conferences…) Now that I’ve gone, I wish I’d gone sooner!
Just going to a conference doesn’t make you a writer. (Writing does that…) Going to a conference creates opportunities and can help make you a better writer. And, with the number of virtual or hybrid conferences going on, there are plenty of low cost, low travel options too. But whether you attend online or in person, it’s as much a question of what you put into it as what you get out.
Being an attendee
The simplest, lowest intensity, level of participation is going to the conference as an attendee. You don’t have to physically go to the whole conference. Online and day-pass attendance is valid. Being an attendee, you’ll get access to some keynote speakers (those are the bigger name folks that talk to everybody); you’ll get to attend some breakout sessions addressing specific topics (choose one’s you’re interested in…); and if you’re attending in person, you might get some food out of the deal (sorry, so far as I can tell, lunch and snack delivery is usually not part of your virtual attendee package).
Perhaps the most important thing is you get to make contacts. Writers are often introverts, and can be pretty well spread out, but at a conference you’ve got lots of folks together and a common interest, so finding someone to talk to becomes easier.
For the folks saying “but I don’t want to talk to other writers!” First off, maybe you should, sometimes it’s a good idea to bounce ideas off someone. Second (and even more important) writers aren’t the only people that show up at writers’ conferences. Editors, agents, publishers, marketing people, artists (as in cover artists), book designers, music people, and film people show up at these things too. A conference is a place to find the people you need to finish your project.
Being “on the inside”
Once you’ve attended a conference, the next step (one that few people take) is to get into the action as an insider. This might mean being a volunteer (you might do this for your first one (if you have the right contacts already)). You might serve on a committee. If you have something to sell, you might even slide in as a vender.
As an insider, you get some definite benefits (at the cost of more work).
As a volunteer, you’re putting in work at the conference but have the opportunity for reduced or even free entry (at least on the days you’re working).
If you’re on a committee, you’ve can shape the conference itself! Do you really want a session on a specific topic? If you’re on the right committee, you can push for that. (And committed folk frequently get free or reduced conference fees (they built the thing after all))
As a vender, you’re getting advertising and the ability to sell stuff. On the downside, as a vender you might have to pay to be there. (But hey, advertising… And if you sell more than the conference costs, you’re making a profit.)
You could be a presenter. Yes, a presenter… Keynotes are usually contacted by the conference committee, but many conferences hold a call for proposals. And, a call for proposals is a chance to present things you’d like to talk about at the conference. (I know, I know… Introverts… But the possibility is there, so I had to mention it.) And again, as a presenter, you’ll probably get at least a day pass admission for your trouble.
Whatever position you fill, being an active part of the conference increases your chances of contacting with people that can really help you with your writing goals. Currently, I’m on the conference committee for the Latter-Day Saints Publishing Media and Arts conference (LDSPMA). I’m sharing space and time with fellow writers, publishers, editors, social media types, and marketing folk. I’m in a spot where the folks I’m working with either are the contacts I need or know someone who is.
What we get out of it
There is inspiration to be had. There’s information in the sessions. There are products and services to be bought. But, the most important thing we get from conferences isn’t a what, it’s a who.
Writing is a lonely business sometimes. There are things we have to do for ourselves. But, if we want to succeed, we usually can’t do it all on our own. A conference is a place to find the people we need, or the people who know the people…
It’s a practical matter. As a writer, we don’t want ourselves or our writing to be just another manuscript. By learning from the conference and talking to people, we make the move from “just another manuscript” to being a real (known) person with a good manuscript. We might even find that right person and key information to make it a great manuscript. And we’re pitching it to someone we already know, someone we can present a specific, planned pitch to.
No, attending a conference isn’t mandatory. But if you want to present the right manuscript to the right person, and actually get stuff published and read, attending a conference is a step in the right direction.
I’d encourage you to check out LDSPMA dear reader or, if not our conference, check out another conference that fits you better. And of course, I’ll see you next post!