When I retired from teaching and got the bright idea to see if I could turn my writing hobby into something more professional, I was—to be blunt—dumb as dirt about how to make it happen. It made sense to research the process, which I did, and stumbled on my first writing conference.
The conference was affordable and within driving distance, so I packed my bag. It was an instructive two days, and when I returned the following year, I had a published book to market at my own table! The third year things fell apart. New leadership was finding its sea legs (understandable), but an unfortunate incident led me to feel I could spend my money more profitably elsewhere.
I spent the next two years at yet another conference and took away more than one useful piece of information. Later I attended a much smaller one-day conference and met some nice folks. After that, I went farther afield and participated in a large, hugely-affordable, well-organized conference run by a friendly writers’ group. I determined not to miss the aforementioned two conferences in 2015. The added perk was that both were near tourist sites I wanted to visit yet again.
Then 2015 dawned, and I had an epiphany: I really didn’t want to go. What? Why? Well, I’ll tell you. Writing conferences are a good thing for many folks, but I’d had my fill. Specifically I’d had my fill of:
- Hearing repetitive information (especially from the same person in many cases!)
- Faithfully taking notes which I never looked at again because I already knew most of what I felt compelled to write down.
- Sitting through long awards ceremonies where the same people took home the lion’s share of prizes every year (That’s got to be more than discouraging for new writers who then decide they don’t have a chance and stop trying.)
- Hauling in books and bling, setting up a table, sitting behind a table (when I’d rather be mingling and meeting people), packing up again, hauling books and bling back to the car
- And finally—while I’ve met some of the nicest people ever at these conferences, I’ve also felt suffocated in a room too full of monumental EGOS. (We are all writers. It’s not a competition.)
Writing conferences have many positive outcomes both professionally and socially. Attending (or not) depends on the individual author’s immediate needs and shot/long-term goals. A conference should be chosen with an eye to those needs and goals. Just ‘showing up’ can be a waste of time and money. If one loves getting ‘all gussied up’ and socializing, larger conferences are definitely the places to do just that. Please understand I’m not knocking it. It’s just that I’m more of a let’s go grab a Coke and chat sort of person.
So why did my personal needs and goals evolve to eliminate conferences?
First, age could be a factor. The physical effort of packing/hauling/unpacking/re-hauling books and bling isn’t worth the physical effort for me. Book sales at these events are typically small unless one is well-known and/or the keynote speaker with a string of credentials—which makes perfect sense. Of course, how many people go home and buy the less expensive ebooks also factors into deciding if sales are worth the effort. But overall, it’s more about exposure than making money.
Next, I love to travel, but it came to me I didn’t have to use a conference as an excuse. The ability to pick up and go is always there. Some of the best trips ever have been spur-of-the-moment excursions. No schedule to keep, no responsibilities, no onerous packing/unpacking of extra “stuff”. When I travel, I bring home tons of ideas for new stories. Those notes I do revisit!
Finally, with the wealth of writing/publishing/marketing information on the internet, one can ‘conference’ in the comfort of one’s own home—and wearing pajamas!
Again, making the choice of attending one or multiple conferences has to be a need/goal-based decision. A conference needs to be interesting, instructive, and most of all, enjoyable. I have two lengthy non-conference trips planned which just fill the bill. Maybe I’ll pass you on the road!