All professions and hobbies have their own jargon. I’m an RN, my husband is in IT and there are times it feels like we speak completely different languages. The craft and business of writing is no different and when a writer pokes their head out of their towering TBR pile and realizes there’s a lot they don’t know, they start looking at ways to learn.
Conferences and local events have a lot to offer, so I thought I’d break down some of the differences I’ve experienced recently.
Where I was this weekend: A Small Conference
I spent the past two days at the Tampa Bay Publishing Conference put on by Wordier Than Thou. There were 5 speakers each day and around 20 of us listening and scribbling notes. Looking at the line up on paper I thought I would only be interested in some of the speakers, people who wrote the kind of thing that I wanted to write, and I considered skipping the ones I didn’t feel would be a good fit.
During the first day I found that each person said something that resonated with me, something that I could learn from and use in my own process or add to my skills. I attended all of the sessions both days and was glad I did. Besides, I paid to be there, I might as well get everything out of it that I possibly can.
Going to a small conference is simpler and less intimidating than a large one. There will still be a lot of information and some attendees said they felt overwhelmed, just take notes and then process it all at your own speed. A small gathering also means the people presenting and attending are likely to be local and it’s a good place to make connections and friendships to expand your writing community. Support of other writers can be great motivation and improve your skills more than anything you can do on your own.
WHAT DOES IT COST:
A local event is much less expensive than a large one and probably the best bang for your buck in the beginning. The registration fee is much lower and you don’t have to pay for plane tickets or a hotel. Some have one day tickets instead of registration for the whole event.
Where I was last week: Author events
If you haven’t found your local bookstores stop and do a google search now. I’ll wait. Tiny independent hole-in-the-wall or big chain, they all have events that can benefit you as a writer.
My nearest local independent bookstore here is BookStore1 and last week they had a reading by Patricia Falvey of her newest book, The Titanic Sisters. She was sitting at a table in the audience talking with other attendees when I arrived, so I didn’t even know she was there until they said it was time to start and she should move to her official place alone at the front. She did, but said she’d much rather stay in the crowd where she was, and I think all of us can relate to that.
Seeing an author at an event lets you get to know them a little bit as a person. I find it encouraging to hear how each author found their way into full time writing, and Patricia told us about her background in business, her transition into writing that led to her first interaction with her agent, and her process of writing historical novels, including the resources she uses to make sure they are as accurate as possible.
I really appreciated that she made historical fiction seem doable by breaking it down. I had been looking at it as I would have to do lots of research (which you do) and be an expert (which you don’t) in order to write good historical fiction. After seeing her I know that if I decide to try that genre I now have a clear idea of how to do it.
Going to an author reading I keep in mind that
if when I publish a book that will be me up there, so I study what they are doing, what I like and what doesn’t work, in preparation for my turn. There is not as much opportunity to network with other writers but going to your local bookstores builds a relationship with people who are going to be selling your books, hopefully they’ll remember you and recommend it to their customers.
WHAT DOES IT COST:
Bookstore readings are often free to attend, just RSVP that you will be there. Sometimes there is a small cost but usually it will include a copy of the book that they author will sign for you. I wind up spending the most in the store itself because there is always a book I can’t pass up on one of the shelves.
Where I’ll be this summer: Big Conferences
This summer I’ll be going to two big conferences in person, Writer’s League of Texas’ Agents and Editors (A&E) Conference in Austin, TX and Writer’s Digest in New York City. I’m excited, and at the same time I feel like I don’t really belong there. (Imposter syndrome anyone?)
Both have a long list of presenters lined up to cover the business of writing and the skills and craft side, and many different genres will be represented. There will be a lot of information, a lot of people, and it will be overwhelming at times. I may have to find a place to hide and recharge and that’s ok. Some of it will be things that I’m not ready to do yet, like pitching a complete manuscript, but when I am ready I’m going to be better prepared and have some professional contacts to call on.
Being with so many other writers is an educational experience in itself. It’s a great opportunity to meet other people who do what we do, to learn from a variety of sources and to get connected with people from all over the world. Yes, many will be more experienced and know more than I do, but that presents an opportunity to improve myself. If you’re the smartest person in the room you are in the wrong room because there’s nothing for you to learn there.
My only experience with a large conference prior to this was TBEX, a travel writer’s conference that I attended in 2014 and 2015 and the first Women In Travel Summit in 2015.
The most fulfilling part of those conferences wasn’t the sessions or the tours they sent us on, it was finding my people. There were other travelers and writers there and THEY GOT IT. They didn’t ask me what I was doing or act like I was crazy for doing it. Yes, writing is a business, but it doesn’t have to be serious or solitary all the time and big conferences are also a chance to have fun with people like you.
At any writing conference no one is going to make you feel like you are doing something frivolous and should have a “real job.” To me that is one of the best parts.
WHAT DOES IT COST:
Big conferences are expensive. Registration is hundreds of dollars, plus airfare and hotel and food. If you want to do extras like attend a popular keynote during a lunch break, pre-conference craft workshops, or sometimes pitching to agents and editors, all the extras are usually extra cash.
We were already going to Austin this summer so the conference there is part of a trip we were taking anyway, and because I wanted to go to NYC I’m adding some sightseeing there. I have a post on ways I’m saving some money on those trips here. Taking some time to explore those new places and getting the most out of my trip are almost as important to me as the event, don’t overlook those new experiences.
The Stay At Home Option: Going Digital
One advantage of a large conference and even some of the smaller events is that many now offer a digital option.
At TBEX we made strategic partnerships: you go to room A and I’ll go to room B, we’ll exchange notes after so we both get the information we want. With a digital option you don’t have to do that, the organization makes recordings of all the presentations and gives you access after the conference.
The digital option can be included as part of the registration, or an add-on to an in-person ticket, or a separate (and lower priced) option for those who aren’t able to get there.
Inkers Con has the in-person and digital options separate and makes each an event in itself rather than one being a recording of what you missed at the other. Their digital option even includes some live interactive events so the networking aspect won’t be missing.
A digital conference I’m considering would be the Writing Day Workshops. Each one is listed as being based in a different area on a different weekend but they are all completely online and have recordings available for any sessions you might miss, plus bonus recordings from past events. Each city has a different line up off presenters, different classes and a large list of agents that are available to pitch to.
One of the agents at the A&E conference that I really wanted to pitch to had a full schedule right away first day and I missed that opportunity, but she is going to be at some of the Writing Day Workshops, giving me another chance to connect with her.
WHAT DOES IT COST:
The digital options that I have looked at are mostly for larger conferences, so they are a bargain compared to the in-person price of that event but still much more than a small event.
Writing Day Workshops have an affordable a la carte registration process, with only the main registration being required and the rest left to add on if you are interested. The Inker’s Con digital option is also hundreds of dollars less than the in-person conference, so if a large conference is too pricey right now there are good options online.
There is so much information available online now, is paying for a class or going to an in-person event worth spending a weekend and some cash on?
YES, because it is an investment in yourself and your career.
Look at your writing as a business and see how these interactions will be useful to you in the future. I personally retain more if I am sitting in a room and talking with people in person (did I just date myself?) Plus it’s more fun than doing a self-paced course by myself at home.
I hope to see you out there!
Full disclosure: The opinions expressed in this post are my own and I received no compensation from any of the events mentioned (but if they want to change that, call me!) I am an Amazon affiliate so if you click on a product link I may get a small amount of a financial thank you from it.
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