Why Bother With Conferences?
Updated: Oct 23, 2018
Conferences or conventions (Cons), expositions, and fairs proliferate for North American writers (estimated at 200+ per year by Chuck Sambuchino on TheWriteLife.com). They can be intimate and focused or expansive and sprawl across genres and roles (editing, writing, agent, publishing). There are some that last for days and others that breeze through town in a few hours. Depending on what you need, the right event is out there for you! To figure out which to attend, it's best to ask yourself a few questions.
Can I afford it?
Can I contribute in some way?
Will it help me move forward with my work?
Is it interesting to me?
By asking these questions you will quickly figure out whether you should and can attend an event.
First off, there ARE still a few free events left standing. Often, these are newer gatherings, but that doesn't mean they can't be very productive! If there are no free ones nearby, smaller events that charge can be very affordable. They are found in more locations, so may be closer to home, translating to big savings on hotels and travel. By either volunteering or participating on panels or workshops, you may receive reduced or free admission, if there is a charge. Another reason to contribute is that you have skills, and sharing them is what these events are all about!
You should be as prepared as possible when you go, depending on what you want to achieve. Bring work you are happy with (paper copy, just a few pages or on a USB drive), in case you are given an opportunity to workshop, critique, or pass along to an editor/agent/publisher for appraisal. Bring your business cards (if you don't have them yet, GET SOME!), your CV, and a really good attitude (as well as, possibly, your dragon hide because putting yourself out there can bring unwelcome rejection).
Big: Conventions can be intimidating, especially massive ones where you will likely have a hard time standing out. People pay a lot of money to attend, the crowds can be difficult to navigate, and it may be hard to find one-on-one time with agents, editors, or publishing representatives. The trade off is you can potentially meet many people in the business of books - SOMEONE there will befriend you! Someone may even recognize the awesomeness that is your work and offer to help you along!
Small: Smaller Cons have many attributes that could make them a better fit for you. They are significantly more focused on a single subject matter (ie: genre, geographic region, or process), which can be beneficial to people who are specifically looking for that. There is less jostling (good if you do not like crowds or have a physical handicap) and you should meet people on a more intimate level. Networking with people is easier when you can actually sit and talk together. You are possibly more likely to meet people in a way that lends itself to sharing work ideas, building collaboration, and exchanging experiences. Nothing is as efficient as word of mouth to help your work along, or protect you from a scammer. Any conference is a good for networking, but smaller ones offer a level of intimacy that larger ones (with bigger name stars) can not compete with.
Cons of any size will help expose you to the types of work, people, and businesses that populate the writing/book world. It is fun, social, and interesting to be a part of the world of literature - it is a living thing, and being a part of it is exciting. Also, there are a lot of freebies, especially pens and other swag, so it's an easy way to replenish your stash. If you pick an event that is of particular interest to you it will better help you with your work (assuming you do what you love!), you will enjoy meeting other people there, and you'll have fun learning new things about a subject you're invested in. Win-win-win!
Last but not least, attending these events is a type of personal development that gives you experience in fielding questions about yourself and your work. Your preparation for the event is a good excuse to spend extra time on your WIP. It may mean printing up cards or updating your CV, buying a new unstained shirt, or even getting a haircut! We writers forget that our overall lifestyle is as much for sale as the work we're plugging away at, and conventions and the like are a good reminder of the real world and our place in it.