Fiction

A Convention By Any Other Name…

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Even in a brewhouse, a conference is only what you bring to it!

Although I previously claimed I would be my beer writing away from this particular blog, I wanted to drop by and discuss writers’ conferences. In the past year I have attended three conferences, and I’ve realized that in many ways they are very much alike. So, should you attend a writers’ conference? What should you hope to take away from the experience? Is a writers’ conference a good investment in your “career” to date?

A few gross generalizations about conferences that are—from what I can tell—pretty fair and accurate:

  1. Conferences are expensive.From airfare/travel to hotels to paying for the conference itself, you should be ready to plunk down hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. The recent Writer’s Digest Conference, for example? Cost me upwards of $800; and I didn’t have to pay for a NYC hotel for three days. The Beer Bloggers Conference ’13, from which I just returned, was super cheap by comparison, but I had to pay for lodging and transport to the tune of $600 (plus the conference fees, it was about the same as the Writer’s Digest Conference). And then there’s often products you want to buy while attending the conference, meaning even more of your money will be gone by the time you get back home.
  2. Anyone can attend, which means a diverse (and maybe unprofessional) audience.No one wants to feel like they aren’t a part of the crowd, but not everyone who attends a conference is at the same level in terms of skill, background, goals or professionalism. Nor do they have to be, but tempering your expectations might be a good idea before you look to network with people who’s agenda is not necessarily in line with your own
  3. If you’re there for the scenery, arrive a day early or leave a day late.You know what you’ll see at a conference? The hotel. If off-site activity is involved, you might see some of the city you’re in from the inside of a bus. That trip over to Times Square or up to Central Park? Fuhgeddaboudit! It’s all conferencing all the time. If you take time out to do what you want to do, you will definitely miss out on something at the conference. It may not be an important something, but you paid for it (see #1).
  4. You will make some connections, but probably not lasting ones.As romantic as it sounds to think a power weekend with like minds will bring you tons of great connections in your industry (or passion), it probably won’t. Six months later, you’ll be lucky if your “new best friend” is still liking your Facebook updates. You can strike while the iron is hot, and try to capitalize on the acquaintance, but chances are it will remain only an acquaintance.
  5. Don’t hitch your ride to a star.Presenters at the conference are usually at the top of their game. They may be willing to remain in contact with you post-conference and offer some advice. They may even read your pitch. If you’re lucky, they’ll give you feedback that helps you grow as a writer. But don’t expect a job out of it. Or a publishing contract. You are as likely to get that on your own as you are from a conference. Or not!
  6. You will come out a better writer. For awhile.The high of a conference usually results in at least a week of increased productivity. Your mental juices will flow, and you will be all hyped up to employ the sharpened tools now in your tight grasp. However, you will soon be back in the world of writing deadlines and follow-up, having to pitch and suffer rejection regularly, juggling your dream novel while writing puff pieces for pay (or keeping your day job and still trying to write early in the morning and late at night). Use your post-conference days wisely. Because when the buzz wears off, you’ll be back into your old routine and habits.

Attending a conference won’t change your world, so whether or not you attend one should be based on perspective. You can have a great experience and feel much better about being part of this crazy world. But like a trip to the stylist, the changes will not last. You still have to do all the hard work on your own.

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