Friday, July 26, 2013

Going to a Big Writing Conference: Is It Worth the Cost and Time?

Here’s the setup: a new-to-RWA author decides to swallow her nausea at the thought of dealing with hordes of people, and scrapes up the money for any of the following conferences: 

RWA National
RT Convention

RNC Convention


...or any number of more regional but just-as-intimidating conferences.

It’s a lot of money and she’s still so new to the whole writing-to-publish game. She has the online form pulled up; all she has to do is fill it in and write the check. Or log into PayPal and hit the button.

Perhaps she’s not a member of RWA and wonders if these memberships—and conferences and conventions—are even necessary. Maybe she’s better off holed up at her laptop or desktop, honing her craft and saving her pennies just in case she decides to self-publish one day. Will she learn anything that she can’t find online amongst all the resources now available on the internet for new writers? Isn’t she better served by staying the course, getting her manuscript all prettied up and not wasting time and money doing something she’s probably unprepared for?

Maybe. Then again . . .

I had been a member of RWA for a grand total of two weeks when I did a late registration for a local chapter conference. I was scared and nervous and nauseous and almost turned back several times on the drive to the conference hotel. I had even bowed to internal and external persuasion, and had decided to pitch my manuscript. It took every ounce of courage to walk into that hotel and pin on the badge I found in my goodie bag, because I am the very epitome of introvert and I usually don’t do well in crowds of more than three.

But I’m glad I went. I learned a lot about myself in those two days, and what I learned served as a huge affirmation that writing truly was my focus, my passion and my future. Of course my pitches were abysmal, my manuscript was laughably so not ready, and I was in awe of everyone else at the conference who seemed to have their stuff far more together.

But I met people, I found I could stand in a room with seventy other like-minded specimens of humanity without freaking out, and I came away with tentative friendships that have since strengthened.

A year later I attended my first RWA conference, threw myself into workshops and pitch sessions and networking. A month after that, I had my very first publishing contract under my belt, and a year after that, I became an editor for the publisher who took a chance on me.

Life continues its frenetic pace but it’s wonderful and uplifting. I’m ever the introvert, but you know what? If you ever meet me at a conference, you’ll never know I still have days when I want to lock myself in a dark closet and avoid people, phones, email messages and anything else that brings me into contact with other specimens of humanity.

That’s what going did for me, and it’s one tiny thing, of many, a writers’ conference will do for you: help to balance you out and teach you that you’re not alone in your creative needs.

I just returned from RWA 2013, in Atlanta. This time around I attended fewer workshops, connected with more friends, made myself available for the authors my publisher now works with, and had a wonderful time. I took pitches; in doing so met some nervous, talented authors and collected some wonderful synopses that I look forward to seeing in manuscript form, coming soon to an inbox on my desktop.

I became more of a participant but still retained my people-watching habits, and I saw myself in so many faces throughout the conference. That is, I saw my old self: that deer-in-the-headlights newbie who walked around as if wondering what on earth she was doing there. I also saw my future self, the author with more books published and more name recognition both as a writer and as an editor. I saw myself giving a workshop instead of just attending one. I don’t even have to think twice about it, because that’s where I’ll be. I’m secure enough now for that kind of affirmation.

Conferences instill confidence for even the shyest attendee. You can’t wander around during an event like that and not connect with people, especially if you have already developed a few friendships within your local chapter or writing group. Other writers want to smile at you, talk to you, perhaps offer up some of the mojo they have gained over the course of their own creative journey. You sit in a workshop and others will sit near you and start up a conversation; all it takes is one glance and a smile from you. Nobody ever has to be alone for any reason at a conference.

For anyone who wonders if a conference is worth time and money:
Yes, it most certainly is.

You not only learn, but you experience, and you need that as much as anything else usually found at an RWA-type event. Going to chapter meetings is only a part. It’s a very important part, of course, but it’s like a conference ‘seals the deal.’ Whether on a local/regional level or national, or a conference like RT, you need it. Time away from your normal life, for several days or just an all-day mini-con, is important to your creative juices. It affirms your status as a writer and we all need that.

Because in spite of everything else you are to others; a spouse, a parent, someone’s child, someone’s co-worker or someone’s boss . . . you’re also a writer and it’s a huge hunk of your life. Otherwise, you’d be doing something else.

When I’m asked if a conference is worth it, I always say ‘yes.’ Because it is. The cost can be horrendous and not everyone likes staying in hotels or flying to get there, but it’s worth it.

So when you go to your first conference, and you’re nervous and wondering why you shelled out all that money—or if it’s your second or third time at a conference and you still can’t figure out why you bothered . . . come find me. Make eye contact, offer up a smile, and I’ll sit down next to you, talk to you. I’ll listen to your pitch if you have one ready. I’ll have lunch with you if you find yourself sitting all alone. Because someone gave me the same courtesy at my first conference, and it meant a whole lot.

See you in 2014, somewhere!

--- Char Chaffin

Char Chaffin is a member of AKRWA, CNYRW, and the LaLaLas writing group. She is the author of three published works, currently working on her fourth novel, and is an Editor with Soul Mate Publishing. A displaced Alaskan, Char currently hangs out in Upstate New York and plots to return to Fairbanks, every chance she gets.


Barbara said...

Char, good post. As an introvert myself, I so identified with what you said. Even after attending several conferences, myself, I still have trouble working out of myself. But you make some good suggestions. Hope to see you in one of those gatherings in 2014.
Barb Bettis

Violetta Rand said...

Informative post Char. I'm glad you took the plunge with that first conference--it paid off. Maybe someday I'll do the same.

Pamala Knight said...

Wonderful post Char! Everyone has their newbie moments and it's so very comforting and encouraging to know that you're not alone and someone might be thrilled to answer your questions or sit with you at lunch :)

Hope to see you at a conference somewhere soon.


Lauren Linwood said...

Enjoyed the post, Char! As an introvert who doesn't like having to "work" a room, I've found romance writers to be wonderful at putting others at ease. Hope to see you at a conference in 2014!!

Beppie Harrison said...

Boy, do I agree with you Char. Of course the bigger the conference the more likely that you'll spend less time than you'd hoped with friends you already have, but making new ones is a great benefit! I'm still zinging with energy from Atlanta. Now the second part -- using what I learned, and back to the comfort and isolation of the laptop and me.

Emelle Gamble said...

Agree with all your points, Char. I think, particularly when you've finished a book and have 'product', these conferences help you see yourself at the next step. I really enjoyed meeting with you and the fabulous founder of Soul Mate Publishing, Debby Gilbert, and hope to see you again soon. I also found that contacting my new friends and expanding my circle of supportive fellow writers is the best bonus of all. See you in San Antonio if not before!

Pen N. InkBlog said...

What a wonderful post, Char. And so true. Oddly enough,
(because I am also an actor,) I feel extremely introverted in large crowds. Fortunately I have a critique partner who is the world's greatest schmoozer and she gets the other three of us involved. We will be attending our third SCBWI conference together next week. I can't wait to attend my first RWA conference and I look forward to meeting you.

LizbethSelvig said...

Hey Char,
I had no idea you were at RWA -- we could have met! I could have dragged you around extrovert land for a teeny while. This was a great post--a good counterpoint to mine here last week where I talked about going to conferences as an extrovert. The advantage to being introverted is that you're usually smart and take down time to re-group during the conference. I go non-stop for five days and crash for two when I get back. That's the un-intelligent way to travel. But--all that aside, you nailed the reasons to go to conferences. I think they're the best tool we writers have for networking and learning! Next time--we'll meet up for sure!

DeNise said...

Hi Char,
I agree on so many points-I've been a coward about RWA National but next year is I'm gonna pull up my big-girl panties and be there. See you then.