Monday, May 17, 2021

Words for Writers - A Conference Quiz

 As the weather improves and travel is less challenging, it seems as if conferences are springing up as quickly as the dandelions in my yard. Should you attend one? Probably, but before you invest your time and money, why not spend a few minutes with my simple five-part quiz? The questions – and their answers – may give you a different perspective.

Let’s get started. The statements are designed for a “true” or “false” response.

1. The primary reason to attend a conference is to meet agents and editors. False. While an agent or editor appointment can be extremely valuable, in part because it might shorten the query process, your primary reason for attending a conference ought to be to learn more about the craft, marketing, or simply the state of the publishing industry. This is a learning opportunity. 

2. To get your money’s worth from a conference, you should attend every possible workshop. Since I told you that the reason for attending a conference is to learn, you might think that the answer to this is “true.”  Not so. While I urge you to attend many workshops at each conference, you also need to consider the very real possibility of brain overload. 

Take time to relax and absorb what you’ve learned. Sometimes this means retreating to your room. Other times, a few minutes chatting with other attendees might be enough. Be careful not to overdo. The last thing you want is to return home exhausted, with all the workshops starting to blur in your mind.

3. The larger the conference, the better. If you were expecting me to say either “true” or “false,” I’m going to disappoint you. This is a “maybe.”  While it’s true that larger conferences typically offer more tracks and, therefore, more workshops from which to choose the perfect ones for you, if the thought of plenary sessions with thousands of other attendees makes you cringe, you’d be better served by attending a smaller conference. Consider your comfort levels before you make any decisions.

4. It’s not easy being a newbie at a conference. Definitely true. Many conference organizers make a special effort to identify first time attendees and ask their members to include them in conversations, at meals, etc. But the reality is that most writers are introverts, which means that facing hundreds – perhaps thousands – of strangers is daunting. 

The best way to avoid this problem is to ask one of your writing friends to attend with you. Sometimes, though, that’s not possible. What to do then? Look around. You’re likely to see others who are sitting or standing alone. Why not approach them? One time when I did that, it became the start of a friendship that’s spanned decades. 

5. Every workshop you attend will be valuable. Oh, if only that were true!  I’ve attended a number of workshops where the blurb sounded fabulous, the speaker had outstanding credentials, and I found myself nodding off from boredom. My first reaction was anger, as in “What a waste of time and money,” but then I realized that the problem was mine. I’d set unrealistic expectations. Not every workshop will be perfect for you, just as not every conference is the right one for you. 

What should you expect from a conference? My new criterion for judging whether or not a conference was worthwhile is this: if I learn one thing or make one good contact, it was a success. I can’t remember a single workshop I attended at the conference where I met the woman who became my friend and critique partner. In fact, I remember returning home and telling my husband that it was at best a mediocre conference. And yet, meeting Diane made it one of the best conferences I’ve attended.

So, my friends, consider what you hope to gain from a conference, calibrate your expectations, choose carefully, and then have fun. Because, when it’s all over, what you’ll remember is whether or not you enjoyed your time at the conference.

1 comment:

  1. I've only attended one conference, and had far too many expectations. If I attend another, it will be with the realistic points you make!