By Catherine Dilts
If you’ve just attended your first writers conference, you may still be walking on a cloud. You’re inspired and motivated. If you did things right, you’re also a little overwhelmed and exhausted, yet eager to attend again next year.
But if this was your tenth, or you’re attending several conferences a year, the whole experience may be turning a little sour for you.
I had attended PPWC off and on for nearly twenty years. Once I became published, other authors insisted participating in conferences was essential. You had to keep your name out there. Visibility, baby. Be seen.
So I signed up for another in-state conference, Colorado Gold. Because I write mystery, I went to Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and Killer Nashville. Each was different, drawing either hundreds or thousands of attendees, with emphasis on craft and business, or geared toward fans.
You’ve got to work that conference. Schmooze. Mingle. You know – those things introverts just love to do. Not. So I tried. I got on panels, as a participant or moderator. I signed books. I networked in my own feeble, socially awkward way. And I left conferences drained.
My problem was allowing other peoples’ goals to be my own. You can avoid burn out with advanced planning. Before registering, consider what you hope to gain from the experience.
Goals that may disappoint:
- Land a contract with a dream agent or publishing house. Sure, it has been done. You should definitely try. None of my “send it” conquests came to fruition, although they did motivate me to continue writing. Pinning the entire point of attending on making a sale may cause you to miss out on learning experiences that will result in future publication.
- Who wouldn’t want to be fawned over by a public who recognizes your genius? One PPWC, I saw a nearly empty table at dinner. I hurried over, glad to have snagged a seat near the podium. The lone occupant was one of the best-seller keynote speakers. A few other people joined us before the evening program began, but that was a good lesson that even big names can be overlooked at conferences. Another time, I repeated this tactic and sat next to a local author who had made a big sale to a major publisher, only to be virtually ignored by peers at the conference. This author was incredibly grateful I sat at that table, to spare the embarrassment of sitting alone.
- Sell books. At conferences, everyone is pushing their books. The reality is that few people sell enough books to pay their bar tab, much less their conference attendance. At big conferences, publishers may be giving away books. Bags of free books may cause attendees to question shelling out bucks for your books.
Running yourself ragged promoting yourself can suck the enjoyment right out of a conference. Yes, conferences are a business opportunity. But I can guarantee you’ll get a case of burn out if you don’t have some fun.
Increasingly post-conference, I felt my time would have been better spent actually working on a novel or short story. When I volunteered behind the scenes, appeared on panels, and moderated talks, I spent a ton of time in preparation. It felt too much like work.
Then COVID hit. Conferences abruptly cancelled due to the pandemic. I discovered something about myself during the lockdowns. I am an extreme introvert. While other folks were in a state of panic and depression being socially isolated, I was deliriously happy. For a while.
I still believe conferences are personally and professional beneficial. I plan to jump back in. Before I go, I want to know I won’t leave feeling I wasted my time. I’ll have specific goals.
Goals to avoid conference burn-out:
- Know your purpose. Why are you attending this particular conference? Proximity to home? Workshops on topics of interest? Is it specific to your genre? Your writing buddies are going? It’s okay if your main purpose is social. Writing is a solitary endeavor. A weekend surrounded by creative people can be invigorating.
- Set achievable professional goals. Everyone wants to be the next amazing conference success story. Hopefully that happens for you. Until that golden moment though, how about achieving a “send me” from an agent? Learn something about the art and craft of writing that breaks your writer’s block? Receive news about the current state of publishing from actual publishers?
- Research people in advance. You might run into them in an elevator. Know who the keynote speakers are. Who is teaching the class you’re most interested in attending? Are there agents or editors you want to meet? Put this info in your pre-conference notes. Don’t reach the last hour of the last day in the realization that you failed to meet someone important to you.
- One of the best ways to network is to help out behind the scenes. Shuttle speakers from the airport. Moderate a panel. Clerk in the conference bookstore. Attend pre-conference planning meetings. But don’t overcommit. Know your time and energy limits.
- Make it matter. You spent your valuable time and money to attend. Post-conference, review your notes. Follow up on advice or new knowledge gained. Make those contacts, join that critique group, apply new wisdom to your work-in-progress.
I’ve talked it over with my old conference running buddies. We are all in for a return visit to PPWC 2023. You’ll probably find us at the lounge, reminiscing about conferences past.
Conferences mentioned in article:
- Pikes Peak Writers Conference – PPWC2023 will be April 28-30, 2023
- Colorado Gold Conference – Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference 2022 is scheduled for September 9-11, 2022
Mystery Writers Conferences-
- Malice Domestic – April 28 – 30, 2023, Bethesda, MA
- Left Coast Crime – LCC will be held in Tucson, AZ March 16-19, 2023
- Killer Nashville – August 18-21, 2022, Nashville, TN
- Bouchercon – In 2022 Bouchercon will be held in Minneapolis, MN, September 8-11, 2022
CATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue.