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

With RWA 2015 coming up fast, I thought I’d ruminate a bit on the value, the cost, the agony and the ecstasy of forking out major bucks for National (or any large conference for that matter).

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 a hundred 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 (coincidentally in New York City), 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 Soul Mate, who’d first taken a chance on me.

I’ve had the splendid opportunity to meet so many of you at not only past RWA Nationals but also at this year’s RT in Dallas. If when we met I didn’t come across as an introvert, well . . . that personality quirk is still very much a part of me, truly. What’s changed is what attending conferences has given me: a sheen of confidence when I get to connect with like-minded people who have the same goals as I do. Of course it’s easier to blend in when the entire conference of a thousand or more writers, agents, editors, and industry professionals all lust after the same thing: the written word. Even better when we get to chat about it. A lot. And in ways our non-writing friends or our family members can’t relate to.

Outside of conference-going, life continues its frenetic pace but it’s wonderful and uplifting. I’m ever the introvert, but guess what? If you 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.

Last month I attended RT Convention (my first RT), in Dallas. With Cheryl Yeko I co-chaired a Showcase for Soul Mate – IMG_9978  connected with some Soulies for a great dinner out –IMG_20150515_190112_085  reconnected with BFFs and fellow Power Of Three sisters Callie Hutton and Cheryl Yeko – POT

and in spite of being sick, had a wonderful time. I took pitches; in doing so met some nervous, talented authors, and even set aside a nice chunk of time for a much-needed writing retreat with Cheryl. All in all a pretty productive week.

Each time I attend a conference I gain more confidence. Oh, I still retain my people-watching habits, but often I’ll see my old self in so many faces. Like that deer-in-the-headlights newbie who walks around as if wondering what on earth she’s doing there. I also see my future self, the author with more books published and more name recognition both as a writer and as an editor. I see myself planning and then giving workshops, sharing what I’ve learned.

I see changes ahead for me, and maybe I wouldn’t have seen any of that if I didn’t gird my loins, cough up the dough . . . and go.

Conferences can instill confidence in 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 unless they want it that way.

For anyone who wonders if a conference is worth time and money: yes, it most certainly is. You not only learn, but you experience. 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, 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 require 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 The Big Apple, in July? I sure hope so! I’ll be the one wearing the cute little red SMP pin. pins

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About charchaffin2011

Writer and Senior Acquiring Editor
This entry was posted in Char's Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Going to a Big Writing Conference: Is It Worth the Cost and Time? by Char Chaffin

  1. L.D. Rose says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to a conference. For me it’s trying schedule time off work more than anything else (and the cost is hefty, I think my hubby’s eyes damn near popped out of his head when I told him about RWA NYC). But I will go, damn it! And soon.

  2. lynncahoon says:

    Last year in San Antonio, I tried to sit at tables where I didn’t know anyone. I found myself next to one of my lala sisters and the other morning, next to Kate W. who runs the WW blog. So much for meeting strangers, but isn’t that the thing? We’re never among strangers when we’re at on of these conferences? See you in NYC.

    • Lynn, that’s an excellent idea, sitting with strangers who will soon become friends. It’s not the most comfy feeling in the world, but it’s good for us who ride the introvert train. 🙂 See you in NYC. LaLaLa!

  3. Donna Steele says:

    It was almost the same for me – my first “meeting” with HCRW was their annual conference and I didn’t know a soul. Cherry Adair was the speaker and so incredible. Can’t believe how much I’ve learned that I didn’t know I needed to know. (And I have an extra excuse to go to NY – La Daughter lives there so I get a twofer at a great price.)

  4. Beth Carter says:

    I never would have guessed you were an introvert, Char. I was a shy kid but grew out of it EXCEPT when I’m around hordes of people I don’t know. Like, oh, at a conference. Lol. Great post.

    I have a story about my first conference and pitch session a few years ago in Ohio. I still shake my head when I think about it. Nice nudge about the importance of meeting and learning from like-minded folks!

  5. I like your comment about non writing family and friends and also writers who don’t write romance. It is wonderful to be with those who get it.

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