It’s that time of year again: CONFERENCES!
I have posted about this before, but thought it might be a good idea to post again, for those newbies who might be dithering, agonizing, and overall puzzling about attending one.
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:
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, among 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 Soul Mate, 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.
RWA 2016 in San Diego is coming up fast. It’ll be here before you know it. And RT is next month. Although I can’t make RT—Mr. Don and I are on the road at that time—I’ll be in San Diego, ready to hand out adorable little SMP pins, greet all our wonderful SMP authors who plan on attending, taking pitch appointments for Soul Mate, co-hosting a Spotlight for SMP, and generally running around like the Energizer Bunny.
I find myself attending fewer conference workshops, and instead connecting more with the authors. In making myself available this way, I learn as much if not more of what makes authors tick, what they need, why they strive to succeed. Because of those connections, I see improvements in my own writing, my own editing practices. And in the way I handle people. More confidence for the girl whose preferred entertainment was sitting in my grandmother’s dark, locked closet with a flashlight and a book.
Though I have become a participant, I still retain my people-watching habits, and I see myself in so many faces throughout these conference. That is, I see my old self: that deer-in-the-headlights newbie who walked around as if wondering what on earth she was doing there. I also take note of my future self, the author with more books published and more name recognition both as a writer and as an editor. I plan on giving a workshop instead of just attending some. It’s affirmation, and something I want to see every shy, uneasy author achieve.
Conferences instill confidence for even the most hesitant 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 author-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 RWA and 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 this year, somewhere!
Char Chaffin is a member of AKRWA, CNYRW, and the LaLaLas writing group. She is the author of five published works, currently working on her sixth novel, and is a Senior Acquisitions Editor with Soul Mate Publishing. A displaced Alaskan, Char currently hangs out in a traveling motorhome with Mr. Don—the most romantic man in the world—and plots world dominance, one state at a time. But only if they serve chocolate.