Monday, June 27, 2011

CONFERENCES – Are they worth the time – and the money?

 My guest, fellow writer, and Facebook friend Sandra Carey Cody offers some good insights and advice on conferences--worth reading! Her new book is Left at Oz , a Jenny Connors mystery.

I ask myself this from time to time, especially when I have a conference on my calendar. This summer I have two: Deadly Ink in New Jersey and Killer Nashville in Tennessee. Though I’m looking forward to both, my feelings about them are different.

I’ve been to Deadly Ink several times. I know I’ll see some familiar faces there and I look forward to that with a great deal of pleasure. Most of them I haven’t seen in person since the last Deadly Ink. I’ve kept in touch (sort of) via the internet, but it’s not the same. Wonderful as social media is, there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction and, if I hadn’t attended this conference, there’s a good chance I would never have met these people.

Why the different feeling about Killer Nashville? This will be my first time there. I won’t know anyone. Meeting new people is also a pleasure, but being a shy person, there’s a bit of anxiety tainting the pleasure - not nearly as much as when I was younger but it’s still there. I’ve learned that the best way to overcome the anxiety is tell myself that the stranger across the room might be even shyer than I am and I’ll actually be doing her a favor if I go over and introduce myself. Works every time.

Besides renewing old friendships and making new ones, there’s the fun of exchanging ideas. Talking nonstop about books and writing with someone whose eyes don’t glaze over after the first thirty seconds - that’s pure pleasure!

I still haven’t answered the question I started with: Are conferences worth the time? If I stayed home and ignored my “to do” list in the same way it’s ignored when I’m away from home, I could get a lot of writing done. (I probably wouldn’t, but I could.) So how do I justify the time? I remind myself that I’m learning something. Conferences offer workshops that deal with the nuts and bolts of constructing a story. By talking to other writers and learning how they develop their characters and craft their plots, I see new possibilities for my own stories. By listening to readers, I gain an understanding of what makes a story work. So my answer is: yes, conferences are definitely worth the time.

Are they worth the money? I can’t honestly say that attending a conference has made a difference in my bank account, but neither has the money I’ve spent on vacations. Like vacations, conferences are memory makers and, as such, they represent some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Again, my answer is a resounding yes.

I haven’t even touched on the real value of a conference: fellowship.  When I’m at a conference, I am first and foremost a writer.  Writing is not something I do in addition to my real life; for those few days I feel that writing is my life.  And that feeling is priceless – in terms of both time and money.

You can find Sandy at


Anne MacKay said...

I've found The Crime Bake run by the New England Sisters in Crime has been quite a help in my writing. In the early days, it was a matter of hearing other writers speaking of their writing, realizing that I was not alone. Then, the influence of those well-known writers who gave valuable insights into their own writing methods as they spoke to us all made lasting impressions. In addition, the conferences increased my awareness of local agents and publishers against the day, fast approaching, when I begin my own query process.

Had to miss last year due to a last-minute medical problem, but I'm signed up for this year. I think the fact that this November conference is already fully subscribed in June speaks volumes about how we all value its contribution to our writing.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sandy and Ellis,

I don't go to conferences but your discussion is very persuasive.
Contact with other authors is very healthy.

Ramona said...

A thoughtful post. I enjoyed reading it.

There are conferences and there are conferences. Some are workshop focused, where you can learn about craft. Some are fan-focused, where you get to schmooze with your peers and readers. Some are a combo. I think judging the worth of a conference depends on where you are in your career, and where you want to put your writing dollars. I have found them invaluable in terms of communing with other writers and renewing the creative spark. I always seem to leave a conference exhausted but rejuvenated.

jenny milchman said...

Fellowship is a great word, and something we all need. I confess to having been on a conference hiatus during my journey to get published--just couldn't justify spending the money when I wasn't earning any. Now I am looking forward to finally getting to experience exactly what you describe--fellowship, in the not too distant future.

Patg said...

I love conferences. One a year is a must and two would be better, but I want to do other vacation stuff too. Travel, travel, travel.
(Can you tell my book is about a travel agent?)
Fellowship and the face to face with people you actually call friends because you are connected to them on line every day is a very rewarding pleasure.

Camille Minichino said...

I love your insight on feeling like "only" a writer at conferences, hanging out with both new and admired other writers.
I'm looking forward to ThrillerFest next week!

Maryn Sinclair said...

I've only been to a couple of conferences, once only to attend an awards ceremony. I agree with Ramona that it depends where you are in your career and what you expect to get out of the conference. Is it to connect with an agent or editor? Is it to take classes? Is it to meet friends you've made online? I have to admit, I'd love to meet some of the people I know only from online interaction, but I'm not sure that justifies the money I'd spend.

VR Barkowski said...

I agree with Ramona and Maryn. I'm not sure it makes sense to lump all conferences together. They are so different from one another; each has something unique to offer. Beyond fellowship, I think it's important to see which conference best fits your needs and budget.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of the Book Passage Mystery Conference. It's small, collegial, and it's sole focus is on the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing. Since I'm not seeking an agent, nor am I published with a book to sell, I find the "fan" conferences aren't worth the cash outlay. But learning about the craft of writing? Always money well spent.

Donnell said...

Sandy, thought provoking, and I agree with you on so many counts. I just returned from the Crested Butte Writers Conference. It was small an personal. One didn't walk out of it without knowing the people next to you, or an up close and personal visit with the editors and agents who attended.

I think conferences are what people make of it. Shy people (of which I am a charter member) have to force themselves out of their comfort zones IMO to make the most of these venues. But what I look at these days are the workshops. If it's more of the same, the same presenters, etc. I'm not going to spend my money. I didn't go to NY this year for RWA. Wanted to... Just couldn't justify $4K which is what it would have been had I gone. The stress of my pocketbook vs. inspiration, well, the stress would have won.

Writing is priceless, but I definitely put a price tag on conferences. Thanks for sharing and best wishes on your new release!

Ellis Vidler said...

I've certainly gotten more out of some conferences than others. I like the smaller ones where you have a chance to get to know people. I'm still friends with some I met years ago. The support of other writers means a lot too. I've found this a very generous community.
But each one has its own merits and values. You have to find one that suits your needs and personality.

Cindy Sample said...

I love networking at conferences and always come home motivated but I still need to determine where to best maximize my dollars. The Book Passage Mystery conference was a wonderful opportunity to hone my writing craft. I'm also partial to the Left Coast Crime Convention which is fan based and provides 3 days of author panels. It's a wonderful networking opportunity for writers and an excellent opportunity for fans to discover new authors. With 400 to 500 attendees, it's far less terrifying than Bouchercon. And all for only $210. Of course I'm biased since we're holding it in Sacramento next March.

Sandy Cody said...

I agree with everyone that conferences are not all equal and that finding the right fit is important. Personally, I prefer smaller conferences where people mingle more freely. It's so much easier to get know people. I'd go to more if I could, but even though I'm sure I could get something of value from almost any conference, the costs do add up.

Thanks to everyone for sharing your opinions. Maybe I'll get to meet some of you some day - at a conference.

Kaye George said...

You put that very well, Sandy. I love the old familiar cons (Malice for me, and LCC), but I meet someone I've known online at every one I go to.

I love that feeling, too, of being a "writer" for real.

Coral Russell said...

Nice post. I've wondered about writer's conferences and I'd like to go to one... someday! Now I have a better idea of what to expect. :)

Marilyn Levinson said...

I'm going to Deadly Ink. I look forward to meeting you there.

Sandy Cody said...

Thanks to everyone who took time to comment - and a special thanks to Ellis for giving me this opportunity. Marilyn, I'll look for you at Deadly Ink. Everyone else ... well, I hope someday we'll get a chance to connect face to face. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the internet. Not too long ago writing was a much more lonely endeavor.

Ellis Vidler said...

My pleasure, Sandy. I appreciate your doing it. Good comments, too!