Well, the inaugural Toronto Indie Author Conference ended last weekend. It was an interesting experience, one that continually caught me by surprise. I had a lot of help setting it up – mostly from the employees in Starlit Publishing – but also from the volunteers and speakers who generously donated their time to the event.

Along the way, I learnt a bunch of things, especially on the business end so I thought I’d write about it.

Surprising Amount of Support

Perhaps I didn’t bury the lead here, but damn did we get a lot of support from the various groups out there. Not just Kobo who immediately jumped in when we raised the fact that we were doing this, but also industry suppliers and individuals. There were quite a few incredibly generous individuals who helped out with the cost of the event or who put money into the Accessibility Fund, all of which we were incredibly grateful for.

On top of that, we had the speakers. A lot of them were people I had come to know across the years, speakers who generously offered their time and money (yes, many had to fly in, had to pay for their hotels, etc.) – all for a tiny honorarium and the knowledge they were doing good. 

Oh, in some cases they might get some new clients, but I doubt it was to the extent that it made sense for them to come. Especially for a first time conference. So, a lot of this was just pure generosity.

On top of that, of course, were the random speakers who I didn’t know about who applied. So many of them were incredible and exactly what I wanted to highlight (Canadian success stories). In general, we really did want to lean towards that, so it was amazing to me to have so many come out of the woodwork. 

I am looking forward to seeing how many turn up by next year. Maybe we could even do a mostly Canadian conference next year. 

Oh God, It’s Expensive

Being our first year, the goal was to run the conference as cheaply as possible – with a few differences. For one thing, I wanted to at least budget a small amount for honorariums. Next year (or the year after), I’d love to start paying for all the speakers flights and hotel rooms. It’s not something I know most other places do, but I also don’t think it’s right that it’s expected for them to do this out of pocket.

Anyway, that’s an aside. The point I wanted to make was that we were trying to keep our cost down. That being said, costs kept increasing in unexpected (hah!) ways, even when choosing cheaper venues. The YMCA for example was a 1/3 of the price of a hotel location.

The hotels themselves were incredibly expensive, and while we negotiated a small room block, it was until the very last minute that we figured we’d be paying for a room or two ourselves.

Breakfast was much, much more expensive than expected and the sponsorship by Draft2Digital just covered everything we offered and that was because we went with Tim Horton’s the cheapest option. Anything local was about 1.5x times at the least. Our only mistake there was ordering way too much coffee. So next year, the F&B sponsorship is going to have to double at the least, if not more. 

Next year, costs at the YMCA are going up (not hugely, thankfully!) but they are headed up. We’re also looking at other options, because there were some minor inconveniences.

The Conference Itself

The conference itself ran without an issue for the most part, other than some minor technical difficulties. None of those were particularly hard to solve or delayed things more than a few minutes.

We made some major mistakes in the allocation of seminars, with some of the more popular events being held in the smaller room and the larger room being emptier. In that sense, being able to get an idea of interest from our attendees earlier on would have helped rearrange things and give people a more pleasant experience.

Since we only sold 88 tickets (giving a total of around 110 people at the conference including volunteers, speakers and everyone else); the crowding was never an issue. 

Sunday itself saw a significant drop in the number of people who turned up, even though most people bought two day tickets. I’m not sure why, I’m looking forward to seeing the attendee feedback. I do know the marathon was happening, so it was quite possible that some people just chose not to deal with that traffic.

Overall, people seemed happy with the content and what we had scheduled. I didn’t see a lot of people outside, ignoring what was happening within. The roundtables were packed, which were great and I think many found the roundtables as useful as I do myself, so I’ll want to keep it running.

Improvements(?)

Perhaps the biggest thing I thought the conference was missing was a bar or restaurant for everyone to meet at and chill at afterwards to do barcon. It’s one of the major reasons I keep looking for a hotel that is decently priced (and thus far, have failed at finding anything). With a full year in-between, maybe we can organise something officially or unofficially with a local bar. Though on a Saturday, downtown…. Expensive.

I was also told we needed a photographer and/or social media liason, full-time to help push the conference. It wasn’t something I even thought about, being more concerned with what was happening there. But it isn’t wrong to say that not promoting it was a major mistake.

We needed water bottles for the speakers. We could get them water, but simple sealed water bottles would be great.

Swag – we had nothing. I’m not sure we should, but perhaps something for the volunteers next year.

I’m sure we’ll get a ton of feedback too. I’m really curious to see what that looks like, over the year.

Definitely need to check when the marathon is happening and NOT have our event at the same time. That was a pain for a few people trying to arrive on time.

Conclusion

Pending the feedback forms, I’d say it was overall went well. The event ran without any major hitches, I didn’t hear of any concerns raised and most people seemed satisfied with what happened.

We’re still waiting for the final numbers, costs and what not to come in. We’ll have to pay out a bunch more, run the P&L, but overall, the loss from the event probably was only in the $3,000 range. Quite acceptable for a first year, and what we expected. 

Next year, we’ll be able to try for grants and further improvements, so we’ll hopefully be able to keep pricing reasonable AND breakeven. Or at least get closer. 


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