Alright, since I’ve been doing a lot of writer conferences lately, I thought I’d talk about them. In general and specific.

In my view, when you travel to a writer’s conference (and when I say writer’s conference, I mean a conference whose focus is the development of the writer, rather than as a method for a writer to reach fans); this is a business event. As such, you need to know – as with most business things – why you are doing it and what you intend to gain from the conference.

On that note, let’s talk about the lay of the land before we go further. 

The Types of Conferences

There are, it seems, three types of writer conferences. 

We have the business conferences (20booksto50k and NinC) where the focus in the majority is the business of writing. While there might be craft seminars involved, the majority of the discussion will be about the business side. Most often, these conferences will focus on indie publishing (though some like the Nebulas are still very trad focused), though some discussion of hybrid publishing and working with new digital publishers will crop up. In fact, many of the newer digital & small press will be at these conferences.

These conferences in particular are useful for those at the really early stages (to give a firehose of information of how to publish, what the various options for promotion, formatting, keywords, etc.) are. NONE of this early stage information is hidden, this is just available in large quantities, and directed. Can be useful depending on how people learn.

For early stage writers who have put out a book or two, these conferences might not be as useful. At this stage, you should be able to learn what you need in the various groups, and your biggest goal is to get more books out.

I’d also say they can be useful for people heading towards the latter stages, when you have multiple series out, when you are looking for further success. 

The craft conferences or workshops are mostly focused on the writing aspects. I admit, I haven’t gone to many (any) so I can only go off their schedules, but you get pitch sessions, discussions on short story letter writing, discussions from agents, plot and voice sessions, sometimes full workshops. These are the ones you go to, though from my view; you’d also expect a lot more of a slant towards traditional publishing than indie.

The hybrid conferences are not, in my mind, a hybrid of craft and business conferences, but a hybrid of a fan and business convention. Fan conventions are things like ComicCons, Dragoncon, FanExpo and the like. Fan conventions are where you go to meet your readers or make new readers by doing various fun panels on your books or random topics. 

A hybrid conference often happens because a fan convention has a heavy writer track or because the convention has grown so popular, writers end up going to it to do business.

Dragoncon is a great example with it’s writer track, but also the World Fantasy Convention and World Con (World Science Fiction Convention); with their travel around the world often have significant writer, agent, editor, publisher and fan presence (relatively speaking). 

These conventions often formed during the time that trad pub dominated, so you’ll find a much larger percentage of trad pub related items on them. Some craft elements too, but a lot of what might gain from them (outside the interesting seminars) are the networking opportunities. Of course, being trad dominated; this is more if you’re focused on going that route.

When evaluating a conference, it’s always worth looking at what kind of conference they are, and what the expected attendees will be. That will shift your goals somewhat – and might, in the end, influence your decision on whether to go or not.

One other thing to keep in mind.

In-Person or Virtual

After COVID, many conferences started going virtual. In fact, some conferences have grown up and formed because of the pandemic and have stayed virtual only even now. 

There are advantages to both kinds of conventions. Virtual conventions allow a greater level of accessibility to seminars for many, especially those with disabilities or lack funds or time to go to such conferences. It lets them soak in knowledge that might not be available otherwise.

However, no matter what these virtual conventions try, barcon (i.e. the portion where writers just hang out and chat) is lacking. Sure, virtual chat rooms can help a little; but like most things digital, it misses out a little on certain aspects; from random introductions to the ability to recognise an individual physically.

Also, I should point out that virtual conventions are, sometimes, less accessible. Whether it’s because one has children and family that interrupt during the virtual conference to an inability to focus on digital conversations, virtual conferences do have drawbacks.

Of course, in-person cons have con crud (and other illnesses nowadays!), expenses, significant time cost, potentially physical barriers to movement and more. 

For the most part, I’m going to talk about in-person cons for my evaluation here, but it is worth noting that virtual cons are a thing; and joining in on the fun of them and doing panels can be useful. I just think it’s better focused mostly for fan outreach, rather than writer outreach.

Okay, that’s it for this post. I’ll talk more about goals and focus in part 2 and in part 3, I’ll discuss the various conventions I know of, have gone to and/or done and what I think of them.

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