Conferences, conventions and trade shows are part of every industry. For a writer, there are so many that it's hard to decide which to attend—if any. Those on the national level, like Romance Writers of America's annual conference each summer, are usually very structured with several workshops scheduled each hour. I went to my first RWA conference in 1994 in New York City. Talk about overwhelming. Most of the time I was agog. OMG, was that Nora Roberts??? I gushed "I love your books" to my favorite authors. I met real, live editors and big name agents. Sheesh, I was so green. I went to every workshop before going into an information coma. There was so much to learn I didn't want to waste a single moment. I had no writing income so I felt like I had to justify the expense of the conference, hotel and airfare. I got smarter with subsequent conferences.
For many years, I went to a regional conference called Autumn Authors, held in Chicago. It wasn't too far to drive from southwest Michigan, was less expensive than the national conference, and an amazing group of authors presented workshops in a more relaxed atmosphere. There were also opportunities for new authors to present workshops plus time to connect with other writers. I was so sorry when AA ended.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the national conference is Mid-Michigan RWA's Retreat from Harsh Reality. Now, that's a laid-back event. One multi-published author (this year, Eileen Dreyer) gives two talks and is available throughout the rest of the weekend. While the national conference is professional attire, the Retreat is T-shirts and blue jeans. It's a time to recharge one's creative batteries, a chance to catch up with friends and meet new ones, and just hang out with about fifty other writers.
Each type of conference has a purpose, just as writers have different needs at different times in their writing careers. A national conference offers opportunities to meet editors and agents, learn firsthand what's happening in the industry, and (for newbies) learn basics of writing. Regional conferences are smaller in scope but offer some of the same opportunities. A small, intimate retreat can also be an introduction to writer conferences.
Trade shows, like the American Booksellers Association and its affiliates, like the Great Lakes Booksellers Association, are opportunities for writers to interact with booksellers. Then, there's the RT (Romantic Times) Booklovers Convention, geared toward (you guessed it) readers. I've never been to the last but understand that writers and readers have an amazing time.
Did you notice that one of the common threads is the opportunity to get together with others? Writing is a solitary profession. We write our stories alone, wherever we can carve out a space (a home office, the kitchen table, a coffee shop). We learn to shut out external sounds—either through strength of will or earplugs—and let our imagination take us to another place, another time. While our characters are very real to us, they exist in our heads. Eventually, we need to interact with real people who do the same things we do, people who really understand us.
This month, I'm heading to Mid-Michigan's Retreat where I'll get together with like-minded people, have lunch (breakfast or dinner) with the amazing Eileen Dreyer, and get re-energized. All that and an amazing Friday Night Chocolate Fest.
Do you go to conferences, conventions or trade shows? Why?