Here’s a guest post from novelist M. K. Hutchins. I met M. K. through the Codex Writers online group, which has been a wonderful resource for me over the years. It’s an organization for writers to share resources and experiences as they develop their craft and business sense. It’s a great organization with no dues–the only caveat is that you have to made one professional (6¢/word) sale to sign up. Check them out so you can meet M. K., too!
The Great Con Question
Should writers go to writing-related cons? Is it worth the time, effort, and travel? It all depends what you’re hoping to get from the convention.
Networking, with a capital N. There’s always those stories about authors who bump into just the right person at just the right moment and it launches their career forward. Can you count on going to a con and having this happen to you? Nope. You’re sure to meet interesting people. But there’s no guarantee that it will do anything, right now, for your writing career.
Though sometimes there are surprising results down the road. I listened to Stacy Whitman, my editor, talk at a conference. Because of that, I saw when she started Tu Books. Given how smart she’d been on panels, I decided to send her my manuscript – which worked out great.
Networking that looks a lot like hanging out with friends. One of the things I love best about conventions is talking to my peers. Listening to others’ hopes and fears assures me I’m not alone.
I suppose this is technically still “networking”, but the goals are different – it’s about having fun, not career-building. Cons never disappoint me in this regard. Even if I know no one, there are always interesting people to talk with about writing.
Promote your writing. I’ll be honest. I have no idea if sitting on a panel and putting my book in front of me helps sell copies. I’m not even sure how to empirically test that. But it sure doesn’t hurt.
Learn new stuff about writing. Are there blog posts, books, and podcasts that will teach you the same material you’d get at a con? Most of it, probably. But there is something magical about sitting in a room with a bunch of other writers that makes me focus better and think more critically.
A lot of panels do cover tried-and-true advice I’ve heard before. I no longer spend eight hours straight sitting through panels and taking furious note until my brain melts. But without fail, I learn something from presenters that I can turn around and use to strengthen my writing.
Oddly, I’ve also found being on panels to be a great learning experience. Questions under pressure have helped me crystallize my thinking on a variety of topics.
Energize yourself. I’m fairly introverted, but I do find a hotel full of other writerly folk to be exciting. Between listening to panels and chatting, I usually come home from a con super-excited, brain fully charged.
I attended a local con last year with a baby-in-tow (and am forever indebted to my brother for holding him during my panels). Head full of ideas and arms full of a baby who wouldn’t sleep, I found myself pacing the hotel lobby sometime after midnight. Energized from the day, I finally managed to outline the second half of a novel that had been giving me grief – despite being sleep-deprived.
Pass it on. I remember being the notebook-wielding college student, frantically trying to soak up every tidbit of wisdom. It’s awesome to sit on a panel, see the notebook-wielding new writers, and tell them that starting a writing career is not impossible.
So, should you go to cons? Often people talk about capitol-N Networking as the goal of a conference, but going to a conference hoping for a career-changing meeting is asking for disappointment. If you’re looking for something else – camaraderie, learning, an energizing environment – it might just be the thing for you. There are always more cons going on than are practical for me to attend, but I look forward to the ones I can participate in all year long.
M.K. Hutchins’ YA fantasy novel Drift is both a Junior Library Guild Selection and a VOYA Top Shelf Honoree. Her short fiction appears in IGMS and Daily Science Fiction. She studied archaeology at BYU, giving her the opportunity to compile ancient Maya genealogies, excavate in Belize, and work as a faunal analyst. She blogs at www.mkhutchins.com.