Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Fears of a Conference Virgin

by Brenda Carre

Are you a conference virgin on the brink of your first experience or are you a seasoned veteran with experiences behind you that you'd like to share? Either way I'd love to hear your views.

Here are mine.

I was certain my very first conference was going to be a disaster. I sat in my room for a half an hour trembling like a Hairless Mole-rat afraid to emerge and register for fear I’d screw up and do something idiotish. After all, I was about to meet authors who had written some of my most-loved books. I feared I’d be the brunt of hilarity for years after. Looking back on that day I laugh at my own ego. I had an agenda that day. I wanted to be memorable, but I had no way to go about it. Once I calmed down and told myself to take that first step and let the rest take care of itself, I was fine. One of my best memories of that conference is of sitting in the bar with a brilliant woman author and her husband discussing her research into the history of the Templars. This was a golden experience I could never have predicted happening, and would never have happened anywhere else but at a conference.

Fast-forward several years. I was in the registration line-up and I heard a voice behind me. A quavering voice saying. “But I don’t know anybody here.” I remembered how I had felt five years earlier and I went over to her and introduced myself. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that has since lasted ten years with an author who is both a brilliant writer and a brilliant reader. I have learned and shared so much with her I will always be grateful for that moment in the lineup at a conference.

Conferences, especially the ones where you have an opportunity to meet and mingle with the pros are golden opportunities to grow as a writer, to develop friendships, find mentors and make industry contacts. But far more than this, they are a journey to the fire with the tribe. From that very first conference I attended to the ones I still attend, do readings and panels at and also work at as a volunteer, I have learned that we are a tribe of human beings with a very special gift. The gift of communication and empathy. Use it. Be open to it and you will not fail.


petemorin said...

Great observation, and very true. Dollar for dollar, the conference is one of the best investments an aspiring write can make. It's the airfare and hotel that make it daunting.

My very first conference, knowing no one, I got a full read from an agent based on a pitch practice session. The next year, I sat at her table for the banquet - me and a half-dozen other writers, all of us in her stable!

RSMellette said...

I got my first agent at a conference as well.

Brenda Carre said...

I got my first agent at a conference too, RS. It is definitely the right atmosphere to make connections. There are ways of dealing with the daunting prospects of airfares and hotels, Peter. In a future post I hope to talk about ways to cut conference costs, but two good ways are to look for seat sales early on and to team up with a friend who wants to go to the same conference and share hotel costs.

catwoods said...

Adding a note while attending a conference--literally. The speaker today (Editor Molly O'Neill) showed us a book just shy of it's release that she picked up after meeting the writer at a conference.

That's a powerful testament to the value of conferences.