By Catharine Bramkamp
January 26, 2018
When my boys were about seven, I thought it was time to take them to the Nutcracker. I had two choices: an hour’s commute to San Francisco for the ultimate Nutcracker experience at SF Ballet. Or a five-minute drive to a local performance.
Since I had no idea what the experience would be like, I opted for the local performance. If they loved it, we’d plan a trip to the city next year.
They did not love it.
Conference mythology promotes the idea that big or small, you will love the conference. You will love it in a box, you will love it with a fox, you will love it here or there.
But you may not love it there.
Which is a good reason to attend a conference, right here.
Writing conferences big and small are great. Most are focused on craft, promotion and marketing. You will meet agents and publishers, learn about social media, promotion and the publishing industry. You will also hear famous authors describe their books and how lucky they were to find an agent and have their book the focus of a publisher bidding war. Conferences give you the opportunity for chance encounters. And they offer a wealth of information that can be inspiring and lead you and your work in a new direction.
Larger conferences like the San Francisco Writer’s Conference or San Miguel Writer’s Conference are attractive and prestigious. A larger conference attracts larger names and popular authors. Because you need to travel and spend the night there, the whole enterprise is surrounded by romance. Who wouldn’t want to travel to San Francisco? Who wouldn’t want to rub shoulders with Wally Lamb?
But large conferences have their risks. Big conferences require investing big money – a thousand dollars or more. Because of that investment, many conference attendees focus on wringing the maximum value for their money. And because authors often arrive with specific agendas, the atmosphere can get a little tense.
Walk into a smaller conference and you will find that the conference organizers are really happy to see you. You are not just a face in a crowd, you are a valued participant. Remember, if there is no one in the audience, the session speaker will feel like a failure and worse may not agree to return to this particular tiny conference regardless of the generous $99 honorarium (oh, and free lunch, often the speakers get lunch). Your presence is critical. You are important.
Like a larger conference, a smaller conference will be populated with influencers and helpful people. Unlike a larger conference, in a smaller venue, it’s easier to meet these people with more opportunities to chat. You will meet authors like yourself who are interested in the same genres or marketing programs. These connections are sometimes the best ones you will make in your career. That fellow writer in the hard folding chair next to you may not become your new best friend, but she can become someone to exchange writing woes and tips with. She may become famous. You may become famous. You will both be able to say, “We are old friends.” That’s the networking part. That’s a powerful thing.
A smaller conference offers more comfortable and casual access to the speakers. You may sit next to the key note speaker at lunch. You may run into your session leader in the restroom (but do not shove your manuscript under the stall – true story).
You can talk with relatively famous authors and get the real scoop on their success as well as their lifestyle. A small conference offers the opportunity to get close and personal.
I love both. Larger conferences are big, glittering and exciting. I have lectured here and there. But the epiphany happened at the Sierra Writer’s Conference. The valuable friendship began over lunch at small conference in Oakland. My book series was published by a local company I met at the Redwood Writer’s Conference.
Ready to start your first conference?
Here are a few ideas starting with SF Writers Conference in San Francisco and working up 101 through a handful of smaller conferences.
San Francisco –https://sfwriters.org/
Sonoma County – http://redwoodwriters.org/2018-conference/
Mendocino county – http://mcwc.org
Sierra Foothills – http://www.sierrawritersconference.com/
Full disclosure: Catharine Bramkamp is the Conference Chair of the upcoming Pen to Published Writers Conference April 21, 2018. If you attend, you will meet her.
Because it’s small.