A lot of my writing friends talk about all the conferences they go to, whether writing retreats, craft courses, or business-focused conferences. I have to admit, I just don’t see the point. I can write more at home without the distractions, and everything else I can find in books or online.
Am I missing something? What is this elusive piece that makes people return over and over again?
Conference-Confused in Cambridge
You don’t say which Cambridge you hail from, but I think I’d be pretty safe in assuming you aren’t an alumnus of the famous Cambridge University in leafy old England.
Do you know why?
Because going to Cambridge isn’t just about gaining a degree, it’s about networking. It’s about finding people who can help and inspire you on your journey through life. And that’s not true just for Cambridge. All universities, colleges and schools come with the same bonus.
You meet people.
People who have walked your chosen path before you. People who have blazed a trail or stumbled along perhaps only a few feet in front of you, but they are still ahead of you. Just enough to hold out a hand to guide you on your way.
We all have that romantic image in our heads of the suffering artist barracked in their Parisian attic or woodland retreat, cut off from the world whilst they converse with their muse. But for most of us, that will never be a reality. Have you seen apartment prices in Paris?
Even if we could afford a month or two in a log cabin, it will only address one challenge of being an indie author—the writing part. As an indie, you need to be a publisher, promoter, advertiser, editor, copywriter, bookkeeper, and bottle-washer.
You make connections.
Yes, as you say, you can read books, join courses online, ask questions in forums, etc. All those are valuable ways to learn about your trade. But nothing beats sitting down over a coffee with another writer and listening to how they did it. Or asking craft questions of one of your writing heroes over dinner. Or having a successful six-figure author look at your marketing strategy or provide you with feedback on your blurb.
I have been to conferences where I have made lifelong friends, who have dragged me into early morning writing sprints when I was down or helped to celebrate my successes when my family was too busy on TikTok to notice.
I have seen other writers land contracts with larger indie publishers, accessing a support team they would never have been able to afford by themselves.
I have also spent mornings squirrelled away in my room because I didn’t want to “people.” Conferences are not just for the extroverts among us.
You pick what works for you.
And that’s the key to making a conference a success. Knowing what you want to get out of it and planning accordingly. Who else is attending? Who do you want to meet? What do you want to ask? What seminar groups will be most useful to you?
That doesn’t mean that you should be closed to other possibilities. Who knows who you will start chatting to at the karaoke event, or who will pick up your tab in the Tiki bar on the last night. These people may not write in your genre. You may not know their name, perhaps because they write under a pseudonym, but that in-the-moment connection could transform your author career.
And you cannot replicate those magical in-the-moment connections in online courses or reading books. The special ingredient you find at a conference is synergy.
Dictionary.com’s definition of synergy reads:
The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.
Barbra Streisand once sang “People. People who need people. Are the luckiest people in the world.” I believe it was John Donne who stated that “no man is an island.” I could go on, but I am running out of space in my column.
To answer your question, what is that elusive piece that makes people return again and again? It’s simple.
Book a place and find out for yourself? And who knows, maybe you’ll run into your favorite indie aunt at one of these conferences. 😉