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Being Seen at a Writers Conference

Updated: May 14

Writers need other writers. The business model of books means that writers meet other writers, read their books, and talk about their new writer friends to their other writer, editor, and publishing friends.

And the best way to meet those new writer friends is to leave the comforts of my studio and attend writer events.

A crowd of people listening to a lecture.

This month, I made a point to be seen at two different writer conferences, making the bold move of putting on a little lipstick, packing my business cards, and making myself seen at a writers conference.

I was tying a scarf around my neck when Behr walked into my studio in his robe. “Who’s this lady?” Apparently I had set my vibe correctly. But it was all armor. If I was comfortable, I would have worn my Lululemon pants and plain Tshirt.

I tried not to be nervous. I knew I was going to hear some poetry, some panels, and some new writers. I explained to Hubs before I walked out the door, “I’m just going to keep it chill.” He wished me luck, and probably expected that I’d call him at one point in tears because I said something asinine to a respected writer, which is totally my MO.

photo of a woman with red hair, glasses, and scarf
My Conference Look

Conferences make me nervous. Of the things I am not good at, the top of that list is mingling. I don’t mingle. I lob onto the first person I know and essentially follow them around the whole time. I’ll hold people in conversations for too long. I often say dumb things.

I am not shy, nor am I unable to talk to strangers. I’m just not comfortable. Mingling requires me to be cool, make nice conversation while also pressing upon someone that I am the right person for a job that I have no idea if they have the power to offer.

When I was a reporter, I had no issue walking up to people and talking because the goal was to get the story. I had a job to do, so I would ask strangers probing and leading questions.

Conferences, however, have all this unstructured and un-goal related activities. The point of them is to mingle, network, and show your face to people who make a difference in that particular community.

I wish there were more games. I think most gatherings of adults are more bearable when there is a game associated with it. Bingo, Scavenger Hunts, Collection Games … something that doesn’t embarrass people but gives them a reason to interact for the potential of a prize. Note: a drawing is not a game. Wouldn’t these stodgy conferences be different if everyone broke into teams for a game of Capture the Flag? I think the historical fiction and nonfiction writers would have a hell of a strategy.

Here are the writing conferences I attended this month:

First, I went to the Red Clay Writers Conference.

Red Clay is the conference for the Georgia Writers. It’s held at Kennesaw State University, and the speakers are traditionally published writers.

I arrived early so I could hear the readings for the John Lewis Grant Recipients. After that, I went to the reading for the LGBTQ+ writers and heard the work of several students who are carving a path into the writing community. I love readings, because all I have to do is sit and listen. This is often what get me “all jacked up” about writing. I can vibe on their words and think about my own work.

I also went to the Modern Romance panel and listened to a few writers discuss the industry and their process.

Attending conferences for traditionally published writers, the conversations are often about what other people are doing with their books. Publishers, editors, publicists, even legislators that are banning books in Florida. It seems that often the conversation revolves around the many things that are outside of their control.

The next conference I attended was the opposite of that. I attended the Atlanta Self-Publishing Writers Conference at Georgia State University sponsored by the Atlanta Writers Club.

Self-Published writers are all about control. Conversations are focused on what “I” can do, will do, should do, and could do with the book of their own making.

There were no readings, which was a little disappointing. However, the seminars were all about the business of writing. More than once a presenter reminded the group, “You have to remember, this is a business.” Sessions focused on time-management, excellent cover design, networking through volunteer work, taxes and LLCs, and product diversification.

One of the things which appeals to me the most about self-publishing (or indie publishing) is that it is just business. With self-publishing, I’m not competing for grants or the one contest slot. I’m not handing my work over to another person to make the decisions about the cover, the back cover copy, the placement, and I never have to walk around with that paranoid feeling that my “agent”, “publicist”, or “marketing department” is neglecting me for the new hot thing.

And yet, another writers group outing where it seemed like everyone knew each other before they showed up. Like transferring schools mid-year. And if you don’t think adults act like teenagers when they are gathered, I will direct you to the cafe area where lunch was served, and all the people in the seminar had proactively claimed their tables and chairs with coats and bags.

The highlight of the conference was I secured a 15-minute sitdown with a publicist to discuss my current marketing strategy. I check all the boxes for what many recommend– website, newsletter, specific email, Amazon ads, even the podcast. She nixed my current Amazon Kindle splash page ad because readers swipe past it without looking at it.

I was expecting a lecture about how I should be spending more time posting on all the social media sites. But no. She suggested I spend more time with people. Like actual people. She said I needed to make friends.

I think: I used to be good at that. There was a time when I lived in a miserable part of Kentucky and the one thing that made it worthwhile was how well read the town was. There were libraries on every corner. There was a community center devoted specifically to the literary arts. There were conferences and readings and multiple writers groups. And I went to all of them. If there were two writers sitting in a room together, I happily walked in to be their third.

But I’ve gotten older and I’ve moved around a lot and making friends as an adult is always more difficult. I am not the young writer with something to prove anymore.

I’ve cultivated excellent writing and publishing relationships which has made it possible for me to be the indie author I am. But listening to this publicist made me realize the people who are making big moves are not intimidated by the cool kids in the writers groups.

She explained, “Writers help other writers.” Going to conferences is a way to make friends, and those friends will hear of opportunities and pass those along. Writers will recommend your book to others. Writers will help you with your project by acting as beta readers and reviewers. And other writers will say, “Hey! Let’s host a reading together!”

And despite the fact that I hate leaving the house, I feel like I gained so much by attending these conferences. I have names of new contacts. I passed out cards. I heard new writers read their work. And I learned a little bit more about my business and myself.

Read Books. Wear Boots.



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