Conferences: Songs from the Uproar

27 April 2013 iStock_000001525292XSmall photog Miguelito

Do you go to conferences? Boy, I do.

One of the greatest aspects of conference-going is meeting people you might have known only on the ether, putting a face to the avatar.

Here, for example, is author Chuck Wendig, whom I’ve met several times at conferences. Both of us normally have some traveling to do, to reach a conference. Wendig writes in 25 Things Writers Should Know About Traveling:

Chuck Wendig
Chuck Wendig

Travel is good for us. Seeing other places and people and cultures makes us more complete as human beings. The fact that it is useful to our word-herding is almost secondary to how useful it is to us as people,  not just as people who sling stories for a living.

Whether you travel to get there or not, there’s an interesting dimension to meeting in person after initially knowing someone online. In my experience, the two personas persist, never quite reconciled. Intellectually, you know this is one person, the same person, just in two forms, tangible and virtual. In actual practice, though, there’s a subtle divide. It’s always cool to meet. But sometimes, as you shake hands, you find yourself looking forward to getting back to them online. It’s what you’re used to.

At Grub Street’s Muse 2013 in Boston, May 3 through 5, I’ll have the pleasure of meeting several Unboxed colleagues for the first time IRL (in real life).

The Writer Unboxed Muses, from left, Bially, Walsh, Roycroft
The Writer Unboxed Muses, from left, Bially, Walsh, Roycroft

Our Therese Walsh, Vaughn Roycroft, and Sharon Bially will be speaking, and I’m looking forward to their panel, “Strength in Numbers: The Power of Online Communities.” That’s surely all of us here at Writer Unboxed—strong, numerous, communal, and powerfully online.

And like the several faces of online+offline cohorts, conferences, themselves, can be highly communal events for their attendees. Familiar, regular conferences function like Brigadoons, each rising out of the mist for a busy wearin’ o’ the nametags, then settling into memory’s vapors.

Pre-conference excitement is always interesting to watch.

At this year's AWP Conference in March -- in a colder Boston than we expect for Muse 2013.
The AWP Conference in March — in a colder Boston than we expect for Muse 2013. Photo: Porter Anderson

AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, for example, sets up a nationwide howl of anticipation about 10 days before that massive university-campus based conclave opens. It drew 11,000 attendees this year. I’m always intrigued by Twitter enthusiasts who let out with: “So excited about going to AWP!!!!! Anybody else going????!!!???”  It’s tempting to tweet back, “No, no one else is going. Your box lunch is in the hotel fridge. You’re giving the keynote.”

It used to be that a conference had one keynote address. It set the tone for the entire conference. About the time some lazy soul decided we should all start saying “media” when we meant “medium,” it also became popular to put multiple keynotes into a single conference.

One recent gathering in New York had an “opening,” “central,” and “closing” keynote. The speaker for the “central” keynote was delayed in reaching the ballroom and sent several messages to the waiting assembly, enumerating the cross streets as she drew near.

In London, I was at a conference earlier this month, Digital Minds, associated with the London Book Fair. It began with three “keynote addresses” in rapid succession.

James Wood
James Wood

At the Muse, we get two keynote speakers.

One is the critic James Wood, formerly with the Guardian and the New Republic, now, of course, with the New Yorker.

His How Fiction Works is how criticism should work.

The other Muse keynoteworthy speaker is Amanda Palmer, crowdfunding icon and an artist whose Muse bio says she has “heaved her way to the top of the music industry.” Bring your own body paint.

Her topic: “Fear Not the Digital Present.” No word on whether her husband Neil Gaiman might be along. He was one of those three keynote speakers at the London conference. His succession was less rapid than that of the other two.

Keynote trends aside, however, the really interesting thing to watch these days at publishing conferences is how they, too, are encountering the special pleasures of our digital dynamic.

Publishing’s so-called “conference” events divide, like all Gaul, into three parts:

  1. The teaching conference
  2. The analytical conference
  3. The trade show

There’s overlap. These days, to get into a trade show—which is mainly for publishers and vendors—you have to crawl over several conferences that ring the main floor.

Analytical conferences are presented primarily for publishing-business folks.

Writers’ conferences traditionally are the teaching events.

Mr. Amanda Palmer gives a keynote address at the Digital Minds Conference in London, earlier this month. Photo: Porter Anderson
Mr. Amanda Palmer gives a keynote address at the Digital Minds Conference in London, earlier this month. Photo: Porter Anderson

In the past, those teaching conferences have concentrated on writing craft: “How To Keep Your Protagonist Dry When It Rains.” But savvy organizers these days are introducing more and more industry analysis into the mix: “All Wet: Only 42 Percent of Survey Respondents Are Reading Your Dry Protagonists.”

Many conference organizers are realizing that as authors become initiators in the publishing process, letting them in on the study data and market appraisals means smarter heads doing the driving.

I would argue, in fact, that there’s an ethical imperative here. A conference programming committee in 2013 that tries to schedule only the sort of writing-craft syllabus that was the norm for decades—nothing more business-y than a synopsis-writing session—regrettably will have to be shot.

As every publishing bolshevik will tell you, there are thousands of books, videos, audio courses, webinars, workshops, and probably holographic transmissions on craft. Especially plotting. We’re up to our aspirations in weepy inspi-vational columns and “writing prompts.” You don’t want to read what that stuff prompts me to write.

Responsible conferences today incorporate sessions responding to:

  • The rise of self-publishing, and no, it’s not for everybody
  • The difficulty of vetting author services, and some are not for anybody
  • What entrepreneurial authors may need to know about various contracts
  • Surviving the new demands to produce “more books faster, damn it!”
  • If a literary agent falls in the forest, do the Woodland Folk still have to follow the submission guidelines precisely?

Grub Street’s program labels “Muse” and “Marketplace” sessions to delineate creative and business topics. Smart.

Most importantly, we need to encourage our conference organizers to evolve their programming along with the times.


Authors pitch their projects to agents at Writer's Digest Conference East in New York earlier this month. Photo: Porter Anderson
Authors pitch their projects to agents at Writer’s Digest Conference East in New York earlier this month. Photo: Porter Anderson

Writer’s Digest Conference East in New York earlier this month did an especially good job of asking, as I put it in one column, “Who is pitching whom?”—the balance may soon shift so strongly to a seller’s market that agents and other author-supportive personnel might regularly pitch their services to entrepreneurial authors.

A different elevator ride.

And, speaking of agents, when a group of them tweet-assaulted author Barry Eisler for his viewpoints in his keynote address at Pikes Peak Writers Conference last week, the conference organizers had done nothing wrong, quite the opposite. (If you need background on this important event, I have pieces on it here and here.) It was a pivotal moment for two reasons:

  1. Barry Eisler
    Barry Eisler

    It brought to light the turmoil in parts of the agents’ corps. Agents have a potentially crucial role to play in the work of entrepreneurial authors. I’m ready to see more of them come to terms with the New Queasiness and stop stuffing their flak jackets with old-world queries.

  2. It triggered a gratifyingly respectful, reasoned debate, which, as you know, has not always been our strong suit in the industry! the industry!

While I’m sure the Colorado conference organizers didn’t anticipate such hue and cry, it was a healthy outing for us all. I want to be sure the Pikes Peak folks realize that. Good job.

Missy Mazzoli
Missy Mazzoli

Do you know the composer Missy Mazzoli’s masterwork, Song from the Uproar? It’s about the Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt. She died in the field in 1904, tragically young, the victim of a flash flood in Algeria. You can hear some of it here, courtesy of my good colleagues at Q2 Music.

When you get to your next conference—and I hope to see you there—what I want you to listen for is that song from the uproar. Our conferences, of all kinds and with however many keynotes, have not only a right but also a duty to reflect, explore, and interpret the upheaval disrupting publishing today.

Can you agree with that? Or do you prefer the older style celebratory-therapeutic conference format? Have you found your recent conference experiences reflecting the tumult of the business? Or have you run into the kind of confab that hunkers down in a retro-chummy glow of camaraderie instead? 

Main image: iStockphoto / Miguelito


About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: | Google+


  1. says

    The last conference I went to, when I was nominated for some award, they put us nominated authors on an “auction block” and auctioned us off, where to my uncomfortable and embarrassed horror some man I didn’t know “bought” me; then we all stepped onto a bus, even though I wanted to run (and I should have, really, why not?), and went to dinner, where the man who “bought” me was to treat me to dinner — I bought my own dinner and his, as well, and on the return bus back to our hotel, I sat far away from my “owner.” Never.Again. Now, I’d be saying, “Um, not no but hell’s to the no’s.”

    Actually, I’d love to attend a conference where people/colleagues I’ve met online, like WU, are in attendance, so I can study them, see what they’re really made up of, while I hide behind my persona so they can’t hide behind and study me – teehee — no, really so I can shake their hands and tell them how full of awesomey awesome they really are.

    • says

      Gosh, Kathryn, that sounds fully revolting, as far as conference experiences go! I’d rather see a conference raise its rates than raise money by “auctioning” authors. (I assume this was a fund-raising ploy.) Certainly, should you ever get into a situation like that again — let’s hope not — just say no.

      I believe you’d find the national and international conferences a far cry from that kind of nonsense. The area I see major confabs go wrong most, in fact (and oddly), is in social events. They tend to work very hard on creating a strong, professional level of session presentation, which is great, then get into a very trailer-park mentality when it comes time for receptions, parties. The difference in quality on almost every level can be amazing. No problem for me because the social events are the least interesting parts of these things for me and I’m normally on deadlines during them, anyway, but a problem for some, I know, who value these parts of the experience.

      But “auctioning” authors? You’re right. Hell, no. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting, great to have you. Try a strong, national-class conference, you’ll be pleased, in or out of disguise. :)


  2. says

    Muse will be my first writing conference, but having been in biz for almost twenty years prior to “Phase Two” of my life, this is not my first rodeo. In my former life as a building-materials distributor (read: lumber sales middleman), we attended about a dozen tradeshows and teaching events a year. I always enjoyed the ones where I was the customer more than those for which I was a vendor. It was nice to be catered to and courted for a change. Not saying Muse will cater to or court me, but for the most part I will be part of the targeted demo, rather than the targeter.

    Thanks for mentioning our panel, Porter. Really looking forward to meeting you IRL! Hope I don’t make you anxious to get back to me online. ;-)

    • says

      Hey, Vaughn,

      Having met our superb Grub Street hosts, I can tell you you’ll be treated very well indeed and definitely will be a targetee for all the good work you do to keep the WU community communal. The “Grubbies” (I’m still trying to bring myself to say this aloud about such nice folks) are a handsome and generous bunch, AND they all have fantastic senses of humor which is a bigtime advantage in any conference setting, lol.

      It’s surprising you haven’t been around a conference in the field, actually, I think you’ll be glad you’re doing this. These things can be very energizing and, a bit like the travel itself, per Chuck, they give you a chance to grab some new, wider perspective. Big break from the normal routine, if nothing else, let alone a lot of interesting sessions with some very smart folks.

      And hey, the interesting outfits you see … hm, remind me, I need to do a post about THAT. :)

      See you there!

  3. says

    I go to conferences for my work as a communication instructor, but I usually don’t go to writer’s conferences because the expense and travel is hard as a single father. Also, I feel like I’d just be hob-nobbing with other writers, which does not have a lot of appeal to me. I’d prefer to go to a small shack in the mountains and write.

    • says

      Hey, Dan,

      Thanks much for reading and dropping a line.

      I’m with you on the hobnobbing with writers element, actually — I find that when I’m not working (which is not much, I’m afraid) at a conference, I tend to spend my time with folks other than writers. Maybe publishers, editors, agents, publicists, start-up entrepreneurs, etc. To me, the industry’s changing nature is so broad and deep right now that the more I can learn from other players in the mix, the better I’m able to sort out what’s happening for authors.

      There ARE people, though, who find it really invigorating to be with writers, exchange notes, etc. Some have regular conferences they attend as a kind of reunion each year. There’s a small group I always join at one conference, for example, at a nearby restarunt for dinner in New York.

      So the dynamics can be different “on the ground” than you might expect going in. Time to travel as single father? MUCH harder nut to crack, I hear that!

      All the best, and thanks again for reading and commenting,

  4. says

    We don’t have a huge population base where I live, so it would be a struggle to bring in enough speakers to cover all the business-y aspects of writing, much less address craft. I’ve found the conversations in the breaks to be better at reflecting the tumult. However, you will remember I’m Canadian, which means most controversial subjects are predicated with, or followed by, a self-reference. i.e. “That’s what I believe. Your mileage and career may vary.”

    In my neck of the woods, the song would be closer to a hum. ;)

    As for my last large American conference, its formal programming didn’t address the sea changes particularly well. I noticed more urgency, therefor, in the casual conversations. But self-selection plays a role in conferences. I expect those who wanted an edgier conference didn’t bother to attend, or if they did, they accepted it would be more about companionship and community than breaking new ground.

  5. says

    Porter Anderson, thank you for reminding us to listen for the Song from the Uproar when we are at conferences. Missy Mazzoli’s composition based on her knowledge of the essayist Isabelle Eberhardt is beautiful. As you also said, “Our conferences…have not only the right but also the duty to reflect, explore and interpret the upheaval disrupting publishing today.”

    I was at a conference for small presses in Kansas City, Missouri when William Least Heat-Moon (William Trogdon’s) River-Horse, his third book (Houghton Mifflin) in a travel trilogy, had recently been published in 1999. In a keynote presentation he reflected on the sense of urgency publishers place on authors to produce more books. And if there wasn’t such pressure, we would have better writing.

    QFU (question for you): Why, when there are millions of blogs being written, do so few people leave comments following posts?

    • says

      Hi, Barbara,

      Great of you to read AND to comment — as you note in your last question. :)

      I’m glad you like Mazzoli’s Eberhardt work. It has gone through years of development and several iterations and continues to beguile me, as does the story of Eberhardt, herself. Such a strange person and yet so advanced in her strangeness, if there can be such a thing, for her time. A fascinating subject.

      And I have to say, it’s remarkable that as early as 1999, you could hear this observation about pressure from publishers for more and faster work. Today, a large part of this push actually originates in the self-publishing community. Not only is it possible for our entrepreneurial authors to get books to market far, far faster than traditional publishing does it (although many, alas, are cutting corners in editing, design, and other critical areas), but the going wisdom in terms of online discoverability is that one must have many works available, basically flooding the market with content. These ideas are conspiring to push authors and/or to make them push themselves. As Barbara O’Neal recently wrote here at Writer Unboxed, a lot of folks are courting burnout and an unsustainable level of output. It’s a very worrisome trend. (Here is O’Neal’s good piece from just this week: )

      And lastly, to your question about folks not commenting on those millions of blog posts … I wonder at times if it isn’t because everyone is busy writing those millions of blog posts. Seriously, several things are going on here, first and foremost that hyperactive level of work we were just mentioning. Commenting, which one wants to do with some care and real engagement, not just as a token, of course, can actually be very time-consuming. It is, in fact, a way some talented folks use to find some traction online. They join in the conversation with other smart people, and this can be quite effective. But as with so many things online, one has to keep showing up. It is a teeming, shifting surface we inhabit on our screens, crowded with personalities and myriad special interests and niche interpretations. Genuine interaction is costly, time-wise, and when so many things are being demanded of everyone in the industry, especially authors, time for comment becomes short.

      Not a happy reality, perhaps, but one that catches up with many of us at times.

      Thanks again so much, great to have you with us!

      • says

        Thank you, Porter, for your thorough and informative reply to the comments we have been writing for you. You seem to spend a great deal of time online – I, for one, appreciate that a whole lot.

        I read Barbara O’Neal’s 4/24/13 Writer Unboxed post, “Boundaries and Burnout” that you referenced in your reply to my comment. She, too, has been insightful about how writing and publishing (the industry!) are working (or not working).

        • says

          Glad the O’Neal piece had some resonance for you, Barbara, thanks for checking it out.

          And yes, I think it’s part of each regular contributor’s commitment here at Writer Unboxed to offer as much response to the community of comment writers as we can each month when we post.

          As much online as I am (you’re right), I find it very hard to post comments on others’ articles, normally because this gets me into extended conversations I can ill afford to keep going.

          But when the initial piece is mine, I think it’s incumbent on me to try to serve the readers’ interest as much as my (limited) time allows.

          It’s always a pleasure exchanging thoughts with members of this group!


  6. says

    Hey, Jan,

    Thanks so much for dropping in!

    I do know “that Canadian thing” really well, having many Canadian friends and having visited them on their home turf where things were REALLY carefully put forward. :) There’s actually a parallel in my own upbringing in the Deepest South — Old Charleston also is a place of “It’s just my opinion, of course, but…” and “If I had to offer a thought here, I might say…” to cushion any discomfort that might befall one’s interlocutor. So that gracious way of hedging one’s statements is a familiar reflex for me, too. :)

    And yes, those in less populated areas, simply do have to travel — which can be a burden — to get to major conference events.

    I think that the uptake on current directions is quite new. Earlier this month, for example, Writer’s Digest Conference East had a daylong self-publishing pre-conference focused just on that side of the equation, a first for that organization. And O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change in February, of course, produced its first ever Author (R)evolution Day, a real standout (geared not to self- or traditional publishing but simply to “entrepreneurial” authors of any stripe, a much better way to define this trend). That one was a real landmark because the famous TOC series of conferences are not for authors — this was the first time that Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer, with the help of Kristen McLean, programmed such outreach for authors, and it was really great to see it happen.

    I was amazed, even last year, at how slow many conferences were to start adjusting their programming to the changing realities, I don’t think what you saw was an anomaly. Some genre-specialized conferences, I think, have been earlier to the point — certainly those “Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women” folks, as I call romance, and the sci-fi people have always been fairly advanced in their embrace of changing structures in the business, always good to see.

    I think from here on, we’ll see more and more forward-leaning programming because it’s becoming a selling point to draw attendees. (“We have the goods on the new way to do everything,” etc.) But in some of the more regional settings, I think authors may need to push a bit and try to urge their organizers to get with the bigger program. Nobody can wait around on this industry. Wherever it’s going, it’s going fast. :)

    Thanks again, great to hear from you!

  7. says

    I have been to two conferences, including Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference last year. Both were wonderful experiences for different reasons. What I enjoyed most about PPWC was the opportunity to meet some people who I “met” online (WU’ers, actually), and in one case, become better friends.

    I would love to go to a “big” conference like Writer’s Digest or some of the other’s you’ve written about (I read the Ether, just don’t always comment.) It would be an amazing comparison to what I’ve experienced so far. Maybe some day. :)

    • says

      Hi, Lara,

      Always good to have you join in, thanks!

      Yeah, there are some real differences between the “regionals” and national/international conferences, of course, although nothing says a regional event can’t draw terrific talent to its faculty and great writers to its audience.

      Over time, I’ve come to see one of the main values of major conferences to be a kind of setting of the agenda for everyone, especially for writers. Setting and then adjusting the agenda, I should say, as things change and morph and blow up in our faces, lol.

      One of the many ways publishing is peculiar is that it’s dependent on an uncontrolled workforce for its primary element, the “content,” the writing, the stories, books, manuscripts. Where auto manufacturers hire their own designers to create new prototypes, publishing sits and waits for someone it’s never hear of to turn up with a masterpiece. Once they’ve found you, they’ll certainly want you to create more good work, but the growth of the industry requires constant generation of new work by non-employees– people who work in relative isolation from the rest of the industry. Like the community functionality of the Internet, conferences can help, passing messages to this far-flung writers corps about what’s needed, expected, predicted, lamented, and so on by the industry! the industry! as it staggers along through the digital disruption.

      And regional events, by definition, must serve their local constituency first and foremost. If a given region is not in touch with or engaged with what the wider industry is doing and debating, some very effective events may still be held at the regional level, but without that extra element of perspective from the centers of the business. So I do hope you can get to one of the majors at some point, it’s always exhilarating and usually helpful in terms of getting some business-level orientation.

      Thanks again!

  8. says

    I like conferences well enough and I read all the blogs too.

    Tried Chuck Wendig but he uses *dirty words* sometimes.

    filthy dirty. potty mouth.

    Mom would say “Stay Away. Don’t play with that boy.”

    so I don’t.

    And yes, in my first book I used the F-word three times and a nun, otherwise a dear friend, offered to wash my mouth out with soap. and not just ivory soap.

    • says

      Hey, Joe,

      Thanks for reading and commenting, glad to have you and glad you’ve experienced some conference-going.

      I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Wendig’s scatological vocabulary, although its breadth is impressive. You’ll notice I didn’t quote that type of material — if you’ll check out his post, in fact, you’ll also see that there’s not as much of that in this particular piece on travel.

      The shtick of his “special lexicon,” of course, is just that, shtick. When you meet him and chat, you find that he’s not only every bit as intelligent as you thought–and truly delightful, fantastic sense of humor, your mother would find him charming (and now I’ve given him a big head)– but he’s also not at all given to making sailors blush in person as he is in many of his writings.

      And, of course, he has a perfect right to adopt and ply whatever persona and patois he chooses, we want to respect that.

      But yes, I think that many are not likely to hang out for “extra Chuck” for this very reason and while you or I might feel this is unfortunate for such a talented guy, he seems pretty happy with his eyebrow-scorching palaver, and so do his faithful readers.

      We’re a wonderfully diverse bunch, are we not? :)
      Thanks again,

  9. says

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m at a conference of hospice professionals and grief counselors and they’re not adjusting to changes very quickly, either (at the Loews Hollywood, btw). As far as I could tell, my books were the only ones available as ebooks and I had the only one that addressed AIDS.

    Wardrobe at conferences? Don’t get me started, Porter. A guy can wear jeans (not ripped) and a sport coat and be considered professional, but a woman wearing the same thing would be considered a slob. Depends on the culture of the organization sponsoring the conference and the location, I think. I’ve been to conferences where every woman wore a suit, and others where they showed up in shorts and t-shirts. Surely there’s a happy medium.

    As far as meeting IRL…I thought you’d be taller. ;)


    • says

      Ah, the Loews Hollywood! Well, remember those nice outdoor restaurants we found across the way during Writer’s Digest Conference West, a couple of good places amid such subtle decor. :)

      I was at a tech-facing business-of-content conference lately in New York and found it pretty annoying that corporate heads seemed (as a colleague put it) “not to be able to get out of the hoodie and jeans” even for such a formal event where they were onstage as panelists and interview subjects.

      In the writers’ camp, though, I think what I find so fascinating is the large numbers of folks who will turn up in what I might call gypsy attire, the kind of ersatz-troubadour-ish getups you expect to see amateur actors enjoy trotting out, sometimes a bit Edwardian, sometimes closer to faeries at the bottom of someone’s garden, all rather fey and peculiar and fanciful. Might work well at certain “con” events, but at mainline publishing/writing conferences, it tends to separate the pros from the peculiar and makes it hard to guess what’s in the minds oof the folks drifting by in these togs.

      I am taller. You’re just shorter.

  10. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Porter, I understand what you’re saying about it’s being nice to meet people in person, but it’s kinda nice to go back to their online personas. Whatever we feel about it, it seems to be the way of the future.I have actually been out to dinner with my kids and their friends where more than half their titillating conversation was via text message. And they were all sitting at the same table.

    It leads to a no-texting-at-the-table rule. However, the future it seems is now. Online everything.

    And there a lot of good coming out of this, too. WU is a prime example.

    • says

      Hi, Bernadette, thanks for joining in!

      Yes, I do get what you’re saying about the distraction of kids texting at the table. But, on the other hand, might it not be a blessing not to have to hear that titillating conversation? :)

      In fact, in many newsrooms now, having people communicate electronically — even sitting right beside each other — is useful because it cuts down drastically on the noise level and people have a better chance to think. So, ironically, while I get what you mean about the problem of one’s kids having their own chat, lol, I’m a huge fan of online communication, myself.

      So far, despite one very good attempt earlier this year, however, I haven’t seen a fully satisfying online edition of the conference experience. So it appears that the face-to-facers among us still have reason to feel they’re holding on to a special part of the wider community’s life. :)

      Thanks again for the good comments, and for reading!

    • says

      Hey, Barbara,

      Thanks for the note and I’m with you, it’s hard not to feel a boost from the change of scenery and focus of attention that any conference-type event offers, even with some exhaustion factored in. (Remembering to sleep and pace yourself is an important lesson of good confab-going, lol.)

      Thanks again, good to hear from you,

  11. Ronda Roaring says

    I enjoy conferences for all the reasons anyone could mention, however, time is so short these days that a number of years ago I made the decision that I wouldn’t do anything unless I thought it would help me achieve my goals. So I don’t go to many conferences any more. As a writer, I don’t think that’s where it’s at, not for me, at least.

  12. says

    Hi, Ronda,

    Thanks for the input, and I’d say you’re using the right criterion. If a conference isn’t what you need — especially when time is as tight as it is — then it’s not what you’ll want to be doing. Conferences do require some outlay both of time and money, and these are key factors in anybody’s decisions about them.

    All the best with your work and thanks again for reading and commenting!


  13. says

    Hi Porter,
    I always enjoy your posts! In my other life, professional growth hours are a requirement to maintain one’s certifications. Writing is no different when it comes to the need to stay current. Conferences really are the quickest form of pro gro a writer can find. I love them for the opportunities they provide to learn and to meet new people.

    While national conferences are the apex, one can find some really terrific regional and even local conferences. I am lucky enough to be associated with two: Writers League of Texas in Austin and the Lone Star Conference in Houston. These conferences both offer first rate, nationally known and respected speakers for keynotes and breakout sessions. Topnotch agents and editors attend both, as well. Pitch sessions come with admission. But the biggest bonus are the friends one makes in these more intimate settings. It’s a whole lot of bang for your bucks!

    • says

      Hi, Linda,

      Thanks for the input. I agree that the local and regional outfits are perfectly capable of bringing in whomever is needed — it’s really just a question of whether they do that or hide behind a “smaller-town” mentality and stick to local, familiar talent. These choices can spell the difference between a seriously worthy conference program and something that might be more social than business.

      Certainly, Austin and Houston have long had strong writing centers of wide repute and vigor. You’re luckier than many who are not in proximity to such hooked-in programs.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  14. says

    Oh, you’ll say I’m old-school, but I loved the craft panels at AWP and last year’s Muse. Yes, there are tons of other resources for this aspect of writing, but there’s also something completely unique and energizing about getting those ideas “live.” I’m sure part of it, for me, is that writing conferences are also my solo time — no kids, no dog, no chores, just writing. I have young kids (and an obnoxious dog) so those craft panels are precious fuel for me.

    That said, I also appreciate the “marketplace” panels that help me find new ways to get the stories out into the world.

    And I honestly love meeting “on-line” folks in real time. Even if I have to “stalk” them with tweets like: “Still waiting for my first Porter Anderson sighting at AWP” (And I did track you down!)

  15. says

    Hi, Lisa,

    Great of you to come by and leave a comment!

    Yes, there can be a very cool energy to the “live” exploration of a craft point of writing, certainly, and there’s not a thing wrong with enjoying such sessions.

    I think where we see a problem at times is in both conference organizations and regular attendees who hide behind those comforts. I know some regular conference-goers, for example, who always focus on the craft sessions and, I’ve realized, are unlikely ever to publish a thing. It’s not that they’re “writing just for the enjoyment” — a dodge you hear from time to time that’s usually false — it’s that they don’t want to face the exigencies of the business side of the profession.

    If a conference wants to present itself as “all the craft you can eat,” basically, and make it perfectly clear that it’s going to focus on that side of things and not on the business of being a writer, that’s OK with me — at that point, it’s been thoroughly honest with its potential attendees. What bugs me is when that’s not stated.

    Which is why I like how The Muse in Boston, which has both types of sessions, labels them “Muse” for creativity or “Marketplace” for business-related to make it perfectly clear that they’re doing both things and which is which.

    It comes down to truth in advertising, of a sort. “We’re going to diagram your sentences all weekend” on a brochure is great, if craft is the point and I love seeing just that direct a pitch to potential paying customers. Since you mentioned AWP — and per my writings in the past on that one — my problem is that its sessions are overwhelmingly not related to the business of writing, and yet it says precious little to let attendees know they’re getting a badly unbalanced roster of events. I need to see a more honest approach there, and, ideally, a lot more career-oriented material to balance the tonnage of craft offerings (and faculty-aggrandizing readings, etc.).

    Thanks again for your good input, always great to have you, hope your weekend has been good!

  16. says

    Writing conferences are definitely a plus for networking and new perspectives.
    Sometimes they are cost prohibitive but a worthwhile expense if you can manage it.