Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The value of attending a conference and other musings.

I got home last night after a long drive from Las Vegas.  The DefCon 19 hacker security conference as always is a three day party.  This was my sixth year attending and every year its gotten bigger and bigger.  So what does this all have to do with writing and being an author?  Simple, go to where your audience is.

The people in this picture not only are into computers at some level, but they also want to stand in the 100+ degree Vegas heat to watch other nerds take hot beer that's been sitting out there, and watch them run it through some home made contraption to try and cool it down to a drinkable temperature.  These people are into everything besides computers.  I have never seen so many guys in kilts, and steampunk getup outside Maker Faire.

I have read several articles about the value in attending conferences.  Joe Konrath says there is no value in them.  Sure you have the opportunity to meet other writers, agents etc.  But for the non superstar author, in the end its going to cost you lot of money.  I think whats missing from the Konrath rant is that from a non superstar authors point of view, attending a writer/agent/publisher conference or awards show is that your CUSTOMER is missing.  Now if we come back to DefCon you would think that Microsoft or Adobe would want to set up a booth.  Well... no they would get tarred and feathered.  But the vendors that sell lock picking sets and smart ass tee shirts sell out quick.

I did not go to DefCon this year with the intention of selling books.  I did not have a vendor booth or do a book signing.  I took a small handful of books with me just in case the luck factor hit.  Every time I met someone and when they asked what I do for a living, I told them that I was a steampunk science fiction writer.  First, everyone knew what steampunk was, second everyone was thrilled to talk about something other than the latest exploit or vulnerability of Google.  It didn't take me long to realize that there was an unusually high concentration of my customer here.  It would have been nothing to sit at a vendor table and sell books all day long.  So in conclusion, if the conference has your customer, then its worth going to.

There is a lot of thinking time on the road to and from Vegas.  I can see the monetary value of attending the correct conference.  DefCon 20 is less than a year away.  If the trilogy is complete and enough time to secure a vendor table can be had.  That could be a very break out moment.  And Comi-Con, Maker Faire, San Japan, all could be excellent events to attend.  So while it would be neat or even an honor to attend something like the Milford SF Writers Conference, it would simply cost me money.  Everyone there is my competition or someone wanting to make money from my work, not my customer.  So my closing question to you is this.  Think about your work and where can you see being an absolute ideal place to have a lemonade stand set up to sell your book at?


  1. This is an excellent topic. I self published a book a few years ago and I looked high and low for places to sell my books.
    It seems I found my peeps in some of the strangest places. So, your point about having a high concentration of your customers at the conference is well taken.
    You can also write these conferences off on your taxes. I prefer traveling at Uncle Sam's expense when ever possible.
    Good post.

  2. I've attended many, many horror conventions and although it can sometimes get a little rough out there trying to compete with everyone else trying to sell something horror related, if you have an awesome setup and know how to work the crowds you can do pretty well, from my own experience.

  3. Sounds like attending DefCon was a smart move. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog again to let me know what you thought of Party Girl! (Being a bit of a computer geek at heart myself, it was cool for me to hear that you thought the formatting was good!) :D

  4. @Life 101- One goal is to be able to write off all expenses like this. Its a goal that comes after turning the ink in the books from red to black.

    @Robin- I think that any event that caters to movies would fit your book. Like arranging a local get together when the next SAW movie comes out. Saw 45, hosted by No Redemption for the Dead.

    @Ranae- Your welcome, I have a handful of books in the same genera as yours and I just roll my eyes at the wall of text and lack of formatting. It't like remodeling a room in your house and you quit without trim or painting the walls.

  5. I have not attended a single conference, I think it would be a great idea if I attended atleast one or two.

  6. "Go where your customers are" seems like no-brainer advice, but it's important to say it, so thanks for this. People tend to rush to the most popular conferences without considering the bottom line.

    If you've got a book on writing or publishing, a writers conference is pure gold. If you're a fiction writer, not so much.

    Of course the value of conferences varies wildly depending on where you are in your career. They're incredibly helpful for new writers for learning craft, getting informed about the latest trends in the business, and networking. Especially networking. I've made life-long friends and made extremely important contacts through writers conferences. They also keep us from feeling so isolated, since we work in a lonely profession.