On Conferences and Authors

(Originally posted Feb 7, 2016, here.)

It’s the…most…wonderful/horrifying…time of the year! Conference Season!

Nothing strikes more giddiness and trepidation into the souls of authors.

Conferences are wonderful, magical times filled with the fun of meeting people and socializing and talking books and romance for hours! They’re also horrible, stress-inducing times of milling about with a billion people you don’t know, who don’t know you, and why did you sign up for this again?

So many of us book people identify as introverts. As an author, it’s grueling, even for someone like me who’s an ambivert. You have to be on pretty much as soon as you step out of your room to the moment you step back in. It’s just the way it is.

Every year, there’s always a lot of conference survival guides posted. But I’m actually going to tell you something that’s a bit counter to the common wisdom:

You don’t have to go to conferences. Yes, even if you’re an author.

If it’s not your cuppa, it’s absolutely fine not to go. In fact, if you’ve gone in the past and you find yourself gnashing your teeth at the thought of dragging yourself out and dealing with all those people…maybe you should stay home. Especially if you’re an author.

Here me out.

Conferences are social activities. As a reader, they’re lots of fun because you can get to meet your favorite authors, get stuff signed, often get free books and swag, go to panels—or just hang out in the bar.

But when you’re an author, you’re wearing your pen name. You are your band.

Now, my brand happens to be pretty darn close to who I am all the time, but I’m aware when I’m out in public at RT or GRL or RWA, I’m representing me-the-author.

As an author, you often have conference responsibilities—whether it’s panels or events or signings or publisher events—you need to be there and be professional. If you’re not—if your rude or disrespectful to other guests—that reflects directly back on your name—the one that’s on the cover of your books.

The thing is, you’re not going to make money at conferences. They’re expensive to attend between the fees, the hotel cost, and the travel expenses. You’re never going to sell enough books at a conference signing to cover the cost. Don’t go to one expecting money to fall from the sky. Won’t happen.

What will happen, however, is that you’ll make an impression with the folks who you meet. What kind of impression can either help or hinder you in the long run.

That’s not to say you can’t have a bad day at a conference. You can. At GRL in 2013, I had a very bad, no good day that left me in tears. Literally. I had to put one of my cats to sleep, and I was ugly crying because of the stress and the grief. I let people know the state I was in and apologized for not being happy author. They took me out to dinner anyway (mostly because I didn’t want to be alone).

No one is perfect. Everyone has bad days. People are very forgiving.

But if conferences turn you into an angry grump 95% of the time—that’s not the face you want to show to the world, to your fans, or to other industry professionals. Trust me.

Conferences are for networking—with readers and other writers. With agents and editors. With marketing folk and book bloggers. With librarians. They can provide educational opportunities, whether on craft or business, or marketing.

But you don’t have to go to conferences to network or learn or meet readers or further your career—lots of authors don’t go and do fine.

Conferences really are optional for authors. There are other ways to network, other ways to meet readers. Heck, only a fraction of the readers out there go to conferences anyway! There are tons of ways to improve your craft without ever having to leave your house.

A wise man once give me a bit of wisdom about the things that are optional in your life:

If it’s not fun, don’t do it.

Now, if you do have fun at conferences, by all means, go! I’ll probably see you there. If I’m not scheduled for something, chances are you can find me in the bar. Come say hi!