Why Writers Should Attend Conferences

I recently confessed to a serious case of writer’s burn out. You’ve totally been there, I know it. After spending some 400+ straight days working on my trilogy, I found it difficult to try my hand at a new story. But then I’d feel listless, like I was wasting time if I wasn’t writing. So instead I froze, stuck somewhere in that in-between of a new release, creativity burnout, and desperate attempts to get out of it. I started to wonder if I’d ever write again. (Drastic, but you get the idea.) All in all, it does create quite a bit of self-pity in a writer’s soul. Who are we if we aren’t writers?

Luckily, Utopia Con came at just the right time. As my 3rd year, it was, as expected, a wild week full of laughter and love. Many attendees already know each other, are already family, but they welcome newbies with open arms. This year, I was honored to be nominated for 2 Utopia Awards categories, moderate a panel on world-building and give an Idea E(x)change talk about beating the self-publishing stigma (video coming soon). I was never alone, constantly surrounded by friends and peers who both inspire and encourage. When I said goodbyes Saturday night, I struggled not to tear up because I love these people and how we are together-who I am with them. I left exhausted, my cheeks hurting from the smiles, and my brain buzzing with ideas. I couldn’t wait to get back in action, both to market the HoA trilogy and to get back to work on other stories. It was the jumpstart I needed and while I suspected it would happen like that, I’m downright relieved to be moving forward.

For me, a writing conference is important for more than a few reasons. It’s not just about the writing panels or the signing tables or showing your books off to anyone who will glance at them. There’s a camaraderie you don’t get online; it’s infectious and loud and unshakeable even a week after you’ve been home. It’s #tribelife for sure, to surround yourself with other hard-working, enthusiastic writers who are reaching for similar goals. And because of tribe vibe, it isn’t competition – we all lift as we climb (a motto I take seriously now more than ever). We share questions and goals, brainstorm on stories and marketing, ooh and ahh over covers and formatting. We are all there to be better than we currently are, and when you’re surrounded by those kinds of people, it’s hard not to be inspired and caught up in the enthusiastic stream of ideas.

Two specific parts of the week stand out for me. Both unplanned, both necessary to my writer soul. Friday night dinner with my mastermind group (incredible women writers – Mindy Ruiz, Misty Provencher, Kelly Martin, BJ Sheldon, Tia Silverthorne Bach, Amy Evans) as we talked each other off ledges, shared desserts, and laughed so hard I could barely see straight; and Saturday afternoon, as a similar group randomly came together to discuss PAs, sales and marketing. It was one of those organic things that happened by chance and became an important conversation that’s sometimes hard to have online.

And then there are the readers. Readers are why we do this; it’s sure why I write. I love giving someone an escape from reality. To hear that it happened, well, that’s something that motivates me to get my ass in chair and get back to work. I won’t go into personal details, but my friend Ginny shared an emotional story with me about reading my series (i.e. escaping from reality). She had us both tearing up and at the end, she said “Don’t ever stop writing.” It was the exact sort of thing I needed to hear, from someone who I interact with online but had never really talked to about my books. I had no idea – and it’s a moment that I know will stick with me forever. You simply don’t know how much you impact a person.

Writers should attend conferences not just to sell books. That’s important. It’s not just about networking, either – you can’t force your friendship on the biggest author in attendance. Connections need to be genuine (that word is quickly turning into my word of the year), as do you. Go in with an open mind. Be ready to share your own experiences or pitfalls. You are not alone in this. You’ll find your people, and when you do, trust in them to have your back. You’re there to learn and grow, and be open to people willing to help you. Selling books or giving talks is the cherry on top of the awesomesauce conference sundae.

I owe Utopia Con and Janet Wallace more than I can explain – because of it, I’ve found many of my closest friends and confidantes, met so many incredible and smart people (including readers, marketing people, and my HoA cover designer), and my confidence has grown in leaps and bounds from where I was 3 years ago. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for all of us before we do it all over again.

Clockwise: me at my table; one of my favorites from the batch – ST Bende and I laughing (which is kinda how the whole weekend felt honestly); with the gorgeous #HoA cover designer (!!!) Regina Wamba; Kelly Martin!!!; with Ginny Gallagher; with Bryna Butler and Casey Bond; with BJ Sheldon; with Brittney and Ethan, who have to be my 2 best readers and fan club members 😉

Building Relationships: Why “Networking” is a Dirty Author Word

liz02I’m a nerd who loves superhero and action films. I make silly comics (see photo) and get into loud, enthusiastic discussions about the Avengers. Sometimes I even pretend I’m still in school and write longwinded essays on movies like Dark Knight.

I’m the social media editor and a writer for Leisure Publishing’s publications, The Roanoker, Blue Ridge Country, and bridebook.

I’m obsessed with my dog. His name is Fisher and he’s a Jack Russell terror. 85% of my photos are of him.

I talk about food ALL the time. Professions of love, writing analogies, dreams and hopes. It might be a problem. (I’m starting Boot Camp Fitness next month. Swear.)

Photo Aug 12, 5 21 58 PM

But you already knew all of those things. At least, you probably do if we’ve connected through social sites. I’ve had all sorts of those related conversations with online friends – who also happen to read and support my work.

“Networking” is one of my least favorite words. It’s a dirty word, a term that makes most authors want to curl up into their turtle shells and pretend they didn’t hear it. Not all writers are introverts, but most of us tend to enjoy staying in our writing caves, only coming out to talk online and market our books. Occasionally we attend conferences, but we’re with our type of people there, so it’s more enjoyable than awkward.

When I attended a “No B.S. to Networking” session at the Roanoke Regional Writers’ Conference (led by the fabulous Sarah Beth of Nary Ordinary) we talked a lot about making connections, lasting relationships that keep your friends (i.e. readers) supporting you through every book you publish. I wanted to jump up and down and shout “YES!” because this is what I do every day with my job and I’m constantly touting it here on my blog.

Indie authors depend on their readers, on the word of mouth that hopefully spreads after a popular book blogger reviews a great title. It’s like a grassroots marketing campaign, a way to showcase your work and appreciate your friends. Without our book bloggers, at least as far as I can tell, indies are dead in the water.

Book bloggers are awesome – they spend their time and energy (and in some cases money) on our titles, taking the time for reviews and tweets and general support. They’re doing this out of the goodness of their book-loving, nerdy little hearts! How can you not appreciate that?! I have yet to meet a book blogger who wasn’t one of the nicest people ever – even if they weren’t interested or couldn’t fit it in, every blogger I’ve talked to is still so nice and supportive, even offering me guest posts or interviews when the review couldn’t happen. (Indie authors need to jump all over those offers, by the way.) And that’s the heart of it – we need to appreciate our online connections as friendships – not as a networking opportunity to make it big. If you think like that, you won’t get very far. “Networking” might be your dirty keyword, but “Relationships” is the goal. Friendship is the cherry on top.

And in case we haven’t met yet – let’s change that. Let’s be friends – no networking required.

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Twitter: @LizCLong