Let’s face it: thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a weird year for conferences and conventions in all industries. The publishing world was no exception. The vast majority of meetings were canceled or converted to an online platform. Face-to-face gatherings were rare after February.
As the programming chair for the Novelists, Inc., 2020 conference, I know all too well the challenges of both organizing and attending events—not only in this unprecedented age, but all the time.
Will we see a change in 2021? Will conferences return in full force with the advent of more than one vaccine? Or will we see more of a gradual resumption of in-person events as organizers proceed with caution?
Regardless of how conferences take place, there’s little doubt that these meetings offer valuable tools for authors no matter where they are in their career. There are several ways we can approach events to maximize our takeaways.
1. Know yourself, know your conference
Every author event has its own strengths. Each one is designed for a particular audience. Before you register for a meeting and plunk down your hard-earned cash, do some research and find out who attends, who presents, and at what the level of workshops are aimed. You can do this by checking out the event website, social media platforms, and best of all, by word of mouth.
Ask other authors you know if they’ve attended or what they’ve heard. Reach out to the organizer if possible to get more details. Post in author groups to ask for insight.
For instance, while InkersCon, presented by author Alessandra Torre, offers a wide range of classes that appeal to all authors, new and/or aspiring writers will definitely feel at home here. Several of the workshops are taught a level that will help beginning authors move forward with confidence and strength.
InkersCon also includes workshops that will appeal to non-fiction writers as well as novelists. (Note: as of this writing, InkersCon will take place in person in Dallas in June. Go here for more details. The organizers are planning to implement necessary precautions and to offer a digital component as well. Additionally, Alessandra has organized a digital mini-con for mid-January, offered at the price of $29.99. More details are available here.)
Another popular event that speaks to authors at nearly every level while challenging them to strive for incredible heights is 20BooksVegas, the conference produced by the 20Booksto50K group. Held in Las Vegas, this four-day meeting boasts a schedule that is jam-packed with sessions designed to speak to almost every genre. 20BooksVegas was not held in 2020, but plans are underway for 2021. Go here for more information.
The conference offered by Novelists, INC (NINC), on the other hand, specifically appeals to higher-level, multi-published authors who have met the criteria for membership in the organization. This is not a conference for non-published or just-starting-out writers. (The NINC 2021 Conference: Level Up will take place in person in St. Pete Beach, Florida September 22-26. Registration is expected to open in March. For more information on membership and the conference, go here.)
Romance Authors Mastermind is yet another conference designed for authors who have proven success upon which they wish to build. The schedule is demanding, and the information offered always defies expectations. This event is targeted specifically toward romance authors. (RAM, which took place virtually in early December 2020, has not yet been scheduled for 2021. Authors desiring an invitation should go here and add your name to the interest list.)
2. Determine your conference goals
Why are you paying to be at this event? Do you want to improve your craft, level up your marketing game, learn how to optimize advertising, increase visibility, or network with other authors and industry professionals? Knowing your WHY before you decide to attend is crucial because it will help you to make choices on workshops and meetings. Which brings us to our next point . . .
3. Read the schedule and line-up ahead of time
You might be someone who likes to fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to conferences, but taking a little time in the days before you go can help you get the most of every workshop. Look at the schedule on the website, read the descriptions, and choose which presentations will help you to meet your goal. If you’re in desperate need of a new promotion plan, then you’ll focus more on sessions that help you optimize promo opportunities, and don’t forget Book Brush can help with this.
If you want to improve your writing game, make craft workshops your first choices. Once you’ve scheduled all of the most important workshops—look at them as your core classes—you can fill in your time with some electives or other activities . . . like networking.
4. Make a plan with your friends
One of the biggest complaints we have during the NINC conferences is that no one person can be in every single session. During non-pandemic years, we offer three to four workshops each hour. It’s not easy to choose which ones to attend. But one option is to talk to your friends who are at the same conference, determine which presentations you all want to see, and then divide up the ones happening at the same time so that you can compare notes later. It’s the closest thing we have to being in two (or three!) places at one time.
5. Take awesome notes
What’s your note-taking style? Do you prefer spiral books and longhand, or your laptop and flying fingers? Make sure you have everything you need to take down the crucial points of each workshop—and don’t forget your phone so that you can snap pics of PowerPoint slides (assuming the presenter allows that). Finally, make sure you come up with at least one actionable takeaway from every session and add it at the end of your notes. This action should be in line with the goal you set above.
6. Leave some time for leisure
Even (or maybe especially) in the midst of the most exciting, information-packed conference, you need some down time. Try to plan on one relaxing morning or one early evening during which you can digest what you’re learning. And don’t forget to build in some non-structured networking hours. These planned or impromptu meetings can happen in a restaurant over breakfast, in the lobby between sessions, or at the hotel bar in the evening. What you learn from listening to other authors and experts recount their own experiences can be nearly as valuable as the workshops themselves.
7. Go with enthusiasm and a positive attitude!
This is essential especially in these uncertain times. The conferences we attend in 2021 (and perhaps beyond) won’t be like the ones we knew in the past decade. We’ll be living with masks, social distancing, smaller room capacities, and limited attendance for a while. Sometimes, the speakers we can’t wait to hear won’t be with us in person. And we know that some events will choose to stay virtual as long as travel is a risk.
While we all miss hanging out with our author community, for now we have to make the best of what we have. So if your favorite conference makes some huge changes, be supportive of the organizers and figure out how to get everything you can from the workshops and round tables offered. Organize post-conference video chats to discuss your takeaways. Plan virtual networking sessions.
Finally, don’t forget to incorporate what you’ve learned once you’re back home and working again. Author conferences can be the springboard upon which you leap to the next level in your business. Make the best of every one you attend!
Article by Tawdra Kandle
Tawdra is a USA Today bestselling author of over a hundred romance novels. As the programming chair for the NINC Conference, she helped to plan and run one of the few in-person author events in 2020. A South Jersey girl transplanted into the Sunshine State, Tawdra lives in central Florida with her family. Her favorite part of any conference is swapping author experiences over rum drinks at a beachside bar.