Should you go to publishing conferences and writers conventions?

I’ve been to my fair share of fairs, vetted and been vetted at coveted conventions and listened to a wide panel of, well, panels. Going to publishing events always seemed like a good idea to me. Nonetheless, while preparing this article, I’ve skimmed through my notes on each one, and the result isn’t always positive. Far from it. Here, I’ll focus on events centred around publishing (conferences, conventions, summits, etc.). Not writing training or book fairs.

I’ll say this: when you are writing and publishing — especially independently — getting as many contacts, advice from professionals and access to valuable help is paramount. Publishing events and writers’ conventions are often organised with these goals in mind. However, the true benefit of such events doesn’t come during speeches or debates, but what goes on in between.

It’s often during the breaks that you’ll learn the most ( Photo by JJ Thompson)

A lot of events have valuable discussions, presentations and panels, but I always found them disappointing.

Firstly, you’ll have the professionals trying to sell whatever their service or product is, rather than truly discussing the topic they were supposed to present.

An example that comes to mind is at a conference for independent authors I went to in the UK. There was a presentation on SEO, a highly interesting topic, rather important to learn about. The person presenting was part of a company proposing services for publishers and authors to help them improve the search rankings of their books. I didn’t try to remember the name of the company and you’ll soon know why: not only was the information on SEO rather useless as she only presented the company’s tool and what they offer, but she kept referring to SEO as Search Engine Optimism. I’ll grant her this: it’s great to be optimistic in life. But that’s not the point here.

Then, you’ll have the experts of their own use-case, unable (or refusing) to take into consideration the perspective of their audience.

I once heard, in a panel about audiobooks, the representative of a “big-five” publishing house say this (I paraphrase): “The argument that audiobooks are expensive to make is a false one: publishers spend thousands on each of their books, adding a couple thousands to make the audio version is not a great expense.”

Even among traditional publishers, I’m not sure you’d get 2% of them spending “thousands on each book”. Even less so if you include indie publishers!

Finally, most of the time, you’ll get information that you already read thousands of times on blog posts and discussed extensively with dozens of other people. Moreover, I realized more than once that the information shared was outdated. The publishing market, now closely linked to the internet, mutates quickly. Conferences won’t always have the latest update. Whether it be because the presenters didn’t adapt an old presentation or that it takes a while to catch up on everything that’s happening, it’s understandable, but still undermines the whole point of the conference. So, even if you are fairly new to the publishing adventure, you might learn things that actually aren’t relevant anymore.

I painted a pretty dark portrait of these kind of events and I’ll concede they aren’t ALL like this. However, there is a great reason to go to these events: networking. If you are prepared to get your social hat on, you’ll get to meet a bunch of great people that could end up being a huge help in your publishing endeavors. Be they presenters or fellow attendees, you should get to know them.

You absolutely need to make the effort to go speak to as many people as possible and really interact with them. I can’t tell you how many people I see standing in a corner between each presentation or coming to me with the standard: “Hey! I’m John/Jane Doe. I do/sell/am this. Here is my card. Who are you? What do you do/sell/are? Where is your card?” First, I don’t have a card. But mainly: what kind of a conversation is this? I’ll never remember this person and I have no idea if I’d like to work or build a relationship with them. Please be human! Have a conversation, be yourself and proudly share the passion that brought you there.

Avoid the general poke and talk to people (gif by Percolate Galactic)

There are many ways to get information and advice on publishing, one of which is indeed live events and conferences. Please make sure the one you’re considering is worth it, especially if it’s going to cost you.

I’m sorry if this post has a stronger tone than what you’re used to reading here, but this topic happened to strike a chord. I really hate seeing authors and publishers robbed when they hoped to get support.