The Cost of a Trip to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference

Just say no to books,” said no librarian EVER, but I have to let that be my mantra at the Conference, Bookfair, and off-site events.

March 6

Handbags and books are my weakness, with music coming a close third. No matter how carefully I figure my planned expenditures for each payday, new books, bags or music make their way home with me before the end of the following weekend. Just like potato chips, one is never enough.

I couldn’t anticipate frugality at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Annual Conference at the end of the month. Besides formal panels, there will be parties and off-site readings to attend. There will be former classmates from my MFA program, editors I have worked with in the past, and new writer friends who I have met on Facebook, or through other friends. Most of them will have a book that I want to buy, because maybe one day they may return the favor when I get my next book published.

There will be over 800 exhibitors at the Conference Bookfair — temptation overload. My Golden Rule will be this: YOU CAN’T BUY EVERYONE’S BOOK. There are a few friends who have new books that I definitely want to purchase, but I can’t buy every book at every seminar and every reading. Like a gambler, I have to set aside the amount that I can afford to spend and stick to it; $200 sounds like a good sum. “Just say no to books,” said no librarian EVER, but I have to let that be my mantra at the Conference, Bookfair, and off-site events.

March 27

It’s now four days until the Conference, and I don’t have $200 available for books. My new glasses cost $430 — $130 more than I budgeted for them. So far, I have promised to buy one friend’s book and I paid $6 to attend a party on Thursday night. When I get in on Wednesday night, I’ll still have to pay for bus fare to Santa Monica, one night at the hostel and bus fare to the conference on Thursday morning. Unless I get my State tax refund this week or I take the initial $100 out of my new savings account, my book budget will be down to $100 — five $20 books or 10 $10 books.

March 29

Two more days to go. Tomorrow, I leave for L.A., but I only have $80 available for all of my expenses after I pay for my hostel bed. I don’t feel too bad, because all of my bills are current, my rent is paid, and after eight years, I finally can afford new glasses. The Super Shuttle is reserved and I set aside $2.50 for the bus from LAX to the hostel. I should get to Santa Monica before one of my favorite resale shops closes, but all I’ll be able to do is browse. I’m okay with that. Lack of money will not deter me from having a good time at the Conference. Since I have limited funds, maybe I will enjoy it more since I won’t be concentrating on what I can buy there.

March 30

I’m in trouble. I got my tax refund today. Now I have more than $200 available for books. I maintained frugality all day until I got to Santa Monica in the evening. I only browsed in the resale shop, but I bought a bag at TJ Maxx and had a nice dinner at Border Grill. I’m already disregarding my good intentions. Tomorrow will be the real test.

March 31

After registering and getting my official badge, I walked through the Bookfair before going to my first panel. My heart did palpations at the sight of so many books. I willed myself to be strong, but as the Borg say, “Resistance is futile.” The first thing I bought was one of the four books on my list. A nonprofit writing organization that I had planned to donate to was selling anthologies of their teen writers. For $40, I bought one for myself and donated one to a local Sacramento library. At another table, I talked to a guy from West Virginia who told me that his sister lived in the small Pennsylvania town where I used to live. Of course, I had to buy his book. I was so involved with the books and the panels that I didn’t eat until early evening.

April 1

April Fools’ Day started as a disaster. I got lost in Hollywood and was an hour late for my Alumni Breakfast. Then, I couldn’t find my badge. My heart sank when I discovered that replacement badges cost $50. I wasn’t going to give up that much money for a piece of paper and a lanyard. I was able find it in an overlooked compartment of my bag. I went to a panel and ended up purchasing the memoir of one of the panelists. I returned to the Bookfair to get her autograph, but once I was in there, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Books and swag were everywhere. Just add handbags and Lenny Kravitz and you would have my ultimate fantasy. I bought books by two of my former mentors. I talked to an editor who expressed interest in my essay collection, which made me forget about the day’s earlier difficulties. When I left, I got lost again and missed the reading that I had paid $6 in advance to attend. That night, Guns ’N’ Roses were playing a secret show at the Troubadour, but my friends and I weren’t able to get tickets. But we drove around the block several times, absorbing the rock and roll atmosphere and talking about shows we saw in the ’80s. I didn’t spend any money that night, but the experience was priceless.

April 2

The end was near. Even though I was exhausted and tired, I felt sad that it was almost over. Last week, I had promised to buy a friend’s book today, so that should have been my only purchase. But one of the other authors on her panel had written a novel that sounded compelling, so I ended up buying it too. I convinced myself that I was doing research when I bought a back issue of a journal that I had submitted to in the past. I bought a tee shirt from the editor that was interested in my work. As I prepared to leave, I took a photo of the Bookfair vendor list — so many books, so little time. After reluctantly leaving the Convention Center, I decided to counteract my post-Conference depression by visiting a resale shop on Sunset. I tried to stay away from the handbag section, but three days of conferencing had left me too weak to resist. I bought two clearance handbags. I ended the day by going to dinner with my friends and attending a reading by punk rock authors. I really wanted one of those musician memoirs, but I forced myself to avoid the book table.

April 3

The moment of truth had arrived. Time to tally the damage. Eight books, one journal, two tee shirts, three handbags, one purchased tote bag, two free ones, and lots of free magazines, stickers and flyers. How was I going to get all this stuff home? I also had one more stop to make: Amoeba Records. Next to book and records…you know the rest. I bought three CDs and struggled to place them in my stuffed suitcase and heavy duffel bag. Because of the weight, I had to transfer some books from the duffel bag to one of my new/used handbags in order to pick it up. At the Amtrak station, I ended up checking the swag-filled duffel bag and my poor bloated suitcase.

After I got home from the Amtrak station, I added up the damage. Even though I spent $125 on books, my total outlay for the five days was $560. But it was worth it. I got to see old friends, meet new people, talk about my book, gain wisdom from accomplished authors, and pick up some good books, bags and music. And I even had money left, which never happens when I go to Vegas. I couldn’t resist temptation, but I didn’t go, ahem, hog wild. I plan to stay home and read for the rest of the month.

Beatrice M. Hogg is a coal-miner’s daughter and freelance writer who was raised in Western Pennsylvania and has lived in Northern California for twenty-five years, where she wrote her novel, Three Chords One Song, and continues to write about music and life in general.