How many conventions and conferences have you attended this year? How many do you plan to attend in 2016?
If you’re not building conventions into your freelancing career strategy, you’re missing out on invaluable opportunities to meet other people in your industry, build connections and establish yourself as an expert in your field.
How do I know? Because my career wouldn’t be where it is without my convention presence.
Why I’ve made writing conventions an important part of my career strategy
Having an online career is great. I can write from my home office while communicating with editors via email or Hipchat.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr help me meet and interact with other editors and writers, and I can both build my network and promote my work.
But you still can’t beat the in-person interaction. Many of my career’s biggest jumps have come from meeting people in my industry face-to-face, and so I’ve made it a priority to meet as many of these people as possible.
Where do people in this industry gather? At writing conventions.
Sure, you can always arrange to meet an individual editor for coffee. But when you go to a convention, you might meet several editors at once, not to mention writers, producers and other people who keep the online writing world going.
At conventions, you get to interact with people in a structured social environment.
Conferences are kind of like school: You attend panels or courses with other attendees, you all go to the same hotel restaurant for lunch and dinner and — depending on the convention — you might end up at a dance or rock concert together.
It becomes relatively simple to start up conversations, whether you’re asking someone “What type of writing do you do?” before a workshop begins, or asking “Didn’t I see you at the pitching panel?” when you run into someone at the bar. (If you enjoy social drinking, the hotel bar is one of the best places to meet people at conventions.)
The fact that you’re all sharing a similar experience makes it easy to interact with people. Remember how you made friends at school just because you happened to be in the same homeroom? Conventions are like that — and that’s why they are an important part of my long-term career strategy.
Which conventions should you attend?
Now that I’ve sold you on the importance of attending conventions, which conventions should you attend?
It depends on a few factors, including distance, reputation and your interests.
If you’re in a major city, start with a convention in your city. If you’re in a small town, see what you can find in a day’s drive.
Sure, if you’ve got the time and the cash, you could drop everything and fly to New York for Bindercon in November, but it’s easiest to get your convention feet wet close to home. Plus, if you start attending conventions in your home city, you’ll get to know other local freelancers and writers — an invaluable resource.
You also want to consider a convention’s reputation. Good conventions attract good people, and you should look for a convention that is likely to attract people working both at your current career level and at the levels above you. You don’t want to spend the money and time to attend a convention only to find you’re the most experienced writer in the room!
There are conventions for content creators, for novelists, for sci-fi and fantasy writers, and for bloggers. It’s your job to find the convention that is closest to both your interests and your career goals.
Here are some conventions to consider:
- Bindercon: This is the convention version of the popular Facebook group that focuses on professional development for women and gender nonconforming writers. If you can’t attend in person, they also offer online programming, like livestreams of some panels.
- AWP: This huge literature convention includes an enormous bookfair. You’ll probably get a lot out of it, but you might feel like a tiny fish in a big pond.
- BlogHer: It feels like BlogHer has been running conventions since the beginning of the Internet. If you’re a woman and a blogger, check it out — and search the Twitter hashtag #BlogHer15 to learn more about previous attendees’ experiences. (If you’re reading this from the future, just change the year on the hashtag to see the latest!)
- Intervention: This small convention focuses on building an online career around your passions and skills. I’ve been every year since it launched in 2010, and I consider it one of the best things I’ve done for my career.
- Norwescon: There are a number of highly reputable sci-fi and fantasy conventions across the country. I live in Seattle, so I attend Norwescon. It’s a good space to meet other writers and editors and talk about the industry; last year, George R.R. Martin was the guest of honor.
- FinCon: If you’re into personal finance or write about money matters, this is where to go.
Advanced convention techniques
I’m about to get on a plane to Minneapolis for the first annual Nerdcon: Stories. I bought my tickets the day the convention was announced, because I knew it was important for me to be at a convention that’s celebrating stories and diverse methods of storytelling.
It’s also important for me to be at this convention during its first year. Attending a convention during its early stages, while it’s still relatively small, gives you a chance to meet the other early adopters and form the friendships you’ll strengthen as you return to the convention year after year.
Repeat attendance at conventions is essential. If you enjoy your convention experience, make it a priority to come back the next year — and if you’re trying to figure out which conventions to fit into your schedule, focus on the ones you’ve already attended.
It’s like summer camp; the more you come back to the same place with the same group of people, the stronger your relationships will grow.
It’s also worth it to get to know the convention organizers and ask them about panel opportunities. I regularly get asked to participate in panels on everything from “running a crowdfunding project” to “handling your online image,” but it took about a year of reaching out to various conventions before I got to the point where conventions started to reach out to me.
When you do panels, you get your name and your face in front of a lot of people in your industry, whether they’re editors, writers or potential new readers.
You also often get invited to convention VIP spaces, like green rooms or special parties. You won’t get paid, but the convention will generally cover the cost of your badge and ply you with plenty of free food.
If you do participate in enough conferences, you might get invited to be a featured guest. That’s when they pay you. I’ve had several conventions pay to fly me out and put me up in a hotel. In return, I do a lot of panels along with some kind of special guest performance.
If you’re looking for additional ways to fund the cost of your convention travel, remember you can also pitch stories about the convention. I try to get at least one paid story off each convention I attend. Some conventions require you to get a press badge, but many do not; check before you start interviewing people.
Lastly, you’ll want to talk to your individual CPA, but your convention attendance could likely be considered a tax deduction. After all, it’s an important part of your writing career.
Do you regularly attend industry conventions? How have they helped your career?