The Writer’s Conference ~ How Not To Do One
I recently had the experience of being the main speaker at a writer’s conference. This was a first for me and I had no idea what to do. The individual in charge of the conference indicated she wanted me to talk about my job as editor-in-chief of Summer Solstice Publishing.
First, let me say that I love this job. It is perhaps the most frustrating, time consuming, challenging job that I have ever had, but I love it. This is a job that allows me to make dreams come true, to discover new authors and great books. I wouldn’t trade it for any other job in the world. Where else can I travel from a school, to spies chasing each other, to dragons terrorizing the land, to… well, to so many places with so many interesting people.
And I get paid to do this. Amazing.
Back to the writer’s conference. I have a reputation of not charging for my appearances when the library involved has a small to non-existent budget. This was the case for the conference where I was invited to speak. Not that I’m an amateur when it comes to writer’s conferences. I’ve been to more than a few myself. So, I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
My first indicator this wasn’t the usual writer’s conference was in the communications with the person organizing the event. Our communications were spotty. She wasn’t very forthcoming about the actual line up, other speakers, or how long I was expected to speak. All she would indicate was that the conference would be built around me. To say that I was honored was an understatement, but I was also a little worried.
My worries increased when I arrived at the conference. First of all, I hadn’t been given directions to the library where the conference was being held. Even the mapping system we used wasn’t much help. Once we arrived in the small town, we were directed to a church. Thankfully, I’d done some homework on the area and knew the building we were looking for didn’t resemble the one we were in front of. Even more thankfully, one of my authors was appearing at the conference and knew where to go. Once she described the library and where it was located, we found it in minutes.
I arrived at about the same time as the conference coordinator/librarian. She was welcoming but still not forthcoming about the program. There was no listing of events. In fact, we were in the smallest library I’ve ever seen, and that includes the remains of libraries in ghost towns I’ve investigated. I won’t name the town or the person who coordinated this event. Needless to say, I will never go there again after my experience.
The conference was scheduled for two hours, with a thirty minute “meet the presenters” affair afterward. I was the first speaker up, and I soon discovered that my carefully planned presentation about being the editor-in-chief of an imprint of a small publisher wasn’t the most important thing on the agenda.
This wasn’t a conference in the true sense of the definition but rather a presentation about how the members of the writer’s group attending the event could use a local printing company to self-publish their books. My author and myself were pelted with questions about what our company charged our authors to ready their books for publication.
That angered me for one very good reason.
A traditional publisher such as the one I work for never charges the author a cent to publish their book. All costs, such as for editing, proofreading, cover art, formatting, and uploading the book to sales venues, are done for free to the author. I made that point very clear several times and managed to remain professional throughout the rest of the presentation.
After it was all over, I had lunch with my author. We talked about the event, about how the librarian used it to sell her own self-published book, and how we were nothing more than an example of how bad publishers are. Except we didn’t play into the “publishers are bad, use your local printer to publish your book” scheme. Our discussion was about how sad we were that this individual used the title “writer’s conference” to further her own self-published book and enjoin others to take the same route she did. The self-aggrandization this individual exhibited should have turned me off another writer’s conference, except for one thing—I know there are legitimate conferences out there needing speakers. If I am asked again to do this, I will accept willingly, but only after ensuring it is a true writer’s conference and that they pay speaker fees.
I don’t ask for a speaker’s fee because I’m greedy, but because I know a legitimate conference pays them to honor the person they’ve asked to do a presentation.