Here’s something new that I have realized by stepping back, and it might seem counter-intuitive for others out there hoping to make it as fledgling authors. Before I start, I can’t take total credit for this concept since I heard another author voice this idea first – one who is more prolific and has published more than me and whose identity escapes me. He (I’m fairly certain that I at least have the gender correct) was discussing something else entirely but I realized it applied to my wanting to do all the things, so I stole the idea (as all great writers do) and twisted it to my own to share here. It is one part strategy and one part prioritization.
Here’s some background. I live in Utah, home to the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Shannon Hales, Larry Correia – all NYT Bestselling Authors that most folks have heard of even outside of Utah. Add to that, a massive amount of mid-level authors who are talented enough to make a living as a writer without the need to have an additional day job that pays the bills. Utah is also home to a multitude of writing conferences and other related events like Salt Lake Comic Con, Life the Universe and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium, StoryMakers, League of Utah Writers, and Teen Author Bootcamp to name some of the big ones. This mecca of writing talent and opportunity means there are a LOT of events happening from single day workshops to free writing classes and author events through the public library system.
This is both good and bad. Let’s break them down for both those who attend and those who appear at these events.
Arguably, there is far more good if you’re a writer who wants to learn or improve your craft.
- Opportunities to learn – every weekend there’s an event where you can learn new skills or improve the ones you already have. This is not an exaggeration. Every. Single. Weekend. Especially in the spring – what others have referred to as “con season” – because there’s a conference or convention locally and regionally back to back for months starting in February and lasting all the way through into Summer.
- Money – face it, there is a downside financially when paying to attend all the things that are available. It’s the only con I could find… initially.
I’m sure most authors will disagree with what I’m about to say so bear with me while I defend my arguments.
- Opportunity to connect with readers. There’s really only one sure-fire way to make it big – write a story that people read and talk about with their friends who then also read it. They tell their friends and then everyone is reading your book. No one would argue with that. With today’s market, it is increasingly hard to get noticed amid all the new books released every day so connecting to readers directly through events and conferences is a great opportunity.
- Opportunity to connect with other authors. Networking which fuels the old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know” is no different in the publishing industry than any other. The more connections you can make to other authors who can introduce you to agents or who are willing to blurb your book, the better your network grows. Conferences every weekend is a great way to meet and solidify relationships.
- Money – unless you’ve hit it big enough to be invited and paid for your appearance at a conference or convention, you’re looking at a lot of time and money to appear at conferences.
- Over-saturation. Here’s where it gets controversial.
Make too many appearances and you become just another face in the crowd of “s/he’s always here” and people stop listening and stop caring. They start taking your presence for granted. What if you haven’t published a new book since the last conference you appeared at (whether it’s last year or last month)? If you aren’t talking about a brand new release in the last couple of months or have something brand new coming out right away, and people see you on panels and giving presentations over and over again… you aren’t going to leave an impression that you’re someone to watch.
What if you’re a mid-list author who has several successful books and name recognition? You want people to seek you out, thus limit your appearances. Why? Because then there is huge buzz about the fact that you’ll be there at the events you choose to attend and people will miss you in your absence at the ones you aren’t attending. Take Brandon Sanderson – he teaches at BYU where LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium) started over thirty years ago. He also lives in the same city where the event is held. It would be SUPER easy for him to arrange to be there every year but he doesn’t. Instead he is there every few years and it is a special treat when it happens.
I propose that as an aspiring author, it behooves you to limit the appearances you make and be selective of the events you do. I know some will argue that you should say ‘Yes’ to every appearance once you become published and once you have more than one book to sell. But I hold true to the idea that writing a book that others will talk about is the best way to get name recognition and increase sales. So instead of spending so much time (and money!) attending conferences and seeking to make author appearances, spend that time writing the next book. Or polishing the one you just finished so it’s the best it can be before it hits the market. The career you better might just be your own.