by Raelene Gorlinsky
There are writer conferences and then there are fan/reader conventions. Although some types of activities may occur at either, these are actually two separate species of beast. You as an author or aspiring author need to understand the differing benefits and decide where you want to spend your money—because participating does not come cheap.
The writer conference may have an event or two (often a booksigning) open to the public, but the main activities are aimed at authors and the profession of writing. Authors and aspiring authors come to share knowledge about their craft and business, network, schmooze with fellow industry professionals to get the latest news and predictions.
Reader conventions also have lots of authors in attendance, but the point is for fans to be able to interact with their favorite writers and for authors to promote their books to readers. The convention will focus more on parties and social events, and "accessories" to publishing such as cover models, contests, free books and promo souvenirs. Because some fans are also aspiring authors, and because the convention needs to attract author attendance, there are often workshops or panel discussions, but not to the seriousness and depth that one gets at a writer conference.
Of course, we are all familiar with the "biggie" writer conferences, those put on by the professional organizations like RWA, MWA, SFWA. The quintessential reader convention is the Romatic Times annual blowout. But there are many, many smaller events that are more affordable, may be closer to home for you, and offer a more intimate atmosphere and attendance (usually less than 100) that permits more personal interactions. Here are two that I have attended and recommend to all.
Womens Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy
From their website (http://www.womensfictionfestival.com/index.php?lang=en):
"The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy, is a writer’s conference with a difference. It is a relaxed and fun forum for writers, editors, agents and booksellers from all over the world to meet and talk about writing. […] panels on the European market, foreign rights and bookselling channels in Europe."
The conference (this was its fourth year) is still small but growing. It is funded by contributions and grants from local banks and businesses, Italian government agencies, and Harlequin Mondadori. WFF is becoming well-known as a cultural event in the region. The 2007 conference got daily coverage in the regional newspaper, there were posters in many store and restaurant windows around town and in the town square. Some of the events, like author readings, are open to the public and drew crowds. So this is a pretty high-profile conference for being small.
The conference itself was fantastic! Very well done, high class. This is a wonderful learning and networking opportunity for professional authors—lots of panels and presentations, but no promo giveaways, no raffle baskets, no speeches at meals, no mobs, no pressure. Participation by important people in the European and U.S. publishing community: Italian, German, UK, and US publishers, agents and authors. The PR director from the American consulate in Naples was a speaker. They had a staff of simultaneous translators, for us non-Italians.
I would label this as the most enjoyable and unusual writer conference I've attended.
In two separate incarnations, this reader/author meet-and-greet has been going on for, hmm, maybe eight years? I attended four of the first five as a fan, before I moved to Ohio to work for EC. They were the first reader conferences I ever attended, and gave me the wonderful feeling of being part of a huge group of fellow book lovers.
The convention moves around the country, a different location each year, to make it convenient to different groups of readers and authors. The next one is February 29 to March 2, 2008, in Columbia, South Carolina.
From their website:
"Celebrate Romance (a.k.a. “CR”) is a unique conference where romance readers and authors come together as equals to celebrate their love for the romance genre. Unlike many other conferences, this gathering has no other agenda but to support readers and their passion for romance novels."
The event is run entirely by volunteers. Because of this, all attendees (readers or authors) pay the same registration fee and participate in the same events. Fans spend the weekend at meals, panels and social events with their favorite authors - heaven for romance readers!