Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Story - post conference thoughts

I'm leading this post with the warning - I came home with a bad chest infection, so my views may be tainted by that!

I went to the RWA conference in Sydney earlier this month. I think I went to a different event to that of what I've read about from everyone else! Although, maybe I have different expectations.

All my working life I've attended conferences (agricultural science ones before writing ones). I have a high expectation of learning, networking and facilities. At the venue I asked the girl at check-in if they were regularly 'like this' because it was chaos and no one seemed to know what they were doing. She smiled and told me they always had lots of big events. Yep, stunned me! Service was slow. Bar service was slower. And I don't think our room was serviced in our 4 day stay.

The Friday workshop was an event I did not attend. The speaker is a man whose books on writing craft I had heard great things about but when I read, they left me cold (or asleep). I was very very glad that I had not spent almost $200 when I heard these comments from attendees, "His examples are a bit dated. They're all from the mid 1980s. If you're under 30, would you have ever seen The Odd Couple?" and "I went to a talk he gave in 2010 at the American conference, and it's word for word exactly what he's presenting today."

The keynote speaker was an American big-name author. I had been told she was a cross between Phyllis Diller and Lucille Ball, which did not endear me to her before I heard her speak. But when a keynote speaker opens up by saying they haven't prepared a talk, I really get my hackles up. When it's obvious that they haven't, I'm left wanting. I thought maybe it was just her I went along to a session about 3D Character Development. Ah, okay, not just the keynote. Sure she had notes about character but nothing I could use. You see, she plainly said that this was not for pantsers, about halfway into the session. Useful for pantsers to know that, huh? Why not put it right up front so I can go elsewhere? About three comments were made about pantsers and all of them derogatory. Then the class ended up doing plotting not character because she was sure she had a plotting session (but didn't).

I walked out, furious. Absolutely furious. I could not attend another session until I had wound down. And I was not alone. In the bar area a few of us debriefed the session and the waste of our time and money.

But do you know what she said in the final speech? She said if you haven't finished a book in 9 months, just kill it. Get over yourself and your dead baby and start a new one. (I've paraphrased because I was so incensed by her insensitive comment to a roomful of 350 women, a proportion of whom would surely have suffered miscarriage at some stage, that my mind has blanked her exact words). Political correctness, anyone?

There was another American guest who I did not see except for her session and there were photos of her at the book signing. Was she there? She certainly didn't make herself easily available.

The fourth American guest was brilliant. Thank heavens!

But when I'm paying $1000 to attend a conference (includes accommodation), I'm looking for brilliant nuggets I can use. I don't want rehash. I don't want nasty comments about how I write. I don't want only humour or inspiration...I want value for money...and 3 out of 4 of these American guests aren't delivering for me.

It's not the conference team's fault. You don't know what you're getting until they arrive. But why aren't these authors delivering? Or is it just me?

I went to a brilliant session by an academic on psychopaths. It made my conference worthwhile. He was current, relevant, presented a lot of information and gave great examples. The only part relevant to my writing was the sexual sadist component (which lasted a few minutes) but it was well worthwhile listening to him and watching a sharp presentation. (Sadly, I missed another session which I'm sure was brilliant too).

I went to a lovely Harlequin dinner which was fun, feel good and fabulous. They obviously spent money and time planning the event. And they made an effort to be all-inclusive, which hadn't been the case so much last year. I thoroughly enjoyed that evening - and it wasn't just the shirtless men!

I ditched the loud cocktail party for an evening meal with 4 others. That was really worthwhile too. The networking was great. I helped out at the pitch sessions and did a bit of chatting there too with editors and agents. I chatted with other authors. Caught up on new developments and progress on secret projects.

The Awards Dinner was lovely. Nice food, a pleasant atmosphere, nice group of people, and a lovely night to celebrate RWA's achievements.

So there were good moments and bad. But my experiences the last couple of years have left me questioning whether the cost of the event is worthwhile - especially when I come home and spend the next 2 weeks with a rocking horrible chest infection.

Maybe I'm too harsh. Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I'm just in a shitty mood. But I'm sick of seeing how fabulous everything was, when I think a lot of it was not worth my time or expense.

I'm happy for you not to share my views :) So, please comment if you think I've been too judgemental. I promise to respect your views.


  1. Hi Cate
    I didn't attend the conference as you'd know and while last year I drove up to Fremantle to the cocktail party, I left again on Sunday and drove home. For me, either last year, or this year if I'd had to include flights and accommodation (in Perth last year I stayed a night with friends) the dollars are just too high.
    But $1000 in your post shocked me. If I'd been to these conferences before it probably wouldn't have shocked me - but that's a real investment in your writing. And what you've said here is the investment didn't pay off.
    From the social side of the evening, I saw all the FB stuff too - although Twitter didn't seem so hot on the topic this year. I'm not sure everyone was using the same ## maybe - last year I remember it trended from time to time.
    You are perfectly justified in your view. You pay that kind of money - you expect it to be well spent.
    If I invest that kind of money, I want to learn things. I want to learn things that I can't get anywhere else on the internet for free.
    Good on you for such an honest post.

    xx (take care of that chest)

    1. Thanks for your support Lily.

      The accommodation was $500 and conference fees were that much too, so I agree that it's a huge investment in my writing - that so far is nowhere close to returned! I've justified it with HT but without that, not sure it is justifiable. Tough decision though when the social side is such fun.

      Cate xox