Conferences from an Outside Perspective

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It recently came to my attention that not all people understand the organization of a writing conference, or merely a conference in general. Surprising, right? Yeah, not so much.

After the first day of When Worlds Collide, I attended my day job’s annual barbeque. My coworkers all knew I was attending the conference that weekend since I also happened to be on vacation from work at the same time. There, everyone kept asking me how things were going. Finally, someone point blank asked what exactly happened at a writing conference. I really had to stop and think hard to answer.

Then I remembered way back in 2013, when Kate first asked me if I wanted to attend WWC with her, that I had no idea what I was walking into. Now, a veteran of four WWC conferences and one Sirens conference, I can give outsiders a good idea of what a writing conference entails.

So, if you’ve attended a conference, bear with me. If you haven’t, I hope I can clear some things up for you!

I’ll use WWC as my reference point since I’ve attended that conference the most (and most recently).

Basically, over the course of Friday afternoon, most of Saturday, and about 10-6 on Sundays, the panelists, volunteers, and attendees take over the presentation rooms of a hotel. This year it was the Delta South in Calgary.

The day is broken up into about nine blocks which consist of (usually) 50 minute presentations, as you can see below:

WWC 2015 Schedule

On average, each panel has four presenters of various background, who discuss the panel’s topic for the allotted 50 minutes. Sometimes there are one on one’s with editors or single authors reading from new releases.

WWC is unique in that there are SO MANY panels happening all at once. You really have to pick and choose what you want to attend and scramble back and forth between rooms in order to get a good seat. Luckily, there’s usually some topic overlap, and reading presenter bios and panel descriptions carefully will help you decide which ones are better suited to you and your interests.

Essentially, you’re attending mini lectures like you would in any post-secondary institution. Some people, myself included, take notes, others listen. There’s usually a decent amount of audience participation though on Sunday afternoons people tend to be pretty quiet thanks to the partying that happens Saturday night and the information overload.

At this point you might be wondering what the point –heck, even the appeal– is of running yourself ragged to attend a bunch of lectures. I understand that most people are not like me and do not enjoy attending lectures on topics that interest them. Honestly, I have a great deal of pity for such creatures!

However, most writers live to discuss their craft. Throw us all into a hotel where a good 9 discussions are happening simultaneously focusing on just a single aspect of writing and we’re in heaven. There is no better way to meet like-minded people than at a conference devoted to a singular topic, such as writing.

WWC also provides a unique space because it’s a conference for new writers, seasoned writers, and readers. Plus, wherever readers and writers converge you are likely to find editors and publishers. And, WWC is genre fiction based, with a different genre taking centre stage each year, which gives attendees that much more to bond over. All of this combines to make a networking dream.

The Sirens conference I attended was a slightly different experience. One, I flew to Washington, so I stayed in the hotel which allowed me to participate in the evening presentations, like the keynote speaking and the mixer. There were also fewer panels to try to attend which meant less scrambling. Plus, Sirens focuses exclusively on women in fantasy, which gives it that extra bit of niche quality.

The beauty of both conferences though: the merchant rooms, full of books galore.

Hopefully that clarified things for you. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment! I’d also love to hear about any other conferences you’ve attended!

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