Good morning, internet!
This morning I read a fantastic blog called “The Pros and Cons of Pro Cons” by the notorious Chuck Wendig. It was actually a response to a blog by my friend Marko Kloos about the total cost of attending CONfusion, (which I also attended). You should read these excellent posts, but here’s the crux: Marko’s post was about how cons are fun but expensive, so be aware as you consider going. Wendig’s post was about how cons are fun and can be professionally useful, or not, and we should be sure to do a bunch of stuff, and take a bunch of stuff into consideration, and digression about the cost of sex ponies.
Okay, in all seriousness, it’s a wonderfully detailed blog about the potential benefits of attending cons, and everyone in the publishing world should read it.
Anyway. It’s clear that both authors love going to cons, and they both really want them to be professionally valuable, despite the lack of trackable ROI. The blogs are about financial justification, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I’m a big believer in the power of networking and getting face-time with other authors and readers: I’ve gotten an agent, done two podcasts, and sold a novella based ONLY on my con attendance.
But the thing is, I think both blogs also undervalue the thing about how cons are super fun.
Back up a second. At the beginning of their career (and often well past it), almost all writers have to squeeze their writing in and around other parts of life, like full-time parenting or full-time jobs. This is somewhat unusual, if you think about it. It’s kind of like a hobby, except a) you can theoretically make money from it, and b) most of the writers I know can’t not write. You can give up rollerblading if you get too busy, but you can’t give up your brain’s wiring ordering you to put down your thoughts on paper.
In other words, writing isn’t a hobby, it’s a calling… but not always a career. However, that extra time to write has to come from somewhere. In my experience, one of the things that often falls by the wayside when you’re a writer is adult friendships.
Before I continue, let me explain my life a bit, because I think it’s somewhat typical of the American mid-list writer-parent. I spend my weekdays taking care of two kids, two dogs, a house, myself, and my writing career. Notice that I didn’t just say “writing” but actually taking care of my career, which involves writing/editing books as well as posting on social media, tracking my expenses, updating my website, running contests and mailing prizes, arranging travel, readings, and guest appearances, and emailing with editors, cover designers, fellow authors, readers, etc. At this point in my career, I can afford a babysitter (aka Saint Amanda) who watches my kids for a few hours every day to make this happen. I also go to the gym (that’s the “taking care of myself” part) and drive my daughters to a seemingly endless stream of doctor’s appointments, haircuts, lessons, birthday parties, etc.
On weekends I still have the kids, the dogs, and the house to look after, and I always try to do a little writing. If I have leftover time, I spend it watching a bit of television (never as much as I’d like, frankly), reading, and having quality time with my husband, hopefully without the children. Oh, and about once a month we head up north to spend a weekend with my parents. (It’s just like the Army Reserves, but with less calisthenics and better food.)
Now, I’m not complaining about my life —I’m quite content with how I have it set up, and I do think it’s fairly typical of many writers, especially if you substitute “kid time” for “day job.” But you may have noticed that “friendship with adult humans whom am I not currently sleeping with” wasn’t on the list. At this point, sadly, I just don’t see much of my regular friends.
Oh, we interact online pretty constantly, thank God, or else I’d probably lose my mind. And once every few months I may squeeze in a lunch or a movie date with one of my girlfriends. For the most part, though, the only time we see each other face-to-face are when our kids are present. Which is not the same thing as adult funtimes. I don’t even have “work friends” in the traditional sense, because I don’t go to an office every day and interact with other adult human beings. In fact, the only adults I see on a regular basis is my husband, and man, that’s a lot of pressure to put on one guy.
Then along comes a convention. Suddenly, I get to stay in a hotel room I don’t have to clean, and wear nice makeup and pants with zippers. I have fascinating conversations with interesting people about something that I usually have to do by myself in a dark room with tiny child-hands pounding on the door. I get to drink alcohol without needing to wake up at six the next morning to feed someone breakfast. I sit on panels in my nice clothes (earrings! I wear earrings and no one pulls them out!), and people listen, or at least pretend to listen, to what I have to say about things that I care about. I don’t have to drive anyone anywhere, or help anyone with first-grade homework. I don’t have to follow a puppy around the house to make sure she doesn’t pee on everything or eat the good toys.
And I see my friends. No, not my girlfriends from high school or college, but I’ve been doing conventions for long enough to have built up friendships with writers, editors, and their spouses (often more interesting than the writer/editor, btw), and I get to hang out with them in a hotel bar and talk about anything we want, sometimes until late at night.
And guys, most of the time, this does not include discussing the cute things our kids do. I love my kids —I think I proved that on Saturday when I spent four hours making blue moon ice cream-flavored cupcakes— but I’m also a grownup with a job that I adore, and sometimes I need to have conversations about things that are not my children.
Now, I’m not suggesting that all writers should spend every weekend at conventions, because you would get burnt out, go broke, and stop having fun. But yeah, five or six times a year? I am there.
The bottom line is that although Marko and Wendig made great points about the business side of conventions, the business stuff isn’t all there is. Conventions don’t just provide networking or information; they provide balance to the busy writer lifestyle that often eliminates adult interactions. I don’t think you can put a price on that, but if you did, $1,000 would be a serious bargain.