Two days after the convention is the minimum time I need to evaluate the experience, to let it soak in. There is an overload of information that needs to settle, like rainwater on dry soil, to begin the growth process. I need the time to separate my emotional high from the true value gained, the grain from the chaff, so to speak.
After a full week of presentations, activities, meetings, etc., it is easy to forget one’s reasons for attending in the first place; it is too easy to drift off on a tangent within a plethora of fresh thoughts, new ideas, and new methods. Go ahead and revel in them, but be sure to remember your original purpose. That is the lens through which you can most effectively evaluate your experience.
Here is my evaluation process. I have just returned from the Western Writers of America Conference in Sacramento. The goals I hoped to accomplish there are the following:
1. To connect with other writers of western books and literature.
2. To learn more about marketing my books.
3. To evaluate my progress as a writer in relation to other writers.
4. To gain a sense of traditional publishing vs. self publishing.
5. To gain a sense of the market that exists for western writing.
I feel that an examination of my success in reaching these goals offers my best criteria for evaluating the conference experience. I decided not to quantify success for each goal, to simplify the process. Either I reached the goal, or I didn’t.
Here are my results.
I was successful with my first goal; I did connect with other writers. Here I define the word ‘connect’ as establishing some sort of ongoing relationship that manifests beyond the conference, if only on an infrequent basis. I have been to many conferences and met people and exchanged ideas and vowed eternal friendship and never heard from them again. In those cases, the goal was not reached.
But the writers I met at the WWA Conference took active steps to prolong our relationship; they offered to become Facebook friends, one writer asked me to write a guest blog for her blogsite, another invited me to join a writers’ club. These offers demand a response and thus ensure that the relationship will reach beyond the conference. Remembering my decision not to quantify, I confidently state that I attained my first goal.
My second goal, to learn more about marketing my books, went unfulfilled almost to the end of the conference. Most authors I spoke with struggle with marketing and few had anything new to offer. But goal number two was ultimately salvaged by one presentation on the final day, when two publicists and an author who was experienced in marketing offered specific strategies. They satisfied my needs. Success turns on such fleeting moments. Check off goal number two.
My third goal, to evaluate my progress as a writer in comparison with other writers was more difficult to assess. Writers today must, unfortunately, self-promote and thus tend to inflate their accomplishments. It is therefore necessary to sift through their claims and research their body of work. How many books have they actually published, how were they received, what other writing have they done, and how well were they compensated? And further, what does it really mean to have been a finalist for such and such an award? With due diligence in research I was ultimately able to come to a conclusion. Again, I did quantify, I simply reached a conclusion regarding my status, and thus I realized goal number three.
My fourth goal was to gain a sense of the relative status of trad publishing compared to self publishing within this group. But the writers who attended the WWA conference were older folks, people who began to publish their stories before self publishing was an option. In truth, self publishing was seldom mentioned during this conference and when it was mentioned (at the agents and publishers panel) the reference was skewed. Further, the writers themselves seemed to have little knowledge of self publishing. Necessarily, the conclusions derived when reaching this goal are dependent upon the nature of the group itself. I decided that this goal had not been met, or if met, was not useful.
My final goal was to get a sense of the market for western writing. This was a resounding success. Clearly there is a market, and it is growing. Every writer in attendance was published and some multiple times (the outgoing President had just published his 145th book!). Clearly, publishers are buying western works.
But are the books actually selling? Here again, it depends on the publishing house, the marketing skills of the writer, and the topic and genre. I spoke to several writers who received minimal amounts from their publishers over multiple years. But there were others who have published many books and are in a wider market (the Chinese market for westerns is huge and continues to grow) are doing quite well.
My conclusion? Goal number five was met.
To summarize, of the five personal goals I had set for myself at the conference, four were met. Thus, I rated the conference a success. But honestly and ultimately, the evaluation comes down to an emotional level after all. Did I, in fact, have a good time?
Well yes, I did.
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