Now that I’ve been home long enough to process everything, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my trip last week. I will admit that I found last year’s Nebula conference rather discouraging. I had a good time largely because I had local friends who were on the staff, and it was fun hanging out with them, but the conference part was difficult for me. I learned a lot and got some good business things out of it (that’s how I found my web designer), but I felt very alone and invisible in the crowd, and it was disappointing seeing that I was totally unknown in spite of having been published in fantasy and a member of the organization for more than a decade. There was very much an “in” crowd, and you could see the cliques.
This year was better for me. It helped that I’d met some people the year before. It also helped that I got there a day early and went on the pre-conference walk to the farmer’s market for lunch, so I met some people there. I was on a programming item the first day, so people talked to me at the opening reception and I didn’t feel quite so lost and alone there. I still feel like a nonentity in that world, but that means I have a huge opportunity of people who haven’t discovered me yet. And, at the same time, I learned from some of the panel discussions that I’m a lot more successful than I realized. There were some things I took for granted that I thought would surely apply to others who have a lot more recognition than I do if they applied to me, but it turns out that financial success and recognition don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. I’m making decent money, enough to live on without needing another job. My books from more than a decade ago are still in print and earning royalties. I’ve had a book optioned for film. My books do really well in audio. Sometimes it’s frustrating chugging along in obscurity while watching other people get the recognition, but I’d rather have the financial success than the fame any day. So, I came away feeling better about myself and about my career and able to see my lack of recognition so far as a huge opportunity of an untapped market rather than as any kind of slap in the face.
Meanwhile, I learned a lot — about social media, Facebook advertising, conflict resolution (both for career matters and using it for characters), what actual teens look for in YA fiction, fairy tales as a storytelling medium, audiobooks, finances for freelancers, dealing with discouragement, and the list goes on. Even when I was on a panel, I usually learned something new from it. I believe I attended a session during every time slot, except for the slot during which I was getting trained on using my new web site architecture.
Treating this weekend as a professional conference is relatively new. It used to be just about the awards ceremony, but has come to be a lot more like the RWA national conference, in being a professional conference that contains an awards ceremony. Membership in SFWA is still limited to those who have met certain publishing standards, but the conference is open to everyone who’s interested in writing science fiction and fantasy. I’d say it’s very worthwhile to attend if you have writing ambitions. There’s not a lot of “how to write 101” stuff, but there is a lot of good information on the business of publishing and managing a writing career. I will very likely go back next year because I think there’s a lot more bang for the writer’s buck than, say, a WorldCon. Plus, they give you a big bag of books. I was pretty ruthless about winnowing it down to the books I was sure I would read, and I even read a couple during the weekend so I could put them back on the swap table instead of hauling them home. And then I got to the airport and my bag was only 33 pounds, so I could have brought more home with me.