nvy strikes me when I peruse writing sites, blogs, chats and forums, and I read about writers attending two dozen writing conferences throughout the year. Some of them seem to perpetually travel, greeting regular groups of other writers doing the same at each stop. How the heck do they afford it?
Let's analyze those costs and do some mitigation. How can you take those expenses and reduce them to something more affordable? How can you fulfill a dream to attend even one, hopefully two, conferences per year?
Call the conference chair, or the registration chair, and talk to him or her. Explain your unusual situation and how you cannot afford the fees. Some conferences have a reserve of 'scholarships' for those less able to pay full price. All they can say is no.
Ask to help at the conference. Offer to do anything, and suggest they discount your fee in exchange. Conferences frequently need volunteers to set up tables, direct attendees to the right room, run errands to the office supply, or man sales tables. Tell them how good you are with people and what an asset you'd be as a worker, if only they'd discount your fee, or better yet, make it disappear altogether.
Some conferences charge per class or per day. Be selective. Attend only the sessions that you need. If you can choose to attend only one out of two days, or two out of three, you can also save on hotel and meals. There's nothing shameful about attending pieces of a conference.
Don't forget to submit to the writing contests. Most of the prizes include free attendance, so they can give you the award.
A hundred dollars a night is not unheard of for a room. Hopefully, the conference negotiated a lower rate, but in some cities, a hundred dollars is the equivalent of Wal-Mart pricing. That makes a three-day conference a minimum of $300 before you eat, buy a book or attend a class.
Again, volunteer to aid the conference. If you have speaking experience, are published, or consider yourself an expert on a topic, offer to give a talk in exchange for the room. You'll have to speak for one to three hours tops, leaving you with many more hours to hear the other speakers, greet editors and pitch agents. Conferences are given quite a few free or discounted rooms for speakers and dignitaries, and one might be available for you. Even partial compensation is better than none. Paying for one night instead of three is a decent compromise and might put the event within reach of the dollars in your wallet.
The seasoned traveler knows how to negotiate rates. Get familiar with discount rates. Hotels have a few rooms set aside for those with government, law enforcement, military or senior-citizen discounts. Also, go online and sign up for point programs. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriot, and most other chains, have clubs that let you earn points for each night you stay with them. Some will let you earn points for making certain purchases through corporate partners.
I belong to three different memberships and recently had to make a last minute trip to Las Vegas. (Why does no one believe me when I tell them that?) The city's rates were jacked up for a basketball event. Using my points, I was able to land a three-night stay without paying $300 a night.
Attend your next conference with a buddy. Two gentlemen in my writers' group attend the same conference each year and split the cost of the room. They have a great social time, team up to attend different presentations then return later to share notes and handouts.
Hopefully, you can find a conference within driving distance and negate the need to fly and possibly avoid the motel thing. That's the best case scenario. That's also the least-likely-to-occur scenario. So how do you get from point A to point B?
Share the expenses. Find a traveling partner, or two or three, and share the gas. You already know to share the hotel room.
But what if you need to fly? What if the event is six states away and you don't have the time to drive? With the cost of gas, an airline flight is probably cheaper anyway. Let's review those options.
are planned a year
opening six months
Book WAY ahead of time. Priceline.com, Travelocity.com and Expedia.com have cheap fares if you plan in advance. Most conferences are planned a year ahead with registration opening six months before hand. Go to those online airfare sites and apply for their notification feature. When flights dip below a certain level you designate, for instance, flying from Atlanta to Phoenix for under $300, you receive an email. Be prepared to jump on the deal because those opportunities go fast.
If you are willing to wait until the last minute, you can also land a deal. Sometimes flights offer spur of the moment specials when flights aren't booked. You have to be ready to pack your bag and run in a matter of 2-3 days, but you might land that $500 airfare for $250 instead.
Air miles are fabulous. Some credit cards allow you to earn frequent flyer miles. My family purchases all big-ticket items like furniture, even a cross-country moving van, with a frequent flyer mile credit card. My card offers double miles to purchase groceries. Over a year, I can earn half a ticket buying food alone. By the way, frequent flyer miles paid my way to Vegas, too. I spent more on the wedding gift for the happy couple than I did on the motel and airfare combined thanks to motel points and flyer miles.
Again...offer to speak, volunteer or run errands for the conference. Conferences pay travel for speakers.
Most conferences include a banquet, but some charge separately for that meal. If your finances are tight, forego the gala. More networking is done during the day, the breaks and right after classes anyway, so all you'll be missing is the dinner speech.
You might choose to attend the casual meet-and-greet event one night and avoid the next night's formal sit down function. Truth is more networking can be done at the casual affairs than the formal ones.
Pack snacks to avoid the high cost of eating out. Writers on a book signing circuit do this regularly. They do not have the time for sit down meals. Three meals a day for weeks on end can amount to a ton of money. Energy bars and such come in handy on the go, and they can let you save your dollars for buying those autographed books you've been dreaming about.
Books, Tapes and Handouts
Conferences are chocked full of items to buy. The authors and commercial sponsors want your dollar. The temptation to improve your craft via these tools is strong. To make matters worse, they place those items out on tables the entire conference, toying with your will power. Some even offer specials at the last minute to overwhelm you.
Set a budget. Decide what figure you can afford before you go, and stick to it. Whether that means one book or six, stand fast. Spontaneous buying is no different than gambling in Vegas. Walk in with the set amount of money in your pocket and stop when it's gone. Don't pull out the plastic.
If you attend with a friend, plan to share books. If she buys this one, you'll buy that one, and once you're done reading your purchase, you'll swap with her. Do the same with class material. Collect a second set of handouts, if the presenter brought enough.
Cost versus Return
The smartest financial decision you can make regarding a conference is to design a full-blown budget. Know ahead of time the investment you are making. Then stop and look at your career. When all is said and done, will the reward merit the expenditure? Answer truthfully if you need to make the most of what you have in the bank.
Make sure the type of conference suits your skill level and type of writing. Don't attend a romance writers' conference because it's in your hometown, unless you write romance. Study the curriculum. Is it too elementary for your skills...maybe too advanced?
The conference might be about how-to self-promote instead of how-to write, or might lean toward nonfiction in lieu of fiction, poetry instead of prose. Research each conference intently, just as you would a car before you buy or an insurance policy before you invest. Know the product you're getting. Don't go because a friend goes, or because a famous writer is speaking.
are perks in
as a writer."
Conferences are perks in your journey as a writer. Don't feel they are mandatory. But if you have a deep yearning to hear others in the field, if you're ready to pitch your book to agents, if you need advice, then find an appropriate conference. Then start negotiating, planning and budgeting. You never know...you might figure out how to attend for free.
Conferences Hope Will Attend:
Hope is attending two conferences this year. One is in Jackson, Mississippi. The other conference is at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina...on the beach! She'd love to see you at either locale.
Jackson, MS - www.mississippiwritersguild.com
Myrtle Beach, SC - www.myscww.org
C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert's Guide to Writing Success.