“Can You Conference Me In?”

Nicole: Hello!

Ester: Hello! How’s the West Coast this morning?

Nicole: Cloudy, but that’s no surprise. How are you?

Ester: Sunny and expensive in New York, also no surprise. But I have a Diet Coke and I’m happy. So, you and I were talking the other day about CONFERENCES — professional, academic, etc. How does one decide whether it’s worth it to go? And then how does one feel on the other side, besides dehydrated and exhausted?

Nicole: I used to go to a lot of conventions, and I’m making the distinction between conventions and conferences here, because the latter is usually a professional development thing and the former is kinda an excuse to hang out with friends and talk about shared interests and enjoy adult beverages, possibly while wearing themed costumes related to shared interests. But for me I think “whether it’s worth it to go” comes down to a few factors: is it close by, am I getting paid (at least in part) to attend, and will there be other people attending whom I want to see? What do you think? I know you’re thinking about attending a conference and I’m totally blanking on which one!

Ester: Hahha yes! I’m considering AWP for the first time, which will come as a surprise to Ben if he reads this. (Hi, Ben!) (This “informing our spouses of stuff via the site” thing is a lot of fun for everyone.)

Nicole: LOL.

Ester: I’ve never been to a proper convention or conference before. At one of my old jobs, I got to attend a professional conference for scholars in a specific discipline twice and it was fascinating: I got to sit in on a couple of panels and even asked a question once. It was like being back in college! But I was also very much aware of being on the periphery. I didn’t rock out at night with my compatriots, for example.

Nicole: I think you should definitely go to AWP, and I say this as someone who has absolutely no skin in the game. But I think you should also think about what you want to get out of AWP. Like — work? Connections? New friends and colleagues?

Also, as a convention/conference veteran (because I used to attend a few academic conferences back in the grad school days): the interesting stuff happens outside the panels. In the hallways. Having conversations with people you might not have access to otherwise. Also gaaaah I just used “access to” like it was some corporate networky thing, but you know what I mean. Who do you want to talk to? Go talk to that person!

Ester: Right! That must be very exciting. Winds from all corners of the earth pick up people you only know from social media and deposit them in one specific location for a few days. In this case, the location is Minneapolis, which would be cool because I’ve never been. I hear there are lakes! But I’d be going for the people, of course, including our site friend Jess Gross, who’s going to be on a panel.

Nicole: Lakes! Come on, take a day trip and go to the Betsy-Tacy house. 😉

Ester: … What is that?

Nicole: Think the American version of the Green Gables books. Young girl, wants to be a writer, she grows up over several volumes.

Ester: I feel like I did when you unveiled that there was another member of the Baby-Sitters Club, one I’d never even heard of. Next you’re going to tell me there’s a Mr. McGonagall somewhere.

Nicole: Slash fic has plenty of that stuff, you can Google it on your own. But conferences. So in addition to meeting Jess Gross, what else do you want to do at AWP? And how much do you think it’s going to cost?

Ester: (BTW, “google it on your own” is what I told Geraldo when he asked me, “What’s a buttplug”?) Right, so, yeah, that’s the thing. If I make a decision by October 30, it’s only $140 for registration. $140 is nothing! People spend that on shoes, right?

Nicole: Absolutely. $140 is totally nothing, but it’s the airfare/hotel/food that’ll bring the cost up to $1,000 or so. (She says, cynically.) Do you have someone with whom you can crash?

Ester: Several of us would share a room, either at the hotel or at an AirBnB nearby. They’re cost-conscious friends, too, so we’d cook and do other cost-save-y things.

Nicole: That’ll bring down the costs. You can also save on food during the conference (like, for lunch) by packing granola bars, string cheese, and apples in your purse, and carrying a refillable aluminum water bottle. #EXPERIENCE

Ester: Oops, I totally read the chart wrong: it’s $240 because I’m not a member. Ugh. I need a conference in learning how to read charts.

Nicole: That’s still only the cost of a good pair of shoes! It’s just… a better pair of shoes, now. Or maybe those fancy ones with the red soles.

Ester: Louboutin! Yeah, those are great. To look at, from far away, while wearing canvas sneakers that one bought on the Internets.

Nicole: I think you’re totally going to go. You have a plan, you’re thinking about costs, and you’re thinking about the benefits. If you didn’t want to go, you wouldn’t be thinking about those things, you’d be saying “NOPE” and moving on.

Ester: That’s an interesting theory. I think I want to figure out if it can work, mainly because when I don’t go to these conferences, and like I said I’ve never gone, I spend those few days looking longingly at Twitter as everyone else meets IRL and drinks pink fizzy things and networks and says, “You want to write that column? We’re looking for someone to write that column!” and so on. But that doesn’t mean it’s practical.

Nicole: In terms of costs, it’s probably impractical. You’re going to lose money, at least in the short term. When I was at Intervention, you saw that I had a “negative profit” of $559. But I also got asked to send in some article pitches and I’m going to write some feature pieces because I was in the room.

Ester: Good! Yeah, maybe I can be the Awl Network Correspondent and in exchange they’ll cover my registration fee? Unlikely. But yes, it’s also a good point that there’s immediate profit/loss and then there’s potential long-term gain. My agent is trying to sell my novel this fall (!!) so if she succeeds (?!?!) it would be great to celebrate at AWP and get the low-down from industry folks on What Next and How Not To Get One’s Hopes Up.

Nicole: OH YES I FORGOT ABOUT THAT PART. Not the part where you’re trying to sell a novel, I knew that part (and I hope it sells so I can read it!!!!). The part where you’re at a conference and you meet people and then all those people look up your stuff. Once again I am sounding completely networky and mercenary, but you will get readers by going to this conference. And if you have a book they will get excited about it and maybe buy it!

Ester: God, so many IFs. The most likely course of events is I don’t go and she doesn’t manage to sell it and everything stays the same and I’m sad for a while and eat some sandwiches sadly but then I’m fine and at least I haven’t wasted any money.

Nicole: Bleh, who wants everything to stay the same? Go Joseph Campbell this ish. Start your quest at AWP! Heed the call! Something interesting will happen if you go, I can promise you that.

Ester: I’m sure you’re right! Maybe Karen Russell and I would bond. We’re both into magic realism. Anyway, thanks for your perspective! Is there any conference / convention you’ve gone to and regretted?

Nicole: Yes, but I don’t want to name names. The ones I’ve regretted have been the brand-new conventions that haven’t figured out what they’re doing and what their mission is. I don’t think you’ll have that experience at AWP.

Ester: Do you have a great conference story you wanna share before we close?

Nicole: I have done all of the following at conferences/conventions: launched huge projects that have earned me a gob of money, launched huge projects that have cost me a gob of money, consumed more alcohol than anyone should, made out with people, made very close friendships. I support going to conventions and conferences!

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