And I Did it All in My Pajamas

The stereotypical story of a fledgling or wannabe author from ten or more years ago had several consistent elements. Besides the countless queries, submissions, and rejections virtually all of them experienced, many would mention attending writing conferences. It was a great way to network, socialize, and learn from those more experienced on issues of importance to writers, both writing craft and other skills to help them succeed. But these conferences were also money pits. The cost of plane tickets, restaurant meals, and hotel rooms add up fast. There ought to be a better way.

Several weeks ago I was approached by an IU reader (thanks Tasha) who was looking for people willing to act as moderators for WanaCon, an online writing conference put on by WANA International, Kristen Lamb’s organization with which many of you are probably familiar. The quid pro quo was free “admittance” to the conference.

All of this is a prelude to report on my impressions of the conference. While I have never attended a writer’s conference, I have attended several conferences in other industries which I suspect is close enough to compare and contrast.

I’ll start with the process. Just as with a conference you’d attend physically, an on-line conference is a series of sessions or seminars with an expert doing a presentation on a specific subject at a particular place. There are benefits to attending while a particular session is going on, the ability to ask questions and to pick up thoughts from your fellow attendees in the chat box, but this conference also gives the option of listening to recordings of the sessions if you couldn’t make it to your computer when the session is being held or want to review what was said afterwards. It also gets around the issue that real (rather than virtual) conferences have of wanting to attend two sessions that are held at the same time. However, in many ways an on-line conference session is almost like its physical equivalent. Most presenters had power point slides that hit the high points (available for download after the conference if you’re so inclined), the voice of the presenter, and in some sessions even a talking head, with a webcam showing the presenter.

I’d group the sessions into three broad categories, starting with writing craft. One session in this category was on “bringing characters to life by looking within” while another was on “how non-fiction colors fiction.” The second category was on the publishing industry, with a presentation on using Amazon and their Createspace subsidiary from an Amazon representative and another on what editors look for in the horror genre. The last category of session I’ll describe as subjects related to marketing and platform building, such as how to use and why you might want to be on Google + or how to make your website work for you.

I thought the sessions and the information presented in those I attended or listened to after was a good mix and full of great information. (You might even see a few future posts at IU inspired by tidbits I picked up.) I was also impressed that the presentations I’ve seen have mostly been agnostic on the question of self-publishing versus publishing traditionally or as a hybrid. In fact one session presented by Kristen Lamb called Many Roads to Rome: Choosing a Publishing Path was about the questions an author should be asking in making that decision and as even-handed as I can imagine anyone could be on the subject.

If you’d expect that an on-line conference couldn’t be as good for networking and socializing, you might be right. It certainly isn’t the place to attract the attention of an agent, which was one possible dream that might come true at a physical conference. But WANACon did have some opportunities for networking and socializing. At least one of the seminars I attended the attendees were encouraged to exchange twitter handles or links to their Facebook page, a minor networking opportunity. They also had a preliminary session the night before the main conference started which they called “Pajama Con.” This was an opportunity to make sure the conference software worked on your computer, but was also intended as a chance to socialize. I didn’t attend (I’m anti-social), so I can’t report on this. What I can say is that if your primary reason for attending a conference is learning, on-line conferences (at least if they’re as well put together as WANACon) is much more cost effective than physically attending a conference. Plus there is no risk you’ll do something you’ll regret in the hotel bar. And, best of all, you can do it all in your pajamas.


Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

29 thoughts on “And I Did it All in My Pajamas”

  1. I had seen that WANA conference advertised. I’d like to try the next one. I’ve never been to an online conference, but I do enjoy Kristen Lamb’s blog and would like to hear her speak.

  2. I’m glad you got so much out of it Al. I’ve only seen the two presentations I was moderator for/backup for. Other than technical problems they went pretty well and those were handled quickly or we worked around them. I learned a bit. I did like the even-handed treatment of publishing routes. A couple people from the presentations I was in have friended/followed me since the con.

    I do like the virtual cons as they are cheaper and I did attend them in my nightgown.

    1. Thanks again, Tasha. You need to go listen to some of those you missed. I also attended just those I was moderating (with one exception, I think), but then went back and listened to several that interested me. For a non-writer/author (which I’m sure you’ve seen me claim to be) I still found several that were of interest to me, primarily those on social networking.

      1. I need to find email with info on listening to recordings. Im not sure I’ve seen you talk about being a non-writer… Is that like me where I’ve not written my books yet or something different?

        1. Something different. I don’t admit to writing at all. I’m a reader, not a writer. 🙂

          If there is a book in my future, the only thing I can say for sure is that it won’t be fiction. 🙂

          1. Ah. I’ve been kinda published for non-fiction… Training company I worked at. I’m working really slowly on the Jewish vamp stories (2 years now & 6 pages in on the novel & a short story). I’m also working on taking all the juicy tidbits I drop all over the place and working them into a non-fiction book or two on social networking for authors – on some specific topics. I’m not sure I’m into the larger writing/book thing, blogging, commenting, FB, twitter, I enjoy.

  3. We will have agents in February. I didn’t have the pitch sessions for October because NY essentially shuts down as of November. But in Feb you can pitch in PJs too :D. Might be less nervous if you don’t have to wear Spanx, LOL. Thanks for the shout-out!

  4. Sorry to have missed this one; it sounds like it was a good one. I’ve attended other online conferences and have gotten a lot out of them. Although with the physical conferences, I didn’t have to worry about cooking or doing dishes.

    1. Thanks, Laurie. Although I would have known the technology to do something like this was there, actually seeing one in action was new for me, although I guess there is some similarity to some of the conference call software that is commonplace these days in the business world. Those, I’ve done too many of. 😀

  5. Al, great post; very informative. Nice to know there is a lot of variety there and a lot of good ideas to get the brain moving. I’ll have to take a closer look at the next one.

    1. Thanks Melissa. I’m sure you can see the seminar titles on the WANAcon site from this last one. (Actually, I think it might still be possible to “sign up” and get access to all of them at a slightly reduced rate – at least that was the case last I looked.)

  6. Thanks for the info, Al. Sounds like it was worth your time. And as a veteran attendee of several World Fantasy Conventions, I suspect I would get more out of this kind of publishing conference — and as you point out, this kind requires a much smaller travel budget. 🙂

    Kristen, thanks for the heads-up about the February session — I’ll try to keep it on my radar. 🙂

      1. I know, Lynne. I love to travel and when I can do it on someone else’s dime (the company’s 🙂 ) I’m usually willing, but my boss keeps his eyes peeled for boondoggle attempts, so …

      1. Cosplay = costumed playacting. The kids create costumes based on their favorite anime (or other geek culture) character and then wear them to a convention. It’s a time-consuming and somewhat expensive hobby, but it keeps ’em off the streets…

    1. I know, Dr. Amour. I’d love to hang out in the hotel bar (or wherever) with you, but some people get into trouble for doing that sort of thing. (I’m curious how you stumbled onto this. Not your usual corner of the internet. 😉 )

  7. Nice post, Al, I haven’t even considered an online conference, until now; it sounds like it might be worth a whirl. And thanks for the heads-up for February, Kristen.

  8. Interesting post. Both types have their place, I guess. I’ve only attended several live conferences, and it’s true that sometimes there are choices to make and something has to be skipped. I do watch and regularly participate in online webinars and seminars, some include visuals. I would wear my best PJs to the online conference! These days with tech savvy you just never know…

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