A Return to In-Person Conferences?

A Return to In-Person Conferences?
February 8, 2022 Maggie Lynch
Attendees at the PNBA Fall Trade Show October 2021

I don’t know about you but I’ve REALLY missed getting together with other writers, publishers, readers a lot over the last nearly three years of COVID impacts on life as I knew it. I’m not exactly a party girl or even a constant conference attender. But I do enjoy getting together with writers, publishers, readers and sharing our love of books. Though I’ve done a lot of great Zoom sessions that I would have never paid to travel across the country to see, I’ve missed that ability to be part of a larger group. I’m not asking for thousands. Even a dozen or two would seem magical at this point. Thankfully, I did attend an excellent conference last October (see the second heading below) and I’ll be a speaker at one in just a few weeks, on March 3rd.

What I’m Looking Forward to in the March Conference

I’m only weeks away from being one of three keynote speakers at a small one-day writer’s symposium at the Chataqua Resort and Conference Center in Long Beach, WA. The one-day conference is on March 5th. It begins at 8am with a nice breakfast with the accompaniment of a local folk singer. Then the sessions begin at 9am and run until 4pm. I’m last on the agenda, starting at 2:30pm. But you can bet I’ll be at the other two discussions as well. I love being a teacher, a learner, and a sharer. That is what this conference is all about. I’ll be teaching what I know about marketing books in my session. But I’ll also be listening to the other instructors teaching about craft and publishing. Do I know a lot about those topics? Yes, but there is ALWAYS something new to learn. Most of all I’ll be listening to attendees, what the know, what they want, and how they share about their struggles and triumphs. I hope to do a lot of that during the day and even into the evening for those who are staying at the hotel.

Long Beach claims to be the world’s longest beach. It stretches 28 miles along Washington’s southwest coast starting close to where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean and it then extends north to the entrance to Gray’s Harbor. Lots of places claim to the world’s longest beach. There are other places where their coastline is significantly longer. Perhaps it is the longest by peninsula beach standards? Ummm…I will NOT be walking the entire distance and back. Usually two miles is my limit.

The Maximum capacity for the conference is sixty people. I’m guessing–given we are just coming out of another COVID wave–that it will more likely be 30-45 people actually attending. In any case, it will give plenty of time for individuals to ask questions, brainstorm, and get answers for their own projects that they may not get at a large conference.  It’s the perfect way to get back into conferences without a big crowd and have plenty of space to spread out if you don’t want to be within six feet of anyone. COVID protocols will be enforced, whatever they are at that point.

If you live within easy driving distance of Long Beach, Washington OR, like me who lives 4-1/2 hours away, the overnight accommodations are VERY reasonable at the conference rate. I’m planning to stay two nights and make a weekend of it coming in Friday and leaving on Sunday. I plan to do some beach walking, hang out with folks before or after the conference, and check out the local food scene.  Consider if this is right for your initiation back into the wider writing conference world.  Winter Writer’s Symposium. Oh, I forgot to mention, special discount if you register by February 15th. Only $69!


Why I Attended the October 2021 PNBA Conference in Portland Oregon

Last October (goodness that was four months ago) I attended my first in-person conference in over two years. I wasn’t speaking. I was doing a learning session on ideas to connect with authors during COVID and new ideas for events that were beyond the usual reading from the book and answering questions. I went pretty well. The best part was the participation from the audience. There were two bookstores in particular who already really had it dialed in and offered some of their own experiences. Windtree Press had tickets for five attendees. Myself and two other Windtree Press authors attended to be able to report back to other Windtree Press authors about what we learned.

I admit I was hesitant because of the whole COVID thing. But numbers were down in our area and the conference was very specific about the requirements for attendance. 1) You had to prove you’d been vaccinated; 2) Everyone hard to wear a mask while inside the building; 3) Social distancing in chairs was set up.  As I had been vaccinated and boosted, I felt safe. Most of all, the minute I got there, walked around the trade show room and then attended a couple of presentation sessions I was completely at home. I was REALLY glad I went. I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing talking to people about books and publishing, hearing new ideas, and just generally being around “book people.”

The Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association (PNBA) annual conference brings together authors, booksellers, publishers, and librarians who live in the pacific northwest. For those who don’t know the west, that encompasses Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The conference is the highlight of the year in that nominated books o from PNW authors are judged throughout the year and then winners in five cateogires are announced at the conference. Though publishers or their sales reps are there to showcase their books and root for their favorite author or book to win, the big reason booksellers and librarians attend are to see what’s coming out, to learn about tools and techniques for drawing in book buyers or library patrons, and to share ideas on survival in a difficult time.

Displays two great middle grade books from PNBA: The Care and Keep of Freddy by Susan Hill Long and the Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O'ShaughnessyPublishers use it to showcase some of the new front list books–meaning the ones publishers paid good advances for and expect to be popular. Publishers give away ARCs to attendees or sometimes the completed book, if it is a recent release. I came home with three large bags of books–and I was very much limiting myself as to what I was truly interested in reading and thought I would actually get around to reading this year. Because I was paying special attention to middle grade fiction, I picked up a lot of those. Two of my favorites so far are The Care and Keeping of Freddy by Susan Hill Long and The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy. They are both about family relationships and how to navigate them when things aren’t like Leave it to Beaver or Father’s Knows Best or the Brady Bunch. Hmm…I think I’m dating myself with those references. They were 1960’s TV shows showing darn near perfect family situations where problems were not very in-depth and usually easily solved within a half hour show. In these two books, problems are not easily solved and each girl needs to make some difficult decisions about how she will move forward–even if she’s only eleven or twelve years old.

Cover for Upper Left CitiesBut it wasn’t only middle grade books or fiction that enticed me. Another book, which could have been silently kept in the hallowed halls of academia but wasn’t is Upper Left Cities by Hunter Shobe and David Banis. OMG! Who knew there was such a thing as Cultural Geography? If you love Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco or you want to see what Cultural Geography is all about I highly recommend this book. It is fascinating with quick comparisons of wildlife, hiking trails, food and drink patterns, commutes, voting records, social and economic issues–all of this by looking at the geography of these cities and how/why that makes them similar.

Unlike the conference coming in March, the PNBA conference was not for authors to review their craft, or learn how to run their business, or how to build a platform. But it was just as important for me as an author and a publisher. That’s because it was about the love and care, craftsmanship and platforming of books. The thing I can’t live without and always admire when I find something wonderful–whether its published by a big publisher like Penguin Random House or a small publisher like a university press or self-published beautifully and presented professionally–I love. I still have a good twenty plus books left to read and that makes me happy, too.

I hope you are able to make it to a conference soon and get your book buzz on. If you know of a really good one coming in 2022, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it.

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