Wow. What a great conference! And not just because we got a fistful of free condoms in our totebags.
Attending a conference can be a difficult decision. It takes time–for me, a day to fly there, a day to fly back, and two days there; so that’s four days I’m not working.
Then it costs something: $165 for the conference fee (which is actually very reasonable), 3 nights in a hotel, and whatever your flight costs. Some people make time to eat meals, and then there are drinks to be had… I mostly only go to conferences that at a minimum pay my expenses, or preferably pay me attend. This one was completely out of pocket, though, and now that it’s over and I’ve even unpacked and done my laundry, I can look back with some distance and say: “It was totally worth it.”
1) Readings! Who knew that author readings could be so much fun? Well, probably people who’d attended such before, but I never had, not like this, with several authors in a row reading scenes they’d selected. Some readers were more polished & practiced than others, and some were downright hand-shaking nervous, but they were all enjoyable to listen to. I can’t say exactly why, but it’s thrilling to me to hear the stories read aloud by the very people who wrote them.
The first reading event I attended was the “on the road” version of the Erotic Literary Salon, which normally hosts readings in Philadelphia. (Their site, here, has a video of author Emerald reading her story in Las Vegas.) Readings were limited to five minutes long, and I hadn’t signed up to do a reading because 1) the spots were claimed pretty quickly, and 2) I was finding it challenging enough to find something I could do in ten minutes, and I wasn’t sure I could manage five!
However, once I was there, I learned two things. First, that five minutes is plenty long to present something interesting. The timekeeping was draconian, so I can assure you no one went overtime, but each reading seemed much longer than five minutes. Such a range! Humorous, dark, wistful, happy, and of course universally erotic. Laura Antoniou gets my vote for most hilarious performance. I’d listen to her read the phone book. The second thing I learned was that fortune favors the prepared. Some of the people who’d signed up to read didn’t show, at which point the organizer offered spots to anyone who had a five-minute reading with them. Those who had copies of their works with them (or who could call up websites on their phones) leapt at the chance.
Once I knew how enjoyable readings were, I chose to attend a session of them the next day. It turned out to be a group of authors who all write for Renaissance e-books or Sizzler, their erotica label. Now, this will probably sound a bit dim, but I had somehow forgotten than I am a Sizzler author now, since my story “Layover” is appearing in M. Christian’s Bondage by the Bay. My only excuse is that the book hasn’t been released yet. However, M. Christian, who was there, hadn’t forgotten, and when I walked into the room, he asked me if I had my story with me and was planning to read. Oh… well… since that story also appears in my anthology Transported, I actually did have it with me. I explained that I hadn’t timed an excerpt, but since they had extra time in the session, he said that was no problem, and I happily read from it (and only went 12 minutes, and got to finish the scene).
I was scheduled later in the day to read, and this time, I actually had prepared something. The very shortest story in Transported lasts, conveniently, ten minutes when read aloud. I don’t like it quite as much as my favorite (a more humorous one), but it fit the time. However, at this session too, there was extra time, and the moderator mentioned that because of this, people could have an extra minute or two. Oh, well now… do I want to do the 10-minute story, then, or the longer excerpt? I asked the audience, and they said, “Read the one you like the best,” and so I did.
And then finally, at at fabulous “after party” hosted by Aisling Weaver, authors were sitting around and chatting, and someone said, “Oh, let’s read.” Well, I hadn’t made it back to my hotel room all day, so I still had my book with me — and a perfectly timed 10-minute story. So I read that. Sitting there listening was Miranda Forbes of Xcite books, and she was smiling in the right places… so I gave my copy of the book to her. Now, I didn’t ink a 6-figure publishing contract with her on the spot, no. But a story that she liked, tucked into a book, is probably more effective than a mere business card.
So, lesson? Have on your person, at all times, a 5-minute and a 10-minute reading selected and practiced. Just in case! I had three surprise reading opportunities turn up in one weekend, and I was able to help myself to two of them. If I’d been better prepared, I could have enjoyed the third as well.
Do readings sell books? I really have no idea. I will say that I bought Blake Aarens’ book Wetting the Appetite immediately after hearing her read from it, so there is one documented case.
2) Workshops and panels. So much to learn! I presented a workshop on Grammar for Writers with Jean Roberta that was enormous fun (at least for us), and tasted absinthe at Kathleen Bradean‘s presentation on character (it sounds better than it tastes, but worked wonderfully as a metaphor). Not every idea I heard was new to me, but it’s so useful to have all the information collected together and presented coherently. Reassuring, inspiring, and educational. You just had to be there. (Or come next year!)
3) People. I’ve worked in state and national politics, retail, various areas of publishing, restaurants, journalism… a whole hodgepodge of careers. To paint with a broad brush, some professional circles are competitive, and some are supportive. The world of erotica writers is enormously supportive. That was the real value of the conference to me. I knew many of the people there from online interactions, but they were even nicer in person. It was a special treat to meet and spend time with K.D. Grace and local paranormal author Katie Salidas (I mean, her books are paranormal. She is perfectly normal.) People were so free with their advice and support and encouragement. All around people were sharing tips and information, swapping contact information and signing one another up for interviews and guest blog posts. Everyone who spoke about the conference said something about how they felt more energized and encouraged and eager to write more. Now, where else can you buy that — at any price?
As it turns out, the trip paid for itself in a way, because I accepted a seat bump from the airline on my way out in exchange for $400 of ticket vouchers, which I already know I need to use in 2012. Also I won at gambling! I decided I would invest a dollar in the penny slot machines on the last day, just to say I’d tried it, and in under a minute I had amassed $1.63 of pure profit on top of that original dollar. At that point, I figured I’d hit my peak and I cashed out. The money doesn’t pour out of the machine like it does in movies; you get something that looks like a commuter ticket and you have to put that into some other machine. I actually needed help from another winner (I was putting it in upside down or something). I probably spent more time at the redemption machine than the slot machine, but I got my $1.63, all right. Total: A fabulous conference, free plane tickets, and enough money to buy a cup of coffee.
A final highlight of the conference was volunteering as the demo model for Gray Dancer’s “Hands-on Kink” class. Gray has graciously offered to do an interview here, though, so I will save my comments for that next post.
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