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Stories To Tell Books BLOG

What I Learned from Speaking at a Writer's Conference

Biff Barnes

We are happy to host today's guest post by author, creativity coach and commedian Bryan Cohen who is stopping by as part of the blog tour for his new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More. Welcome Bryan!

The invitation came through my freelance writing website. So many emails from that site are spam, it would've been easy to miss. The message came from North Wildwood, New Jersey. I'd never been there, but my upbringing in suburban Philadelphia gave me a vague understanding of the Jersey Shore's geography. Carolyn, the co-leader of the conference, had read through my work and extended an invitation to speak at the North Wildwood Beach Writer's Conference that June.

As a self-published author with only moderate success, I'd never even considered the idea that someone would think me legitimate enough to speak to other writers. I'd taught a few workshops on self-publishing, all of which I'd organized myself. This would be the first time I'd be coming in with little to no control over the experience. If I accepted the invitation that was. See, I lived in Chicago. Not exactly an hour-long bus ride to North Wildwood. I was offered a small honorarium and a free hotel room for taking part in the conference, but it wouldn't come close to covering a flight, a rental car and other expenses the came from a middle-of-the-week summer conference. But it was certainly possible the conference could lead to something. A connection with an author or publisher here. A book sale or grand idea there. This was the ultimate door #3. I decided to open it.

It wasn't completely for the merit of building my author brand, of course. The trip to the east coast ended up being as much about taking my wife to New York City for her birthday and auditioning for the show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" as it was about going to the conference. It was one part of a three-headed summer adventure. When parts one and two were over with, I hopped in my rental and headed to my new home away from home.

Carolyn, whose co-leader of the conference was also named Carolyn, had told me the conference would have around 50 people. I knew from my theatre days, that meant there would be 30 at most in attendance. I struggled to lift a box filled with enough books to accommodate twice that many readers into the conference center. It didn't take long to find the book fair room and it took even less time for me to feel out of place. I was the youngest in the room by far. Given that I was 29 at the time, with
a face that looks five to 10 years younger, I was sure I appeared even more lost to most passersby.

Any feelings of awkwardness melted away when I met the two Carolyns. The two of them were extremely grateful I was there. In fact, they treated me like a new grandchild. Many of the attendees followed suit. This was the 9th year of the conference and many on hand had been there since the beginning. I was the wild card. I was someone new who brought a different flavor to the table. They ate it up.

My presentation on treating your brain and body right to get the most out of your writing was a huge hit. The other writers at the conference responded to me like a peer, and I got a great deal out of watching their presentations as well. When the conference ended and evaluations were handed out to those on hand, the Carolyns told me I was ranked among the top three speakers. They invited me back to the following year's conference right then and there. It meant a lot to me and I sure was
glad I opened that email.

But was it worth it? Have I gotten some major financial gain or connection out of my time at the conference? Money-wise, I have not broken even on my two trips to the North Wildwood Beach Writers Conference, though the gap was bridged a bit through book sales. Spiritually, however, the two trips to North Wildwood have been enervating. I've made great friendships with the speakers and attendees of the NWBWC. The Carolyns even chipped in and bought my wife and I a wedding present; a beautiful canvas picture of a sunset over the North Wildwood boardwalk. It's been such an unexpected joy to be a part of this conference. I plan to attend it for the foreseeable future, as long as they invite me back.

If you receive an invitation to speak at a conference you've never heard of in a place you've never been, don't immediately discard it in hopes the bigger fish will come biting. Take the financial hit. See if you can't find something better than money behind the spotlit speaking podium.

About the Author

In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars" Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter!  Click the next link to check out the rest of Cohen’s blog tour!

Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. His other books include 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, and Ted Saves the World. He has published over 30 books, which have sold more than 20,000 copies in total. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter