First of all, I learned that Eve Langlais is an impressive organizer and a really fun person to hang out with. She put together an entire 2 day conference and since I get overwhelmed putting together a single afternoon workshop for my work, my hat is off to her. I see she's already begun planning for 2016, which I am definitely looking forward to.
I went to three panels: a talk on how to be a successful author by S.E. Smith, a panel discussion on paranormal romance with several authors and world building with A.C. Ellas.
Smith talked about how she decided to try her hand at writing books after being laid off from her job. Within a few months, she had four books and over 10 000 sales. (This was during the early years of the self-publishing boom.) She talked about the importance of building up a relationship with readers.
The discussion on paranormal romance was quite entertaining. The authors talked about how they were inspired to create their worlds. Eve talked about how she created a moose shape-shifter named Boris for one of her novels and was surprised when he turned out to be a fan favorite.
Ellas turned her workshop into an audience participation event, building a world of flying serpents orbiting a binary gas giant, inhabited by amphibious humanoids who had to chose between land and sea at puberty.
But I have to say that I think I learned the most from casual interactions with the other authors and readers there. I talked with several authors about what swag tends to be most helpful (needs to be memorable and portable). I had a few lively debates on giving books away for free vs having them for sale. On the one hand, giving a sample encourages new readers, who will then hopefully buy your other works. On the other, many of those free books end up sitting on a Kindle or a shelf and don't get read (as well as costing the author significant money). I saw which prizes were most enthusiastically received (Kindles and gift cards over $ 100).
I learned that even the most experienced and successful authors have moments of despair with themselves and their work and challenges in balancing writing, promotion and the rest of their lives. I learned that many authors are shy and introverted observers by nature and have to learn to overcome those tendencies. I also learned that it only takes a few drinks for many of them to cut loose on the dance floor and boogey until their socks melted.
Mostly, I learned I'm not alone. I'm not the only one who talks to themselves to act out dialogue (though I've tried to stop doing it on the street). I'm not the only one bewildered by marketing strategies and technical challenges. And I'm not the only one who gets swept up in the possibilities of a good story and then makes up my own sequel.
Perhaps it's because I was raised as a military brat, but to me "home" is defined by people, not a place. I'm lucky to have found several "homes" in my life and quite proud to add a new one to the list.