Over the weekend I attended Penned Con, an author/writer conference in St. Louis, Missouri, which raises money for Action for Autism. As with most conferences of this type, the event included seminars, a book fair, keynote speakers, and a couple of banquets. This was the third year of Penned Con, and my first to attend. I didn’t know what to expect (more about that later). For me the draw was primarily the location—the event was “local,” a four-hour drive.
I had a good time. Most of all, I enjoyed meeting authors I “knew” from Facebook and getting to know better some people I was already acquainted with. I handed out a lot of book postcards and heart magnets to readers and sold some books (not as many I would have liked). Several people I met told me they already owned Naughty Words for Nice Writers, my sex scene thesaurus, which was a big thrill.
Every time I attend one of these conferences (I’ve been to RT, Lori Foster, and ORA Con), I learn something new. This time, I picked up tips about other conferences I might want to attend and got ideas for my author booth. Just being able to talk to people and share ideas is the best part of these conferences. I’m amazed at how excited readers get at these events. I signed a lot of event bags, and some readers even made autograph books with each author’s photo in it!
Pros and cons of Penned Con:
Pros: The location. St. Louis is “local” for me. Because the conference is small, there is more reader/author interaction. At larger conferences like Romantic Times, unless you’re a big name or conduct a seminar, you get lost in the sea of people. At Penned Con, all authors are on an equal footing.
I like that the emphasis seemed to be on the book fair, which was held on two days (although only four hours each day). Seminar topics looked interesting, although I didn’t attend any of them because I was manning my book fair booth. The check-in process for authors was the easiest of any conference I’ve ever been to. All our materials were on our booth tables. Also, I don’t remember what I paid, but Penned Con is not that expensive to attend (although the hotel bill adds up!).
Cons: Pre-event communication needs to be improved. At first there was almost no information about what to expect as far as scheduling or events, so you didn’t know what you were signing up for. A couple of months before the event, each author was given six tickets to give away, but there was little info about what was offered at the conference, so that made it challenging to promote. Close to the date, there was a flood of information, which was overwhelming and difficult to process. Also, using a Facebook group as the primary method of communication is not the most effective means to get the word out (although for critical info, authors were emailed).
Given that the book fair is such a big part of the event, I think organizers missed out on a big opportunity by not allowing the public to attend the book fair free or at a nominal fee. The only way to get into the book fair was to attend the conference one or both days. Organizers had said before the conference that 900 people were expected to attend. It did not feel like 900 people – more like half that amount.
If you attended Penned Con, what did you think of the event?