In April 2017, I attended the international Horror Writers Association’s second annual StokerCon conference, a convention bringing together creatives and consumers of the horror genre: writers, screenwriters, illustrators, game designers, graphic artists, podcasters, voice talent and filmmakers. Held, on this occasion, on Long Beach’s haunted liner The Queen Mary, it’s the second convention of its kind, now home to the prestigious Bram Stoker Awards™ for achievement in horror. But it isn’t cheap, several thousand dollars for a trip stateside, for a weekend conference which passes in the blink of an eye. So, why would I even bother? I’ve put together a little list:

Programming: First off, the programming is amazing. At conventions like StokerCon, you can get all your professional development in a one-stop action-packed weekend. This year, the programme included sessions on developing a book series, editing themed anthologies, collaborations, writing more with less, and on making people squirm. There were workshops about using tarot cards in writing, about writing structured poetry, and interactive gaming. You could get inside the minds of women who write horror. There was a session on fitness for writers. And running alongside the traditional programming, there was an academic conference and a librarians’ conference. By the end of the weekend, my brain was chock-a-block with inspiration, industry trends, and writing techniques. Impossible not to come away with renewed enthusiasm.

Pitching: Conferences like these typically offer opportunities to pitch your projects to publishers and producers. Yes, that’s right, you can speak to a real human about your baby. At last year’s event, I pitched a project called Hounds of the Underworld, which became a two-book deal, despite my opening with, “I hope I haven’t got spinach in my teeth?” And while it was a terrifying experience, putting myself out there meant I was introduced to an avant garde publisher willing to take a risk on a couple of newbies from down under. This year, paying it forward, I represented my Into the Mist publisher at the pitching sessions, which allowed me to get a first-hand peek at some extraordinary projects and meet some exciting new authors.

Publications: They sell books at StokerCon ‒ books written and signed by some of my favourite authors. Award-winning titles. New-to-me writers to discover. It’s a bibliophile’s nirvana and dangerously seductive. I recommend assigning a strict book budget before leaving home.

People: Mostly, attending a conference is about the people. As my colleague, Jan Goldie, said in an earlier blog, “‘Who are these people?’ I asked nobody in particular. Turned out they were my people.” At StokerCon, there was an opportunity for me to meet some of my literary heroes: people like William F Nolan, Jack Ketchum, Nancy Holder, Jonathan Maberry, and RL Stine. This year’s guest of honour, a fellow named George RR Martin, commanded a signing queue which extended the length of the Queen Mary’s promenade deck and out onto the gangplank. At a small writers’ conference, you might even get to have breakfast with them. Turns out, these giants of the industry are some of the nicest people on the planet. They haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner still crawling out of the primordial soup. Some of them might even extend a hand and help you up. Of course, even if you never meet anyone who’s graced a bestseller list, networking with other emerging writers who are struggling to make a dent in the industry is just as valuable, because these are folk who get us. They’re the people who understand our self-doubt and disillusionment, who know about poor sales and one-star reviews. They’re the people who applaud even the smallest achievements and encourage us to keep going.

Next year’s HWA 2018 StokerCon event will be held in Providence, Rhode Island and will include Guest of Honour, Ramsey Campbell.