The Most Important Thing I Did Before My First Realm Makers Conference

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a post about Realm Makers, an annual speculative fiction writer’s conference. I realize that some people who land here are readers and some are writers — this post is for those who are writers and have ever given thought to attending the conference.

In July of 2018, my wife and I attended the Realm Makers Conference for the first time. I’d known about the conference for years but had never been able to go, mostly because of financial and logistical reasons. (Philadelphia and Reno, for example, were just too far away.) But with my first two novels out — and with my publisher, Enclave, being one of the conference sponsors — I knew the time was right.

Also, the conference was about 15 minutes away from our house, which helped.

There are many things a writer or aspiring writer might do to prepare for a writer’s conference. Polish a manuscript. Develop an elevator pitch. Research publishers. Decide on proper attire. (Realm Makers is a bit … unconventional in that regard, with an eclectic combination of spec-fic t-shirts, business casual attire, and a Friday night awards banquet that is half business formal and half cosplay.) And pack the necessary tools: laptop, notebook, pens, business cards, and so on.

My wife and I during the Friday awards banquet. People dress up.

All of those things are important for any conference, and is certainly important for Realm Makers. But there was something else I did before Realm Makers that I discovered, early on, helped me more than any of those things.

I made social media connections before the conference. And I learned about the people who were going to be there.

Before I go on, let me explain what I didn’t do: I didn’t engage in some sort of purposeful research into who was going to be there. That would imply that I fully realized how important knowledge of other attendees was going to be before the conference, which I didn’t. I’m not that good.

Instead, without consciously realizing I was doing it, I listened.

I read about the triumphs and struggles of various writers on the Realm Makers Consortium Facebook page.

I became friends on Facebook with a number of Realmies (as the tribe calls themselves) and learned the general profile of their lives: where they lived, what they did, if they were single or married, and if they had children. I saw their victories and vacations, their challenges and tragedies, and everything in between.

The biggest benefit to this is that, for me, it dramatically eased the human connection part of the conference, which in turn made the whole experience exponentially better.

I’m an introvert. (An INTJ, for all you Myers-Briggs people.) I draw my energy from being at home alone; my wife will testify that my tolerance for cabin fever is really high. That said, I grew up in a very sociable family and I learned how to function in social situations, so although I draw my energy from within, I am comfortable interacting with people. However, there’s no question that, for me, “cold” interactions — interactions where I know nothing about another person, or, much worse, a large group — are the hardest. I know people who can saunter into a room of strangers and make friends in 15 minutes. They’re awesome. But that’s not generally me.

But when I’m armed with information, my comfort level goes up substantially. Thus, as we were walking into the conference for the first time, I looked over to my wife and said things that went, broadly speaking, like this:

  • “Oh, that’s ____________, who is from ___________.”
  • “That’s __________, who wrote ____________.”
  • “That person we just walked by is an editor with ____________.”
  • “Over there is _____________, who has ______ kids but has said they’re pretty shy. Maybe I’ll try to talk to them later.”
  • “That’s _________________, who used to be a __________ but now works as a _____________.”
  • “There is ____________, who’s a big sci-fi person.”

That gave me a starting point for anyone I talked to. Instead of going up cold and saying “who are you?”, I could go up to many people, introduce myself (if we were actual friends on Facebook this part was much easier, since we’d likely had some interactions) and have points of contact right off the bat. Like “You’re from this state, right? My relative lives close to you,” Or, “You work at this job, correct?” It opened the door to other conversations … and there were even a couple of instances where that knowledge helped my wife and I be an encouragement to people who were struggling, which was also very unexpected, but welcome.

It’s worth repeating, again, that 1) this was not any sort of conscious tactical decision (which is sort of hilarious, because my life is full of conscious tactical decisions) or 2) that I did any sort of crazy work before the conference. It was, instead, something that happened organically, with the net result being that I felt far more comfortable with a number of attendees than I would have been. And because I found Realm Makers to be a much less cliquish and cloistered conference than many gatherings can be, it was a really great experience.

How prescriptive this can be for other people probably varies. But if you’re looking to go to Realm Makers for the first time, I can say that it helped me.

I plan on being back again in July 2019. Feel free to come up to me and say hi.


  1. I agree! Tosca Lee’s preconference workshop also forced everyone to break the ice a little and that went a long way also. But I still had a hard time approaching someone if they didn’t at least make eye contact and smile first. “That’s ____, but I don’t know if they’d know who I am.”

    • Joshua A. Johnston

      I didn’t take in Tosca’s workshop, but from the feedback I heard, I should have. Things to remember for next year…

  2. My husband is an INTJ too so I chuckled at your comment about conscious tactical decisions. And I’m an INFP so I feel like this information is going to be really useful when I finally get to go to Realm Makers and I drag my husband along with me. 🙂

    • Joshua A. Johnston

      I’ll be interested to know how it goes. (And, obviously, I’ll need to meet you and your husband.)

  3. Yes, that makes it sooo much better for us introverts who are newbies!!! Knowing people from online definitely translates well into RL at an event like that

    Also, many of the people there were also introverts, so that made me feel like any social awkwardness I might exhibit would be easily forgiven by 95% of them!!! 😉

    I saw you two there, but didn’t have the courage to say hi… I guess we hadn’t connected online beforehand, so that’s what was missing! 😉

    Good blog post!
    (And seriously, 15 minutes away? Yikes!!! I came with the Schlegels from SW. Mo. so it was a under 4 hr drive… you guys are lucky!!)

  4. Yes. I actually made a conscious decision several month ago to read as many books by Realmies as I could before the conference, and it was fun to meet the authors of the books I’d been reading. (Of course there was also several thoughts like “There’s _____ who wrote _____, but I didn’t get to her book in my to-read list yet…”)
    I joined the Realmmakers consortium Facebook group right after going to last year’s RM conference (which was my first time at any writer’s conference), and it made connections much easier going into this year’s conference. (It also made my Facebook experience in general about 135x better.)
    As a sidenote, I went to the Tosca Lee’s workshop before the conference. It was great, but when I was introducing myself to various people like she had us doing, I forgot most people’s names and whatever they said about themselves a minute later. That kind of thing doesn’t work well with my memory…

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