Writers Conference Advice

Conference Time--bring your own lawn chair!

Conference Time--bring your own lawn chair!

My daughter called from college to let us know that she was invited to a writers conference in New York City and her school paper was picking up the tab. Of course her dad, like any other dad, was freaking out about her heading for the “big city” while I was more reasonably green with envy! But I’ll be attending a conference hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group—Write Stuff—and just sent my check out today.

I’m also heading for a conference in my own backyard(no, not literally although my backyard is big enough for one!). My writers group the Black Diamond Writers Network is hosting their first conference. Although I have not been a driving force behind it, I’ve played a small part. I have happily gone begging to every writer I know on some level for a copy of their book as a door prize. Two things to say on that:

  1. Begging is much easier by email than in person.
  2. Writers are incredibly generous people.

Now, on to the meat of today’s post. I still remember my first conference…four years ago. My friend Sara tugged me along with her and has been my conference buddy ever since. In memory of all the great times I had, everything I learned, and my daughter’s upcoming conference here are eight quick tips.

1. Bring a Bag – My first conference I brought a small purse. I didn’t know about the sample issues of magazines, workshop handouts, pens, notepads, bookmarks, and assorted other stuff that would be given away. So tuck a tote bag inside your purse or pocket so you can haul around your freebies all day.

2. Dress Like a Grown-Up – If you normally wear jeans(or jammies)to work, step it up for the conference. Especially if you’ll be pitching for an agent or editor throw on comfy but professional clothes. But watch the shoes. You’ll find yourself running from one end of the venue to another to workshops so wear shoes that are up to the challenges. Something less than stilettos and more than sneakers.

3. Find a Conference Buddy – As a shy person I found it easier to attend the same breakout sessions my friends did that first year. But truthfully, everyone talks to you at conferences so you never have to worry about sitting alone. So, if you attend one breakout session and your conference buddy attends the other, you can each get two copies of the handouts and share. It’s almost like attending both the sessions.

4. Friends are Everywhere – Don’t be intimidated when you walk into that breakout session alone. And don’t sit at an empty table! Head right for that table that’s half full. They’d love to have you! Chances are as soon as you sit down they’ll ask that inevitable question “What do you write?”

5. Introduce Your Dreams – A hundred times each day someone will ask you, “What do you write?” At the time of the conference I was getting paid to write for trade magazines. That’s what I told people. What I failed to understand was that the question was really “What do you dream about writing?” I could call myself a novelist even if I’d never actually published a novel. They wanted an update on my dream.

6. Don’t Miss Opportunities – Writing contests, agent meetings, special workshops…find out exactly what the conference is offering and take advantage of every opportunity. Your book isn’t 100% ready? Go to the agent meetings anyway. Some day it will be and this meeting will either give you an agent to submit to or give you practice pitching to agents. Science fiction contest and you don’t normally write science fiction? Write it! Do it all.

7. Bring Food – We’re not talking a hoagie stuffed into your tote bag but it never hurts to bring a granola bar. It can keep a tummy from growling during an agent pitch or tide you over if lunch is late—or you miss it.

8. Cheat Sheets – Networking is an important part of success. But it doesn’t work if you get home, spread out the dozens of business cards you collected, and have no idea who is who. Turn the business cards into cheat sheets by jotting down descriptions on the back of cards whenever possible. It’s important to remember that Joe Smith is the memoirist with red hair while Joe Samson with the beard is the professor from NYU who writes short story collections.

Share your knowledge with me…what’s your best tip for attending a writers conference?

Category: Writing Advice
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One Response
  1. Sara says:

    I think you covered everything perfectly! My only “advice” (if you can call it that) is to not downplay your goals or projects you’re working on. I think that most writers (OK, maybe it’s just me) are a little reluctant to talk about the things they have in the works or what they hope to work on next. That’s important to keep in mind when you’re networking with other writers. So you’re at a table full of sci-fi writers and you write YA…so what? Talk about your work proudly! After all–you’re with “your kind”, and more than likely, they’ve run into the same challenges/frustrations/joys that you have. I have this weird mindset–since I spend most of my time around non-creative types, it’s hard to sum up what it is we writers do…so it’s easier to just…well, not sum it up! But being around fellow writers is just the best. So be proud of what you do!

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