12 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Writer's Conference
Well, it's that time of year again!
1. BE PREPARED.
No...not the time for hot pants. Okay, okay, you can wear hot pants if you want, but try not to wear them to your next writers conference, which is the subject of today's post. That's right, its summer conference time! In honor of this magical time of year, I'd like to give you a bit of advice to help prepare you for your upcoming adventure. Below are some of the most important things I've learned from attending writer's conferences over the years. I hope you find these tips as useful as I have.
1. BE PREPARED.
Bring plenty of updated business cards to hand out to all of the amazing people you will meet. If you are an illustrator, bring postcards and an updated portfolio. Also, make sure you bring pens (you will probably need more than one) and notepads (you will probably need more than two), so that you can take lots of notes.
2. EXTRA CREDIT.
Don’t just do your homework, go for extra credit! Get to know the conference staff by reading about their current projects, interviews, books they have written, edited or represented. This will not only help you pinpoint people you would like to connect with, it will help you engage in authentic conversations with them.
3. PITCH PERFECT.
No, not the movie, although, I do love that movie! I’m assuming since you are going to a conference, you have a finished manuscript or work in progress you would like to get feedback on. This is your chance! Perfect your pitch before hand and give those editors and agents you want to impress a toner!
What do you want to get out of this conference? Do you want to get feedback on your manuscript or illustrations? Do you want to learn more about your craft or the industry? Do you want to meet and connect with fellow writers and illustrators? Do you want to land an agent or impress an editor? Do you want all of the above? Set goals of what you are looking to get out of the conference, but be realistic. It is the odd success story that someone from a conference was picked out of the crowd and given a book deal (I’m looking at your Debbie Ridpath Ohi!). So don’t expect you are going to walk away with a book deal or an agent, but do keep those things in mind when you are setting your goals and interacting with people, because even if it doesn’t happen right there and then, the impression you make could lead to something later.
5. DON’T CHEAP OUT.
It can be expensive to go to a conference, especially if you have to travel, but if you are already going, what’s the point in saving a few extra bucks by not signing up for things that will further your knowledge and career? If you can afford it, pay the extra $$ to get a critique or take an intensive. It may not be leather, but it’s always worth it. If you need to save money, try to find other ways to save, like finding fellow conference goers to share a room with. Special note: Don't put yourself in debt, you will still get a ton out of the conference even if you can't afford the extras.
6. DRESS FOR SUCCESS.
Most conferences are business casual. This means you can loose the suit and tie, but you definitely shouldn’t come in your jammies. Be professional, but be you! On a personal note: Stilettos, while fabulous, are not the most appropriate foot attire for conferences (trust me). Also, dress in layers to account for temperature fluctuations, some rooms can be freezing while others are like saunas. Lastly, don’t forget to wear your smile!!! Which leads me to my next tip...
7. BE APPROACHABLE.
While I understand that a lot of writers and artists are introverts (I am one of them), it’s important to try and lower that introvert force field for the conference. You aren’t going to make connections by standing in a corner even if you do look like you're filled with the literary angst of a young Oscar Wilde. Put yourself out there! Mingle. Learn. Talk to people. If you have followed the previous tips, you should be able to do this without fainting :)
8. GO TWEET ABOUT IT.
Don’t forget to tweet! Twitter is a great way to stay informed on conference happenings and it’s also a great way to connect with other conference goers. Find and follow your conference #hashtag and join in the conversation!
9. MAKE NEW FRIENDS.
This is something I had a hard time with because I didn’t follow the previous tips for the first few years I attended conferences, but once I did, I made tons of new friends! And guess what? Those new friendships lead me to find my current critique groups, which lead to a vast improvement in my writing as well as my self confidence. I don't know where I'd be today without my wonderfully amazing and talented writing friends!
10. SOAK UP THE INFORMATION.
Conferences are filled with knowledgeable industry professionals. Learn from them while you are there. Take yourself seriously (but not too seriously) and really learn from the people around you. These can be your fellow conference goers as well. I always learn something new at conferences and am a better writer because of it.
11. KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS IN CHECK.
Okay, so you remember tip number four, right? Make goals but also be realistic? While we all dream of getting that big break at these conferences, it seldom happens the way we imagine it. Instead of dreaming of arriving at the conference and having every editor and agent swoon over your work and offer you a zillion contracts, keep your expectations realistic. The most you can hope for from a writers conference is to learn more about your craft, meet and connect with like-minded people, and maybe even meet with an agent or editor you may end up working with someday. Anything else is icing on the cake.
12. HAVE FUN! (but not too much fun).
Should you take the conference seriously? Of course! But try not to take it too seriously. Don’t forget to have fun! Enjoy being with your tribe! Enjoy learning more about your chosen craft and industry! Enjoy sharing your ideas, frustrations, hopes, and dreams with these amazing people. But be warned, while it is imperative to enjoy yourself, don’t go overboard. Getting fall down drunk and trying to break dance with a dress on is not going to impress anyone. Well, it might impress some people, but most likely it won't be the people you want to impress.
Well, that's it! I hope these tips help you along on your Writer's Conference adventure!
Oh, and I have included some additional links below you may find useful:
Are You Entering The SCBWI-LA Illustration Portfolio Showcase? Here Are Tips For Before and During the Conference - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi