How to Get the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference
I organized large conferences for many years, so I look at conferences a bit differently than the average person. Some participants would skip the luncheon (paid for by their employer) to go shopping. Others would skip sessions and stand in the halls to snack and chat with colleagues.
But as a writer paying your own conference fee and attending to improve your writing, make connections, and learn how to get your book published; you need to be strategic.
A writers’ conference is an investment of time and money so be sure to use both wisely.
First, money. Preregister so you get the lowest rate. Make your hotel reservations early so you can stay in the conference hotel. You’ll save on transportation and won’t miss out on evening networking opportunities. Blocks of rooms at the reduced conference rate run out early. Reserve as soon as you consider attending, and if you aren’t 100% sure you’ll go, mark your calendar so you can cancel by a certain date without paying a fee.
Plan Your Schedule
Review the conference program and highlight any workshops or events of interest. Then go back through time slots where you have more than one workshop highlighted. You can often make the decision the day of the workshop but now you are armed and ready with your finalists identified.
If consultations are offered with agents and editors, do your homework. Read their biography statements and make sure they work with your genre. Note any deadlines for advanced readings.
At meals and breaks don’t just chat with your friends — you can talk to them at home for free. This is your opportunity to connect with the new people around you. If you are shy by nature, know that many writers are and most do want to network at conferences. Just smile at your neighbor and ask, “Tell me about your writing.” What writer could resist such an invitation?
If there are receptions, breakfasts, happy hours, or other types of networking events, attend. You might meet your new beta reader or even your future agent!
And don’t sell too hard. Yes, you have refined your elevator pitch until it is irresistible but give it a rest. When editors, agents, and other writers are mingling they want to relax and get to know you so it may not be the best time for your spiel. Unless, of course, an editor turns to you and says, “Tell me about your book.” Go for it!
Collect business cards from your new connections and make notes each night so you don’t confuse the fantasy author with the biographer. Send followup emails a few days after the conference to those you want to keep in contact with. Follow, friend, and link up with any people you enjoyed connecting with in person.
Work the Workshops
Divide and conquer. If you attend with friends, you can share notes from different workshops. Even better, share the costs of purchasing recordings of the sessions. I am still listening to the sessions I couldn’t attend at the recent 31st Annual SDSU Writers’ Conference. Some of the sessions I did not even highlight have been packed with useful information.
Wondering which conference to attend? Chuck Sambuchino’s post on “Which Writers’ Conferences are the Best to Attend,” lists a nice selection complete with links.
Above all, go, enjoy, and learn!
Please share your conference strategies and your favorite writers’ conferences.