Now that you’ve registered for the conference of your dreams, what’s next?
- Research the presenters. Some may have written books about the craft of writing, and/or be excellent speakers. Find out about the people running critique sessions. Are they published authors? Social media influencers? Are the agents and editors interested in the kinds of things you write? Who is the organizer of the event? Note the people you would like to meet.
- Plan which presentations and events to attend. Often, there are many more you’re interested in than you could possibly work into your schedule. It’s alright to have a backup choice for each time slot just in case you know after five minutes that a class or workshop is not what you anticipated.
- If you’re pitching a book, first of all, finish the manuscript or proposal. At least have a coherent, well-edited draft done, even if you suspect it needs more work.
- Memorize your pitch. Know what comparable titles exist. (For example, one of my children’s books is similar to The Lion King—if Simba were his own worst enemy, no evil uncles involved.)
What to bring with you.
- It used to be that you needed to bring copies of your manuscript. Now, most agents and editors don’t want to carry all that paper, so they’ll ask you to email it to them.
- A way to snap pictures: either your phone or your camera. You may want to post on social media and have illustrations for a blog post about the conference. (Selfies with your favorite authors!)
- Pens and notebook. You’ll want to take lots of notes, and especially write down contact info of agents and editors who are interested in your work and other writers who are interested in being a critique partner or a collaborator. Ideas flow like crazy at conferences—story ideas, marketing strategies, ways to improve—don’t think you’ll remember them all. Write down everything you hear and every epiphany you have.
- Laptop and/or flash drive containing your manuscripts (optional). Some people prefer to take notes on their computers or on their phones. Or maybe someone asks you for an old-school hard copy and you don’t have one—you can run to an office-supply store and get one printed out.
- Your prescription meds, plus any emergency meds you might need, like OTC painkillers, anti-diarrheals, sleep meds, throat lozenges, or allergy pills.
- Nutritious snacks, like apples or nuts. A water bottle you can refill as needed.
- Clothes, mostly comfortable, “professional casual,” but maybe one or two nice things for meeting with important personages. Sometimes dinners or parties have a dress code.
- A pre-determined sum of money or a credit card with your own spending limit, so you can buy a few well-chosen souvenirs, and books by some of your new favorite authors.
- Your business card. You can print these out yourself, on blank perforated business card forms you can buy at the office supply store and separate after printing. Your card should reflect your brand with a logo or a photo of you, and include your preferred method of contact (email or phone number or snail mail address), the kind of writing you do, titles of published books, awards won, and the web addresses of your website, blog, and social media pages. (All that needs to fit on a 3.5 x 2 inch card. If it won’t, prioritize.)
Getting the most out of the conference.
- Introduce yourself to other people you meet, and make intelligent conversation. Be kind to everyone. That’s a good policy in general, but at a writers conference even more so—you never know if the awkward woman you’re sitting next to is the beloved auntie of the agent you want to impress.
- Ask questions. Of presenters, of agents, of other attendees. You’re there to learn.
- Plan in advance which activities you want to take part in, but make room for serendipity. A chance conversation with another attendee can put you on a path you didn’t anticipate.
- Go with the flow. If the person you came to see is a no-show, pick someone else. If things don’t go as you’d planned, look for those proverbial lemons and squeeze away.
- Follow your body cues. If you’re exhausted, it might be a good idea to go back to your room for a quick nap.
- If you have a 15 minute meeting, watch the clock. At 15 minutes, stand up, smile, thank the agent for her time and tell her you look forward to speaking with her again soon. She will appreciate your respect for her schedule and might put your name in the maybe column instead of the not-in-a-million-years column.
After the conference.
- Follow up. If an agent or editor asked to see your article or your first three chapters, send them. As unbelievable as it seems, many writers neglect to take this step. You can’t get your baby published if you don’t send it in! The money you spent going to the conference is a significant investment in your career. You wouldn’t take out a mortgage and never move into your new house, would you? (By the way, if you didn’t follow up on a conference request in the past, I’m giving you an assignment: Locate that agent or editor and send in that manuscript this week. I’ll be checking.)
- Reread your notes. Share what you learned with your writing friends. Write a blog post or a guest post or a magazine article about the conference.
- Rewrite something in your files, improving it based on what you know now. Then submit it.
- Write something new based on a brainstorm from the conference, and send it out.
A writers conference is a valuable experience for the growing writer. It’s an investment in your career, your professional development, and especially important if you don’t have a college degree in creative writing. Try to attend at least one small conference a year, and save up for some big ones every few years. Then put into practice what you’ve learned.
Now it’s your turn. Share some of your conference experiences in the comments below.
Guest post contributed by ARHuelsenbeck. Former elementary general music teacher ARHuelsenbeck blogs about the arts and the creative process at ARHtistic License. She is currently writing a YA mystical fantasy and a Bible study guide, and submitting a poetry chapbook, with mystery and MG drafts waiting in the wings. You can follow her on Twitter, and see some of her artwork, photography, and quilts on Instagram.