The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Attending a Writer’s Conference

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of earth, there stood a fledgling writer of inspirational fiction.

This author has a problem: She was unpublished.

Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but she knew since her dream was to become published one day, one of her best options was to attend a writer’s conference. And not just any conference, but one that caters to her specific genres and is attended by industry professionals who also seek those genres. She finished her manuscript, created a one-sheet of manuscript data, prepared for her pitch, and packed her bags. And then, one Thursday, nearly six months after she registered, she arrived at the writer’s conference with a stomach full of butterflies and a heart full of dreams.

Can anyone else relate to this scenario? In today’s blog post, I wanted to share a few tips of Dos and Don’ts for your first conference experience, whether for the inspirational or general market.

DON’T . . .

  1. Spend all your time in your hotel room – this is especially easy for someone like me, an introvert. Conferences are full of stimuli, and I completely understand the need to recharge alone. Definitely take time to do this. But don’t hide out in a place where you won’t meet new writer friends or run into industry professionals.
  2. Be pushy when pitching your manuscript to editors and agents. Laurie Tomlinson, over at The Writer’s Alley, has a great post on how to avoid being pushy at a conference.
  3. Forget to shake hands and smile. When it’s all you can do to remember your pitch (or your name, for that matter!) when you’re sitting across from an editor or agent you’ve looked up to for years, you might have to remind yourself to show those pearly whites. But you can do it! Practice in front of a mirror, so you get the feel for looking into someone’s eyes while reciting your pitch.
  4. Go with a pre-determined view of what should happen. Just like anything in life, conferences will surprise you. Many of us go with a goal in mind–to take a class on a subject we’ve been studying, or to pitch to an agent, or to make new friends–but if you hang all your hopes on one goal, you may miss all the conference has to offer. What if you can’t accomplish that goal? Or it doesn’t lead to the contract you hoped for? Was the conference for naught? No, of course not. Open your eyes. Look for opportunities and moments of meaning

Do . . .

  1. Practice your pitch ahead of time. If someone (and they will!) says to you, “What’s your book about?” how will you respond? Know ahead of time how you can succinctly explain your book’s premise without rambling.
  2. Bring plenty of business cards. My first year to a conference, I think I brought five. FIVE. I thought that was plenty because then I had one for every appointment plus a few extra. But you’ll want to exchange business cards with other writers, too, not just agents and editors. Take your whole box (or at least half) of cards, pass them out to people you feel a connection with, and when you get home (or back to your hotel room), find those people online. ‘Like’ them on Facebook. ‘Follow’ them on Twitter, etc. Be a good friend and make connections.
  3. Leave extra room in your suitcase for stuff you’ll acquire. At the first conference I attended, we received free books. FREE books!! That was a perk I wasn’t expecting but was super thrilled to get! Plus, many conferences have a bookstore, or tables with merchandise, so chances are, you’ll head home with more in your suitcase than when you left.
  4. Have a thirst for learning. With so many professionals at these events, you’ll learn so much that your head will spin–if you allow yourself to open up to the advice. Listen carefully. Think you know everything there is to know about the 3-act structure? Marketing on social media? Think again. You can always ALWAYS learn new things if you watch for them.

If you’re attending a conference soon, I wish you the best! You’ll get out of them what you put into them.

Credit for phrases: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters,” “This … has a problem,” “Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but,” and “And then, one Thursday, nearly” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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