You’ve made the decision to up the ante and forward your writing career by attending a conference – good for you! You’ve got your spot reserved, your travel and lodging are booked, and your first writers’ conference is just around the corner. How can you get the most out of the time and money you’ve invested?
A bit of planning will go a long way to a successful writers’ conference whether this is your first or fifteenth. Here are a few items to get you started on the right track.
Before the Conference:
- Make sure your business cards are accurate and reflect the genre you write in. If you don’t have business cards, get some, pronto. Remember, this is a professional conference, and professionals have business cards. You can make your own or use an affordable online service such as VistaPrint.com, zazzle.com, or MOO.com. Business cards should have, at the least, your email address, your website, and handles for your professional (not personal) social media.
- Speaking of social media, how’s your online presence? You should assume that least a few of the people you meet will check our your site or your social media. If you haven’t posted a blog in several months, take a bit of time to put something current on your page. Same for your social media – put up a post or gram or tweet or two!
- Identify your expectations and goals to maximize your conference experience. Review the workshops and events offered, and put together a game plan. Check the conference website for a schedule and decide where you want to be for each time block. I like to print the schedule out ahead of time and mark it up with highlighters.
- Take some time to review conference and event maps. You’ll spend less time trying to locate where your next workshop is. Less time navigating means more time networking.
- Perfect your elevator pitch. Even if you don’t have a finished novel, you can describe what you write and why you’re at the conference in a few sentences. Practice your pitch in front of the mirror. Get feedback, make it just right, and then memorize it. That way, when the big-deal New York agent makes eye contact or your favorite best-selling author smiles at you, you’ve got effective words at the ready. Even if your heart is pitter-patting and your brain has frozen.
- Research workshop presenters and keynotes, particularly the ones leading sessions you’ll be attending. Check out their websites and social media. Google them. You’ll be more comfortable interacting with them, and who knows, you may have something in common!
- Bring copies of your synopsis; you never know who may want to take a look.
- Pack business casual clothes, and plan on layers. Hotels and conference centers have notoriously unpredictable climate control systems, and you’ll be thankful you can don or remove that cardigan or blazer as needed.
- Bring a refillable water bottle. You’ll be more alert if you’re hydrated. I also pack a few protein-rich snacks such as trail mix or jerky, to satisfy a growling tummy without the carb crash from the candy on the meeting tables.
- Make sure you have note-taking supplies in your arsenal. Some writers prefer a notebook and pen, some would rather tap into a tablet or laptop. I usually bring both paper and electronic. I also throw in a highlighter for marking handouts and a sharpie, just in case my favorite author’s runs out right when I get to the front of the book-signing line.
- You can bring a book or two, but don’t expect to have time to read. These will be for obtaining author signatures. But don’t bring more than a couple, better to purchase some at the event bookstore – thus supporting both the author and the conference.
- Chargers and battery packs will make your life easier – no running up to your room because an important device is dead. Many conferences now offer charging stations in meeting rooms, but don’t count on it.
- Make sure you’ve got something to hold your gear while traveling from session to session. A backpack, tote, or attache should do. Consider putting an extra tote in your suitcase, because you’re going to have to get that bookstore bounty back up to your room somehow. And then home!
- Bring workout wear, running gear, or a swimsuit. Moving your body helps keep you alert and energized, and you’ll appreciate it after spending many hours in windowless, fluorescent lit meeting rooms.
- Make sure you have got lip balm, mints, tissues and ibuprofen/acetaminophen with you wherever you go. Not only will you ensure your own comfort, but you’ve got instant networking/icebreaking tools at your ready. Pop a mint and offer one – easy engagement for even the most introverted. And it’s great to be the hero who has headache medicine to share when someone staggers in looking for relief after too much bar-con networking last night.
- If you have a book, for sure bring marketing materials – bookmarks, postcards, pencils, whatever. There’s often a freebie table where you can place these items for perusal and pickup by other attendees.
At the Writers’ Conference
- Take lots of notes, buy a book and have it signed, ask questions and be flexible.
- Take advantage of networking opportunities. Talk to presenters in between sessions (be respectful of their time, they may be in a hurry). Engage with other attendees at meals. Stop by the lobby/bar area in the evening after sessions are over. You don’t need to be a drinker to attend bar-con, and you may get some quality, less formal face-to-face time with someone you’d been wanting to meet. You’ve make an investment in time and money to be here; take advantage of these opportunities.
- Be generous with those business cards, and collect contact information from those you meet. Have a system (beyond stuffing their business cards in your back pocket) for keeping track of who you talk with. I keep a small notebook with a pocket just for this – cards go in the pocket and I make a note of why I have that card. Not everyone may give you a card – you may get an email address from a presenter, or a phone number for texting. Whatever it is, get it down. You’ll be glad you did!
- It isn’t unusual to be overwhelmed, especially at larger conferences. Give yourself permission to skip a session and head up to your room for decompression time. Or go for a walk, get outdoors and breathe in some fresh air and sunshine and quiet. You’ll be ready to head back in after a bit. Lots of us are introverts, we get the need to be away from the crowd now and then.
- Don’t feel you must attend every single session, unless of course that is a requirement of the event you’re attending. You know what you hope to get out of this conference, plan your time accordingly. Missing a session because you ended up in a long post-lunch conversation doesn’t mean you’re not getting value from that time.
- And most of all, enjoy yourself! How often do you get to hang out with so many people who share your passion for the written word You want to go home with some warm fuzzy memories. Maybe you can write them into your latest work!
So spend a little time preparing before you head off to that Writer’s Conference. You’ll be glad you did!
Pikes Peak Writing Conference is May 3-5, 2019. Registration is open until April 28th! See you there!!
Gabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction. Visit her website ,find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org