Back in February I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and I promised you all that in March I would share what I learned there. So stay tuned – throughout the next couple of weeks I’ll decipher my terrible handwriting and turn my notes into blog posts – it’ll be just like you were sitting there with me! Fun, right?
But first, for today I thought I’d talk about how to prepare for and what to do at a writing conference. I’ve been to a couple now, so while I’m certainly no expert, this is what I’ve learned:
1. Be Prepared
I don’t just mean reading through the schedule and picking out the panels you want to attend. Also do some research on the agents, editors, and authors who will be present – it can make for a better overall experience, and you never know when you’re going to have a chance for a brief elevator pitch. But even beyond pitching your own work, knowing a little about each of the presenters beforehand might help you choose panels more effectively based on the speakers.
Also, you’ll want to bring business cards with you. Try to find some way for your business card to stand out and remind people of who you are – in the course of a day, most attendees get a lot of cards.
What should be on that card? That’s pretty much up to you. Kati and I have dragons wearing bibs and chef’s hats on ours, but I can see how that wouldn’t work universally. We also have a link to our blog, our twitter handles, and our email addresses, and that’s it. But I have seen people who include a blurb about their book, or a photograph of themselves, too. Including the genre you write is definitely not a bad idea, either.
And I’d recommend having the first couple of pages of your manuscript printed and kept with you. At this last conference I ended up doing a last minute consultation with an editor, but since I hadn’t prepared for that and wasn’t staying in the host hotel, I had to bribe a very nice man with my last granola bar so he would let me into the hotel’s business room to print my first chapter. Not only did printing at the hotel cost me my day’s book buying budget, but I was starving at my next panel.
Which brings me to one final point…bring snacks. Even if the conference includes meals…actually, especially if the conference includes meals. The food we had included at this last conference was very good, but not very plentiful, and I don’t know about you, but I am not a pleasant hungry person.
2. Put Yourself out there
I think this is actually the most important thing I’ve learned, possibly even more important than bringing food.
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet other writers, and you definitely want to take advantage of that. Maybe you’re normally shy, but remind yourself, you’re with people who love to read and write – the best kind of people. So put your introverted self away and pretend to be outgoing and sociable, even if you’re not normally. And network. Collect those business cards, and pass yours out, and meet people. Maybe you’ll make some friends, maybe you’ll find a good critique partner. Who knows?
You’ll have a built in ice-breaker line, too. “What are you writing?” Everyone wants to talk about their book, so this is a surefire way to start a conversation with every single person in that conference.
And by “put yourself out there,” I also mean take advantage of everything you can. Not just being sociable with your fellow conference attendees, but if there’s a chance to read your work out loud and get feedback, take it. It might be hard, it might be painful, but it’s worth it. Maybe there’s an agent pitch session? Go for it!
3. Know your limits
This might seem like a direct contradiction, but be honest about your limits. Conferences are super exhausting, and you don’t want to completely burn yourself out. The combination of nerves, stress, trying to be social, and learning a lot of information quickly will wear out just about anyone, so don’t beat yourself up if you miss a panel or two, and keep your evenings free to de-stress. Unless you’re one of those people who thrive on this kind of atmosphere, in which case, go party it up! Also, I’m jealous of your energy.
4. Keep an Open Mind
Keep an open mind about the panels, definitely – I ended up switching to a completely different panel last minute because I had enjoyed a panel with that presenter earlier, and it was a great switch.
But also, keep an open mind about your writing. You might think your manuscript is completely polished and perfected and ready to grace the top of the bestseller charts, and maybe it is, but keep an open mind as you get feedback from others, and as you learn from the panels, and be prepared to take an honest, hard look at your work when you get back from the conference. Maybe it’s perfect…and maybe you still have a few revisions to go. Either way, enjoy the journey!
I think that’s quite enough there, so I’ll open it to all of you. Any tips you’d like to add? Any conferences you’d recommend? Please share!