Why this is a mistake: Too many writers view conferences simply as a place to sell their work. They march in with their cards printed up, with a stack of cover letters and synopses, and plan on going home with a book contract. And 99.9 percent of those people go home very disappointed.
The odds of landing a book contract at a conference are miniscule. Yes, you hear those urban publishing legends. And that’s what they are: legends.
Writers also go to conferences focused too much on editors and agents and not enough on the writers on the faculty. Too often editors and agents will sit on panels and spend the entire time telling you what they don’t want and how to make their jobs easier.
Writers also tend not to look left and right at the other attendees—overlooking a wealth of knowledge and networking possibilities.
The solution: You should look at conferences primarily as learning experiences. Go to workshops based on whether the speaker has something you want.
If a speaker says something that bothers you, focus on it. The more it bothers you, the more you should focus on it. If it makes you very angry, write it down, because the odds are, it’s hitting your blind spot as a writer and touching on a truth you need to delve into to become better.
Treat the volunteers—and they are almost always volunteers running conferences—well. Volunteer yourself. They are usually looking for someone to make runs to the airport to pick up presenters. What better way to get some time alone with an editor, agent, or author?
You also should view the informal conference time as very valuable networking time. Make a list of everyone you make contact with, both professionally and personally. You will be surprised who you will run in to again, even many years down the line. Make notes about the people. Unpublished people you chat with now will be on the best-seller lists years from now. Perhaps you will be, too.