Here are eight tips for attending writer's conferences and getting the most from your writing conference experience from an editor who has been to more than 50 writing events of varying sizes across the country as a speaker and attendee.
As an introvert, writer's conferences can really drain my energy down to zero, but I've been to more than 50 writing events of varying sizes over the years, and I look forward to attending more of them, because, as a writer, they're among the most exciting places for idea bombs to explode and send me down new thought tunnels for months afterwards. In other words, I think conferences are great.
But I've been to enough events over the years to know there are ways to get more out of the conference experience, especially if you're new to them. Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, I've collected eight tips for getting the most from your writing conference experience below.
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Tip #1: Prepare Ahead of Time
As Kerrie Flanagan shares in her introverts guide to writing conferences, one of the best ways to get over introversion and get the most out of a conference (even if you're an extrovert) is to put in the prep work ahead of time. Research the speakers, agents and editors (if you're pitching), and the schedule.
If you are introverted, survive networking by having a set of conversation starter questions ready ahead of time, as well as some concise answers to typical questions (like "what's your book about" and "who are your favorite authors"). The more you prep before you arrive, the more you can enjoy the experience while you're there.
Tip #2: Participate as Much as Possible
For most attendees, conferences are a rare treat or event that maybe comes around once a year or every few years—or is a once-in-a-lifetime event. As such, try to get the most out of this event by participating in as many of the conference offerings that you can. And as Ben Sobieck shares in his writing conference tips, "Introverts are not off the hook."
Does the conference offer any networking or cocktail events? Attend them. Pitch sessions? Sign up. Extra workshops? Take full advantage of everything available. There will be time to rest up and re-charge after the event is over.
Tip #3: Soak up as Much Information as You Can
Writing conferences are inspirational and aspirational, but they are—at heart—educational. Author Han Vance accurately points out that writers will often experience a "quantum leap" in industry knowledge by attending writing conferences in his "What I Learned From Attending Writers' Conferences" post. However, the learning doesn't end there.
As mentioned above, I've attended more than 50 writing events over the years in various parts of the country, and I'm constantly learning new things. Sometimes, it'll be a new element agents want to see in writing submissions. Other times, it will be a new way to develop characters or drive plot or get more out of social media.
Tip #4: Make Connections
I've learned so much at writing conferences over the years and been inspired to write a great deal. But maybe the most important thing I've created as a direct relationship to conferences are new friends and contacts, who in some cases have kept me motivated to stick with my writing goals and aspirations—and, in other cases, have opened actual doors to professional opportunities.
You can't plan how you will help a stranger or how a stranger will help you ahead of time, but trust me: This works! At writing conferences, you're in a unique environment where you're surrounded by other people who love what you love: Writing and reading. Take advantage of that and make some connections that might last for the event or, in some cases, a lifetime.
Tip #5: Enjoy Yourself
It's a tightrope, for sure, because you've probably invested a nice amount of money in attending your writing conference, so you want to be professional and focused on "getting something" out of the experience; just remember to enjoy yourself.
As Carrie McCullough shares in "The Two Big Mistakes to Avoid at Writing Conferences," "Writers make two big mistakes at conferences. The first is taking it all too seriously. Some folks are so overwhelmed with being at the conference [that] they forget to enjoy, learn, and laugh. On the last day, I see some [attendees] close to tears because they missed the trees for the forest. However, the other big mistake is being too laid back and too comfortable and forgetting the goal of getting published. While there are cocktail times and plenty of opportunities to mingle, publishing is a business."
So definitely have a plan and goals, but remember to enjoy the experience of being surrounded by writers, readers, and publishing professionals.
Tip #6: Pitch Agents and Editors
In bestselling author Karen Dionne's post on why literary agents attend conferences, agent Scott Hoffman says, "Particularly for first-time authors, there's no better way to get an agent than at a conference." And while it's the only way, he's absolutely correct: It probably is the best way to get an agent—even if your initial pitch doesn't hook the agent, because you get the conversation started and have the opportunity connect with an actual agent.
As Rita Rosenkranz advises, "While it's understandable that some writers will be nervous when meeting agents, I'd hope that wouldn't get in the way of the conversation. We genuinely want to hear about your project!"
Tip #7: Follow up After the Conference
If agents or editors requested sample pages or a manuscript, this means that you need to give it one last polish and send it in—reminding them you met at a conference (mention the specific event) and they requested the material. But there are other ways to follow up as well.
As author Denise Jaden mentions in her "Using Conferences to Your Querying Advantage" post, follow up by following "all the new people you met—authors, agents, and editors—on Twitter." And I'll go ahead and add Facebook and Instagram (and whatever new social media platforms evolve) too.
Over the years, I've made very strong personal connections and very strong online/social connections, but my strongest relationships have been with people I know online AND in person. So follow up and water those seeds you planted at the writing conference.
Tip #8: Be Realistic
As a writer, I know firsthand how easy it is to write a story of all the amazing things that will happen at a writing conference before I attend. (By the way, I also know how easy it is to write a story about all the negative things that could happen too.) But positive or negative, it's best to be realistic about how the event will go as mentioned by agent Michelle Brower in her 10 tips for attending writers conferences.
If you're pitching agents and editors, don't expect to "make it" during the pitch slam. Instead, focus on the process of getting to discuss your work with a professional. For making connections, avoid thinking you'll find connections who will immediately benefit your writing career. Rather, look forward to making new friends who share an interest in writing with you.
Don't get me wrong: Life-changing moments can (and do) happen at writing conferences, but set realistic expectations to avoid feeling disappointed by a productive event.
Final word: Follow these tips to find more success with your conference experience, but always remember that the writing conference is just a moment in time. Whether you feel drained, energized, or a mixture of both afterward, be sure to use the event as a springboard to get back to what's most important: Your writing!