Hello again, Dear Readers,
Most of you know that I recently returned from a writer’s conference. I personally love conferences, but they can be physically and emotionally draining–a lot is packed into those few days.
I thought it would be helpful to share some tips for getting the most out of a conference. While this info is based on my own experience, I imagine it would apply to many other types of conferences as well.
Tip #1: You Can’t Over-Prepare. Do all the research you can on the editors, writers, agents, and workshops beforehand. Google is your friend, as is Publisher’s Marketplace. There are some things you won’t be able to find out in advance, but some planning can save you a lot of time. For instance, say you’re torn between a workshop on marketing and one on editing that are taking place at the same time. With research, you can discover that you know more about marketing than the presenter, or that the editor can’t edit. Either way, it’s good information to have. This is doubly true when it comes to agents and publishers. Agent wish lists tend to be delightfully vague–for instance, many will say they’re looking for “commercial and literary fiction.” Well, that narrows it down! Publishers Marketplace can help you find out what kind of books they’re selling. It’s a great hint as to what they’re actually looking for.
Tip #2: Stock Up…On Sleep. Most conferences and retreats are jam-packed with activities. The days usually start early and end late. If you go in exhausted, you’re going to miss a lot. Some of the best moments take place in the bar after dinner. But if you’re like me, you’re insanely busy before you leave and arrive at the conference already tired and run down. Avoid this if at all possible. Get as much sleep as you can before you go. Get a massage. Treat your body like you would before running a marathon or stepping into a ring. Conferences require as much–or more–stamina as athletic events. Oh, and book at least the day after the conference off, more if you’re able. Having a day off before the conference is handy too.
Tip #3: You’re Not Alone. Shy? Scared? Uncertain what to expect? Take heart in knowing that the majority of people there are going through the same gamut of emotion. I can’t even imagine what a sales conference would be like, but writers’ conferences are filled with introverts who are so grateful for a friendly smile or encouraging word. Out of the hundreds of people I met at the last conference, I’d say only three were true, in-your-face outgoing, and that includes the presenters. But almost everyone was friendly and eager to meet other writers. So if you’re feeling out of your element, don’t worry. Chances are, almost everyone else is too. Sign up for pre-conference classes, workshops, or events, even if they add to the cost of your conference. These are great ice-breakers that will help you feel more confident by the time the actual conference begins. And I’ve always walked away from them with at least one new friend. Totally worth it.
Tip #4: Over-estimate what you’ll spend. There are lots of unexpected expenses at conferences. Sure, a lot of your meals are covered and you’ve brought that box of granola bars, but there are some things you can’t prepare for. What if an agent asks you to meet her for drinks? What if you meet an amazing author and want to buy his books and have them signed? What if you can’t resist that conference T-shirt or anthology? What if you ignored tip #2 and just want to crash with a room service dinner? The last thing you want is to have to say no to opportunities because they’re not in your budget. Always save way more than you think you’re going to need. For instance, this conference cost me just over $2000, but I budgeted $3000.
Tip #5: Be professional. Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Act like it. Writers are creative, so it’s okay to wear your anime costume, right? Uh, no. You want to stand out, but in a good way. Business casual is perfect. You look sharp, but not too buttoned-up. Pitching your work is like a job interview–if you show up in costume or looking like you just rolled out of bed, it’ll seem like you don’t take this seriously. Have business cards, even if you design them yourself. Trust me–you don’t want to be scrawling your number on random pieces of paper. Have a professional-sounding email address on the card, even if you don’t have your own domain yet. Do you really want an agent to contact you at email@example.com? Wait, don’t answer that.
There’s a lot more I can tell you, but I’d love to leave this open for questions. Have you been to a writers’ or other type of conference? Did you enjoy the experience? Why or why not? What was the one thing you wish you’d known?
Please share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.