Start Your Week Off Write: 7 Insider Tips To A Successful Writers’ Conference Experience

Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre, Oxford, UK, image courtesy Winky

Next week I’m attending my first writers’ conference at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc.  2012 Story Weavers Conference. My emotions are running the gamut: excitement, anxiety, fear. I know a lot of the writers’ conference experience involves interacting with writers, agents, and publishers. I wouldn’t call myself a great social butterfly. I have introvert mad skills. Extrovert skills, not so much. I want to enjoy the conference, to make the most of the opportunity, learn all I can and hopefully make a friend or two.

I was really psyched when my local writers group decided to host a panel addressing how to have a good writers’ conference experience. We got some veteran tips from some folks with with more than twenty years of conference attendance between them: authors Bob Avey, Jim Laughter and Gloria Teague. Please check out their sites to find all their book goodness.

Here are 7 of the great tips they shared:

1. Choose your workshops carefully.

You’ve paid money for this conference. You want to get your money’s worth. If you divide the total cost of the conference by the number of possible workshops/classes you can attend, you have your class cost.

Example: $200 conference 8 possible classes to take = $25 per class

If you’re spending $25 on a class, make sure it’s one that will benefit your writing goals, strengthen your core skills as well as genre focus. Take the time before all the excitement starts to pick your class choices from the schedule ahead of time.

2. Take advantage of off-hours buzz sessions or casual get-togethers built around writing topics.

An opportunity to pick the brain of an industry leader in an small group environment doesn’t come along everyday. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most writers, agents and publishers are eager to share their wisdom. Listen as writers commiserate about their experiences, the state of publishing, etc. You’ll pick up a lot of information you won’t find in a book.

3. Take notes on everything you can.

Your note-taking gear is invaluable at a writers’ conference, whether your style is notebook or digital device. You may discover something important in your notes later. You won’t learn everything, but you will learn one, two or three important things that will impact your writing.

4. If you’re going to pitch to an agent, do your homework.

Agents specialize in genres, so make sure the agents you choose to pitch your work to will be interested in what you are offering. Agents only want to hear about finished products, not nebulous ideas. Take them a solid pitch/proposal. Find out about the agent. Most have websites or blogs where you can get a peek into their personality as well as their professional activities. You may be uncomfortable going one-on-one with a publishing professional, but you don’t have to be caught off guard if you do a little research ahead of time.

5. Be able to give a clear and concise summary of your book.

You want any pitch you make to an agent to be concise, clear and interesting. You also want to be able to share your latest project with anyone who asks. You don’t want an agent to start looking at their watch or checking their cell phone while you go on and on explaining your story. If you think nervousness will get in the way, use a formula to help you stay on track.

Example: Character Name wants to Character’s Goal but can’t because Obstacle = Simple Pitch

Be able to explain your book in one sentence. This is easier said than done. Give it your best effort. Then when people find your pitch intriguing, you can share more.

6. Network.

Networking is one of the most important things you’ll get out of a writing conference. It’s not necessarily the person you meet, but the person you’ll ‘meet’ through that person who will move your writing career forward. Networking is invaluable, you can make business contacts who may turn into lifelong friends. Where do you network? Everywhere. Meals, workshops, between workshops, waiting in lines, happy hours and after hours. How? See tip #7.

7. Be kind and friendly.

If you’re an introvert like me, it’s sometimes hard to push past your comfort zone to interact with those you don’t know. Or maybe you don’t have a problem meeting new people, but interacting with lots of people drains you of energy. Consider that a lot of the people there feel the same way. Take it a little bit at a time. Think about saying hello to the person sitting next to you in a class. Ask them what type of writing they are interested in. All of a sudden you have a conversation. Then take the next step and do the same thing with the person sitting on the other side of you. Before you know it, you’re getting to know people. Do it afraid. It will pay off. Throw off nerves and have fun with it.

Question: What are your best tips for surviving a writers’ conference? Social tips? Fashion tips? Happy hour tips?

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4 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: 7 Insider Tips To A Successful Writers’ Conference Experience

  1. Pingback: Start Your Week Off Write: 7 Insider Tips To A Successful Writers …

  2. Good post Kristen. Since you asked, here are a couple more tips:
    1) Use pitching sessions to the max. Once when I was pitching to a mag editor, she liked my ideas but wasn’t going with anything until I mentioned a project I’d just completed with a bunch of other writers. The editor knew about this project, and with that one mention she knew my writing would be perfect for her magazine–and she accepted six article ideas that more than paid for my conference trip. Another time, I pitched a small mystery and a nonfiction book proposal to a NYC book editor and she quickly said to send her the proposal on the nonfiction, but she wasn’t interested in the finished mystery. I still had more than half of my 10 allotted minutes left, so I mentioned my WIP and handed her the first few pages of the printout I kept in my tote. She read the pages, asked if she could keep them (of course) and told me to send the book to her when it was completed. While there’s always talk about about fine-tuning pitches of a couple of dozen words, and it’s always important to have those down stone cold, conferences are places in life where you really need to be able to immediately shift to Plan C when the opportunity arises.
    2) Be nice. At one conference my roommate and I discovered a huge crowd at the check-in desk, and learned from a number of disgruntled (and loudly rude) conference goers that there were no rooms (people who checked in the previous night hadn’t checked out as scheduled and kept their rooms–something allowed by the state’s laws). We had pre-booked weeks before, so waited to see what the clerk could tell us. When we got to the desk–after hearing a great deal of ballyhoo from others, many of whom left in a snit after cutting off the over-stressed clerk mid-sentence–we stayed calm, and waited while the clerk quietly explained the situation for the millionth time. We didn’t berate, just asked if there was anything the hotel could do for us, and the clerk visibly relaxed and offered us a free room and complimentary breakfast at a hotel ten minutes away. No, we didn’t get to stay in the convenient conference hotel, but we got free room and board at a Hilton for our stay–and the morning meal at our hotel was much better than the reviews the hotel conference attendees gave of theirs. Writers may be masters of words, but at conferences it pays to always use the nice ones.
    3) Finally, be brave at meals, and try to find new people to sit with if possible. If you like to sit with your club, be sure to invite a few non-club members to join the table. I’ve received great tips from editors, agents, and other writers who shared great insights during meals–tips I would never have learned otherwise. I’m not discounting the resources of one’s own group, but this is your chance to talk to other people who live a great distance from you, may have years more experience at different type of writing than you, and there’s something about talking over a meal that makes it much easier to gain and share information–even for someone like me who has to tamp down my introvert and push my extrovert out take a turn.

    Beyond that–enjoy the experience. Your smile will open many doors.



  3. Pingback: Start Your Week Off Write: On Writing Conferences, Gnats, and Conquering Your Fears | kristin nador writes anywhere

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