This weekend I’m excited to attend Let Your Imagination Take Flight, the annual conference organized by the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Writing conferences are amazing opportunities for writers in all stages of their careers. They give you an opportunity to improve your craft, commiserate with fellow authors, network with agents, editors and, sometimes even readers. You can attend conferences for specific genres or conferences designed for the broader writing audience. Here, I’ve compiled some tips for making the most of your conference experience. Please add your suggestions in the comments.
Before attending a writers conference
Make a commitment and respect it. Learning is a lifelong experience and your writing is an important part of your life. Invest the time to grow your skillset and you will reap the rewards. Block off the time for the conference and guard it. Make sure external needs are attended to in advance. Kids, spouses, aging parents, the day job, we all have full lives. Honor your commitment to your writing by making arrangements in advance and making sure everyone knows to contact you only in case of a dire emergency. This will free you up to focus on the conference and maximize your investment.
Before you register, create some goals for the event.
- Are you attending to improve a specific aspect of your writing craft?
- Do you want to network with other authors who have traveled the self-publishing route?
- Are you there to pitch your work?
You can’t do it all, and if you try, you’ll just exhaust yourself, so pick a few key sessions to attend or people to meet and allow yourself some flexibility.
Spend some time on the conference website prior to the event. Download the schedule if it’s available, these days larger conferences often offer mobile apps. Review the sessions being offered and familiarize yourself with the layout of the meeting space. Prioritize the sessions you want to attend based on the goals you set. Don’t forget to give yourself some downtime. Maybe skip a session and review your notes from earlier sessions while the information is still fresh in your mind. If all you do is go, go, go, you don’t give your brain time to absorb the information you’ve learned. If conference sessions are being recorded, consider purchasing a set, this way you don’t have to obsess about taking notes or worry when two sessions that you REALLY want to see are scheduled opposite each other.
Make note of speakers, editors, and agents whom you might want to meet. Review their social media footprint, and maybe even reach out and say something like “I see you are attending #NECRWA. I’m looking forward to your presentation.” Talk about your attendance on social media, you never know who might be looking for you!
I met the fabulous Jeni Burns while volunteering at the NJRWA conference last fall.
Is there an opportunity to volunteer? Sign up! This is a great way to meet new people and forge connections. Last year I volunteered to help writers who were pitching to agents. I pointed people in the correct direction and tried to calm nerves, it was a great experience, I met some lovely people and I gained insight into how the pitching process can work. A win/win.
Are you a first-time attendee? Does the conference offer a session just for newbies? Attend it! It’s a great way to connect with other first timers and you’ll learn valuable tips specific to the event. You’ll meet some or all the conference leadership team, and learn who to speak with if you have questions.
What to wear at a writers conference
Check the conference materials to learn if there is there a suggested dress code. My number one piece of advice is wear clothes that make you feel like you are putting your best self out there. You should be confident and comfortable. Do dress in layers as conference spaces are notoriously unpredictable temperature wise.
Make your tech decisions in advance. How will you be taking notes? Will you scribe the good old fashioned way with pen & paper or will you be using your laptop or tablet? If you are going the technology route make sure you have enough battery power to last the day. It’s becoming more common for power to be available at conferences, but it’s by no means ubiquitous. Want to be a hero? Bring a power strip, so if you find a plug, you can share it with others.
To me, one of the greatest parts of a conference is meeting people. People you can help, people who can help you. People whose experiences good or bad, inform your journey. Not everyone is an extrovert, if you are worried about being left behind, scour social media for friends or colleagues who are attending and arrange a time to meet for breakfast, a drink or even attend a session together.
If you are attending to pitch your book having an “elevator speech”, a 15-30 second speech about who you are and what you write, is a must, but even if you aren’t pitching having a one liner is useful even as conversation starter.
“Hi, I’m Lee Laughlin and I write contemporary romance.”
Also, it never hurts to have a few questions in the back of your mind for when you meet new people.
- What do you write?
- Have you read anything recently that you really loved?
- What has been your favorite session so far?
- Are you pitching?
Things to bring
- A layer such as a light sweater or jacket, I have a light weight oversized scarf that travels to conferences with me.
- All your tech including a power strip and extra batteries
- Pen and paper
- Business cards
At the conference
Arrive a little before sessions begin so you can register and get the lay of the land.
Where are the meeting rooms? Where are the bathrooms? Where is the bar? J As previously mentioned, don’t forget to take some downtime. Take a walk outside, go back to your room for a few minutes or find a quiet bench to process what you’ve learned.
Hopefully you’ll come back from the conference
- Review your notes from any sessions you attended
- Look over any business cards you collected and make notes about how/why you connected with that person.
- Complete any follow up tasks. Did you promise to forward an email or send an editor a copy of your book? DO IT! DO IT NOW!
- Follow people on social media.
- If you have positive things to say shout those out on social media, but please save any complaints for a private email or the conference survey.
Fill out the survey. Conference planners genuinely want your feedback if you are sent a survey please take a few minutes to complete it. If your experience was less than expected, it’s always good to share your thoughts with organizers, but please keep feedback constructive and if you have specific ideas for improvement share them. Remember, it’s not uncommon for conferences to be run by volunteers. Be gentle.
Making the most of a writers conference takes a little planning and effort, but the rewards are worth it!
What is your best conference tip?
Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.