Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ten Tips for Making the Most of a Writing Conference

Today the Romantic Times 2015 conference officially kicks off. Thousands of writers, industry hopefuls and book fans will be coming together to celebrate reading and meet and learn new things. Not going to RT? No worries, there are a ton of writing conferences offered each year. See my previous blog post on why you should attend one and how to find one that is right for you. But let's say you've made the leap, your found the writing conference of your dreams, you've bought your registration and you're ready to go. What now? Below are a few tips to help you make the most of your conference experience.

1. Bring business cards with your name (or pen name), website, Twitter & Facebook URLs
You probably don't need a ton, but having a few on hand is always a good idea. has some utterly adorable mini cards that are perfect for this purpose. You're going to meet a lot of other writers and exchanging cards can help you keep in touch after the conference is over. You're probably not going to be passing these out to agents and editors, but keep your design professional just in case.

2. Print out a schedule ahead of time or download the conference app if one is available
There can be a LOT going on at a conference. Planning your day ahead of time makes sure you don't miss out on programming you're really interested in. In addition, if the conference has an app, download it. This will let you know when programming rooms are moved, special announcements, etc. The app may offer a map or let you create your schedule on your phone - all great features you're sure to use.

3. Make time to chill out

Don't over schedule. Yes you want to take it all in but you don't want to be a mental zombie halfway through the conference. Plan a bit of downtime if you can and grab a snack or a tasty beverage with new writing friends.

4. Take Advantage of Pre-Conference Workshops & Agent/Editor Pitch Sessions

If your conference offers agent and/or editor pitch sessions and you have a finished manuscript, consider signing up for one. This is a good opportunity to meet with an agent face-to-face and make a good impression. Your writing conference may offer workshops prior to the conference start or during - normally you have to sign up separately for these and there may be an additional cost. If one of the workshops looks appealing make sure you sign up early enough to get a spot. This last tip is more iffy, but it's worth considering, print out a copy of your query and first three pages, that way you'll have it on hand in case an agent or editor asks (and ONLY if they ask). If you attend some query workshops, you'll also have your query on hand to mark up or share if that opportunity is presented.

5. Meet up with writing friends
Do you have friends or acquaintances also attending this conference? If so, get together for a coffee or cocktail and enjoy some time with a friendly face. Networking and meeting other writers is one of the best parts of a writing conference. That and geeking out over books.

6. Bring a small notebook & pen
You may or may not want to take notes during some of the programming you attend, but it's better to be prepared than not. Some conferences provide small notepads and pens, but don't count on it unless you are 100% sure they'll be available. I am a note-taker. I always think I'll remember the fabulous tips I'm picking up but inevitably some of it gets lost as I cram new tips and tricks into my head during successive panels. Notes make sure I remember all the little tidbits I really want.

7. Bring a small tote bag for books & promo materials you pick up
Some conferences give attendees a tote bag when they check in. Others don't. Tote bags are awesome. Bring one. Fill it with new books you'll pick up and cool promo materials like bookmarks and such. Or just use it to schlep around that bag of chips you didn't finish at lunch. Either way, you'll probably find a use for your fancy, schmancy tote bag. Bonus points if it's nerdy or book-related!

8. Bring books to get signed (if that's offered) or some extra cash to pick up new books
Many conferences have author signings. Assuming you like the authors attending, bring a copy of their books or buy some on site, get autographs, meet other authors and fangirl. They'll appreciate it :D Don't pester authors for a signature at panels, however. Unless you're friends with them and they've said it's okay.

9. Bring a spare charger for your phone, just in case
Inevitably, at some point during the conference, you are going to reach for your phone to enter a new friend's contact info, check the conference app or just have a quick look at email, and then you'll see it. The red bars of terror - you're battery is low and now you get to choose between going phone less (the horror!) or being chained to a wall with your phone charger if you have one handy. But wait! You are smart and planned ahead, you whip out your handy dandy little power brick, plug it into your phone and suddenly you've got enough juice to make it through the rest of the day. Yay! You win at life. Seriously, these things aren't expensive and they're super useful.

10. Have fun
It's easy to get caught up in nerves fretting about that editor or agent you want to pitch or trying to cram in just one more panel or worrying that you're too much of an introvert and everyone thinks you're acting stuck up and ignoring them. Pause. Take a deep breath. Look around, you see all those people around you? Most of them are in the same place you are writing/career wise. Or they have been or will be soon. THESE are your people. Chill out, mingle, talk books, talk writing, but whatever you do, relax and have fun. This is the most important tip. Yeah you may have paid a lot of money to be here, but if you're not enjoying the conference because you're too wound up - was it really worth it?

One last bonus tip - if you have a tiny laptop, consider bringing it. I use mine to take notes and, if I have downtime between panels and hanging out with friends, I can work on my current WIP. My laptop is a Macbook Air and weighs next to nothing; if it was a huge beast of a thing I'd be leaving it at home. You don't really need your laptop, and it is one more thing to haul around and keep track of, but if you think you might want to use it, it's handy to have right there.

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