Can I just say, I can never figure out if it is supposed to be “writers conferences” or “writers’ conferences.” No one seems to use the apostrophe, but aren’t the conferences for/belonging to the writers? These are the things that keep me up at night!
Grammar existentialism aside, let’s talk about writers(‘) conferences. They are incredible places to meet agents, editors, and fellow writers, to work on your craft, and to pitch you book. However, they do tend to come with a price tag. So how can you get your money’s worth?
1. Go with goals. Before your conference begins, write down a list of 5 or 10 realistic goals you want to accomplish. Do you want to finish drafting your novel? Meet a new critique partner? Find an agent? Make an effort to cross each of your goals off during the conference.
2. Socialize. Some writing retreats are supposed to be solitary endeavors, but for the most part these conferences are meant to get lots of writers in a room together. Take advantage of the opportunity and be a social butterfly. Even if small talk isn’t your thing, don’t worry, because guess what…you’re in good, introvert company. We’re all as awkward as you are!
3. Make the most of mealtimes. The best time to make new friends? While you eat! People tend to be more laid back at mealtimes, so get to know the people at the conference over breakfast, lunch, or dinner. These settings aren’t ideal for pitching your book (actually, it’s rather uncomfortable as an editor when all you want to do is eat your brownie and someone’s talking your ear off), but meals give you the chance to build a rapport with your fellow attendees.
4. Connect with fellow writers. Take your newfound friendships one step further and connect with folks via social media. I also always recommend bringing business cards along, whether they are for the writers or the faculty. Business cards are a sign of class. They show you’re serious. They’re easy to distribute to a lot of people. And professional cards will help people remember you and your book.
5. Attend the right sessions for you. There are a lot of options at writing conferences, and sometimes you might not know which sessions you should hit or skip. Do some research on the presenters and compare their topics to the goals you want to accomplish during the conference. If the session lines up with one of your goals, go for it! It’s okay to be picky. Just don’t be so picky that you end up in your room all day.
6. Work hard. Think of a conference like college (costs about the same, right?). If you want to get an A and not feel like you’re walking away with student loans, you’ll want to…
- Go to class. Give yourself a range of subjects, from creative writing to online marketing. And I always recommend signing up for practical writing seminars, because getting back to basics can give you new skills and a fresh perspective.
- Look for participation points. If you are in an interactive session, don’t be shy! Ask questions, volunteer to read some of your work, and engage in dialogue with your fellow writers.
- Get a tutor. Critique sessions are offered at many conferences, and they are a prime time to get 1:1 feedback from an agent, editor, or established author.
7. Set yourself up for success. Your first impulse might be to do it all at a conference—write the book, edit the book, pitch the book, get a deal for the book, publish the book, bam you’re done. Allow yourself to slow down. Acknowledge where you are in the writing process. Not done with your first manuscript? Spend the conference learning about the craft of writing. Finished with your first draft? Take some courses on drafting and revision. Ready to query an agent? Work on polishing your pitch and sign up for an agent appointment. Taking one step at a time will put you in a better position than if you rush through the process.
8. Enjoy yourself! Writing conferences are magical places filled with creative, book-loving people. Can it get any better than that? Live in the moment (yes, this is coming from an extreme Type-A planner) and have fun. Let your inner artist loose and enjoy the company of writers like you.