Whether you’re doing a day trip or going away for a weekend or more, planning will help you get the most out of a writing conference. You want to choose a writing conference that will help you at the stage of writing that you are in right now, or one that’s slightly ahead of your career. The reasoning is that if you’re a seasoned writer you’d be wasting your time going to a basic craft conference, unless you’re looking to firm up your writing foundations. And if you’re a new writer with only one book written you may feel frustrated attending workshops about marketing a series.
A place of one’s own.
The first thing you want to do is consider getting a hotel room. Even if it’s a one day event, getting there the night before so you’re fresh and ready in the morning is something to consider if your conference is over an hour away. Even if it’s not, having a quiet place to reflect on the conference at the end of the day—and maybe put a few lessons learned into practice—is easier if you have a moment to process all the information in the quiet of your hotel room.
Most conferences will have a schedule of events. It’s important to look them over, research the presenter, and think about which workshop will give you the best bang for the buck. At a larger conference, like the Romance Writers of America annual conference, there could be ten workshops going on at once. In that case, you’d want to pick out your top three for a time slot in case one is full, or if once you start listening to the presenter it’s not what you were expecting. If you’re not satisfied with the workshop, don’t be afraid to walk out after the first few minutes. Most presenters realize that their attendees have paid a lot of money for the conference and want to spend their time wisely. There are a lot of coming and going during a workshop due to attendees having agent or editor appointments, so you won’t stand out if you leave. Don’t ever sit through a boring workshop or one that isn’t relevant to you just for the sake of politeness.
In between sessions or after the day’s workshops, take some time to sit in the bar. You don’t have to drink alcohol, but the chance to network is the greatest when everyone is sitting back and relaxing. You may be surprised to know that some agents and editors don’t attend the conference itself, but spend most of the day in the lobby or bar of the hotel just talking to people. Bring business cards to hand out to people that you meet. You just want the basics on your card: name, email/phone number, website address. If you have a book series, or a tag line, that’s also good to have on your business card.
Prepare an Elevator Pitch.
Even if you’re not in a bar or an elevator with an agent or editor, someone is going to ask you about your book or what you’re working on. An elevator pitch is a snappy, catchy, two-sentence description of your book. Just avoid comparing your book to Fifty Shades of Grey or Harry Potter. Everybody does that. If you want to stand out, pick a lesser known, but still popular, book from your genre.
Take a Breath.
When I went to the Romantic Times convention in Las Vegas, I was running around from eight o’clock in the morning until midnight. If I wasn’t attending a workshop, I was giving one. If I wasn’t waiting in line for an event, I was setting up my signing table and networking with other authors. It didn’t help that my hotel room was a mile from the conference area (yet still in the hotel complex). I got my exercise in. By the end of the conference, I was exhausted. While I felt good at how productive I had been, I didn’t really get to enjoy myself. If it weren’t for my agent buying me a huge breakfast (that fed me three meals) I wouldn’t have eaten one day. So, schedule in breaks while you’re planning your conference. Always carry a large tote bag—even if it’s empty. You never know what type of books or swag opportunities you’ll run across. And in that bag, carry a water bottle, pens, notebook, and a snack. I like Clif or KIND bars.
Watch out for Con Crud.
Every time there’s a large gathering people, you run the risk of catching a cold. Use hand sanitizer. Wash your hands often. Try to keep from touching your face. Pack some vitamins and take some hard candy with Vitamin C in them to stay ahead of the game. And if you can, try to go to bed early one night. That’ll go a long way to keeping you ahead of any sniffles or coughs.
Whatever conference you decide to attend, make sure you visit their website so you know what to expect. Don’t assume that parking is free or that there is a complimentary breakfast. If you have questions, there should be a contact email or phone number on the website. You can also use your Google-fu to search past conferences and read the feedback that attendees have left. Being prepared and knowing what to expect will go a long way in preparing you what to expect, and to reduce anxiety about the conference. While you’ll have plenty opportunity to learn, conferences are also a great place to meet new friends and authors.
Links to popular writer’s conferences:
- Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers Association (CTRWA) Fiction Fest
- Romance Writers Association (RWA) conference
- The Writer Mag’s Top Ten Writing Conferences
- The Write Life Top Thirty Writing Conferences
Links to help you create your elevator pitch:
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists and the first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time. Her dragon paranormal romance series from Entangled Publishing, has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.”