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Getting the Most from a Writers’ Conference

Readers ask:

I’m going to RWA this summer and there is a discussion in my local chapter on what to expect. How do you approach a conference?

I would love to hear the answer to this one, too! I’m going to SCBWI in August, and frankly, I’m a little terrified.

First, there is nothing to be terrified of. While conferences can be overwhelming, most of the time authors leave feeling inspired and invigorated, ready to get back home to write more.

If you’re attending your first conference, no matter the size, expect upon first arriving to be a little overwhelmed, a little shy, and a lot like a fangirl. Expect also to be warmly welcomed, to realize that you are not alone, and to discover that even the biggest name author is happy to sit down, kick up her feet, and just chat.

To truly make the most of any conference I would suggest you really figure out why you are attending and what you expect to get out of it. The very beginning writer you might be looking to learn about the craft of writing and how to better revise your work. If you are at the querying stage you might be looking to learn more about the business of publishing and querying. A published writer will likely be seeking information on how to grow her career and market her books.

Once you know why you are attending the conference you can make a loose plan about how you want to approach the conference. Will you be attending workshops? Is your plan to pitch agents or are you looking more to simply connect with the authors you only see a few times a year and meet a few of those you’ve connected with online?

There is no right or wrong to how you approach a conference. Each conference you attend will be a little different depending on both the event and what you hope to get out of it. The most important thing is to have fun. Skip a workshop when you’re tired, play hookey with some new friends to tour a city you’ve never visited. Put the phone down when you’re sitting alone and strike up a conversation with the person next to you (make this your personal challenge for the weekend). Buy an agent a drink or invite her dinner with your group. While these things might not seem like what you are paying the conference to do, they are exactly what you’re paying for–the opportunity to meet and connect with like minds.

Good luck and enjoy!

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6 comments

  1. I love going to the LA SCBWI conference every year. It’s become an old friend and I do meet some that I only see at the conference, as well as meeting new people. That said, I have never felt comfortable going up to an agent and trying to start a conversation. One that doesn’t involve pitching, (unless asked) rather socializing with the person as a person, not the gate keeper. Any tips? I’ve always had the impression that agents are off limits unless you already have one. I am on pins and needles every day when I open my email to see if one of the agents that I’ve queried requests full ms. Or, one that has requested my full ms finally sending me that email that they are interested.

  2. Conferences are wonderful, but the more you invest, the more you get out of them. I know it’s really daunting to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, but the one thing you know you have in common is writing and reading.

    Taking onboard the challenge Jessica set, turn to the person next to you and ask what they read, or what do they write, what is their manuscript about. There’s a pretty good chance the person next to you is wanting someone to talk to as well =) Good luck and have an awesome conference.

  3. What about pitch appointments? Is it okay to use this opportunity not to pitch, but rather use it like an information interview-meeting type thing?

    I am going to a workshop later this month and one of the agents at Bookends is attending. She does not rep the genre I am pitching, but she does rep a different genre project I’ll be working on next. My unfinished first book – the one that started me writing – has been waiting patiently for me to return to it. It is a cozy with a paranormal aspect that I am considering combining with another MS. I am hoping to chat with her to get some tips or thumbs up/down on the conflicting ideas I’ve had for it.

    Would it be a faux pas to schedule a pitch appointment to just meet, or discuss an unfinished book? Just making “casual” conversation with a goal feels disengenious and awkward to consider. And I don’t want to take an opportunity from someone who wants to pitch!

    Thanks!

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