I’ve been asked what a first-timer (or second or third timer) can expect from a writing conference. Here are my two cents.
Writing Tip for Today: If you stick with writing long enough you’re sure to be encouraged to attend a writing conference. While a large portion of your decision to attend one hinges on your financial health, there are other considerations. What can you expect at a good conference?
- Consider Your Needs. The best conference for you depends on where your writing is at. If you need guidance in writing skills, you’ll want a conference which doesn’t necessarily tout the biggest names, but which has smaller workshop sizes or the ability to get one-on-one tutoring. If you have a completed manuscript (for novels this is a must, for some nonfiction a proposal + sample chapters may suffice), you may be ready to “pitch” your project. In that case, a large regional conference that draws well-known authors and top literary agents and editors is a better bet. You’ll pay extra for the pitching privilege, but if your work is truly ready to go, it’s worth it.
- Practice Being Overwhelmed. I tell my students to (as they are able) try out a conference just for the experience, not to focus solely on selling their work the first year. Even medium-sized conferences can be overwhelming. Many workshops, many speeches, all sorts of writers plying their wares–a first conference can be exhausting and confusing. Good conferences often offer “first-timer buddies” or more experienced attendees to help the newbies navigate the conference.
- Volunteer! If money is a problem you can often defray some of the costs by applying for a partial scholarship or by volunteering. Jobs may include seeing that instructors get their copied handouts to being an all-round gofer.
- The Book Is In the Trunk. Almost all agents don’t want you to shove your pages into their hands, and experienced conferees don’t carry theirs around. But, if you happen to get the golden ticket and an editor or agent wants to see your manuscript right now, you can bring along your first 50 pp. but keep them in your hotel room or the trunk of the car.
- Network! At most conferences, the most important facet is building relationships. Get to know other authors in your genre, chat up (don’t hard sell) agents at the Meet & Greet or the elevator. Network, but don’t be obnoxious. No pitching in the bathroom stall–this is an urban myth that makes agents want to run and hide. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Take advantage of any “Pitch Practice” the conference offers.
- Fun! Most of all, don’t forget to have fun. It’s really expensive fun, but if you are too serious, you’ll probably damage your chances at connecting with that agent anyway. So go ahead and laugh, imbibe responsibly and view a writing conference as another lesson in writing.