• 5 Must-Haves For a Successful Writers Conference Experience

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 6 comments


    VoiceWriters’ conferences can be scary things. There are a few which are low-key affairs—ours, The Whidbey Island Writers Conference, has casual fireside-talk “chat houses,” in addition to the standard panels, workshops, and pitch sessions—but even those can be stressful.

    You’re meeting agents and editors who are hearing about your work. You’re also meeting other writers, and you’re kidding yourself if you’re not going to feel at least a frisson of competition with them at some point during the writers’ conference. You’ll feel like you’re trying to sneak a drink from the firehose of literary information while in the company of 500 other really thirsty people, and you’ll walk away with a huge pile of new information to work with. Obviously, you’re passionate about writing, enough to go to a conference and dedicate time and money, so you’re going to be keyed up anyway.

    We’ve been to our fair share of writers’ conferences, so we put together a packet of things you will most definitely need in order to have the best possible experience. Some are items you’ll find in your closet, and some you may have to make yourself. But all of them will help you to feel prepared. And that will get you closer to your goal.

    The 5 Must-Haves

    1. A small notebook and something to write with

    “Small” is however you want to define it. Carrying around a huge briefcase to every session and every evening event? Your notebook might be ginormous. We don’t care. The point is, you will need something to jot down notes and contacts in. Nothing beats ink and paper for the little things you HAVE to remember. Can you take notes on your phone or tablet? Sure, but–oh, just trust us. At some point you are going to want to write something down. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot less distracting for the person you’re talking to—looking at your phone makes it seem like you have better things to do. (Text? E-mail? Check the time? You get the idea.)

    2. A pair of comfortable shoes, and clothing you feel happy in

    Why? Because we wear smart skirts and gorgeous-yet-comfortable heels to conferences, and we feel put-together and at our best. (If “at your best” means you’re in shlubby jeans and down-at-heel slippers, you’re going to want to adjust this.) The point is, be professional but be comfortable, because when you are talking to a possible dream agent or editor and you are grimacing, you do not want to have explain that your Jimmy Choos are cramping your corns. You want to be able to really smile and look and feel confident, and you want to be able to network and talk deep into the night with your fellow writers and the people who might just open the door to publishing for you. You want to do all that and do it all over again on Day 2–and Day 3–so put on something that makes you feel like a pro.

    3. An elevator pitch

    Call it what you want–a logline, a thirty-second pitch, a soundbyte–just know what you’re working on and why you’re there. That last part is really important (see 3a below), but let’s focus on the first part for now. Do you know what your work is about? Do you know who your audience is? Do you know what your own personal credentials are, and who those credentials might appeal to? Do you know the agents, editors, and other faculty who might be at that conference? No? Get started. Do your homework. This is work, folks. Treat it that way and you won’t go wrong. Incidentally, if you don’t have a logline ready, that’s a good indication that maybe your work-in-progress isn’t ready to be pitched. That’s okay, too. Sometimes we go to writers’ conferences just to be around people who love writing and its products as much as we do.

    3a. Intent

    Any writers’ conference will cost upwards of a couple hundred dollars and some significant time. So don’t squander your efforts. Know why you’re there in the first place. Is it for networking? Is it to meet agents and editors? Is it for craft, or to learn about a specific aspect of marketing or publishing? We once went to a huge conference without a game plan. No surprise, we ended up skipping the entirety of Day 2 and wandering around New York City instead. Yeah. It was bad. Don’t be that person.

    4. Business cards


    5. A scheduled day of following up

    All your preparation will have been for naught if you don’t do anything with the droplets you managed to gather from the firehose: the business cards you collected; the notes you jotted down. So make sure you take a day to organize all of your notes and thoughts, and follow up with the folks who made an impression on you. Say thank you, and nice to meet you, and all that other stuff that civilized people do. Put your new information to work for you. Isn’t that why you went in the first place?

    The Whidbey Island Writers Conference is October 25-27, 2013. Follow news and tips @whidbeywriters on Twitter, and tell us about your favorite writers’ conference tips below in the comments.

    Yi Shun LaiYi Shun Lai is Marketing Director for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Yi Shun is a writer and editor herself, and the Fiction Editor for the Los Angeles Review. Find her on Twitter @gooddirt.


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    But we loves our shlubby jeans! ::sigh::

    I’d add a bottle of water to keep with you. Stay hydrated. Don’t yield to temptation either on over-caffeination or intoxication. Plus, taking a sip forces a person to stop talking — enabling someone else to contribute to the conversation. Always a plus!

    And I can’t agree enough about the shortcomings and pitfalls of phones / tablets / electronic gizmos. For some reason, paper & pen invites others to open a dialogue (kind of the point of writers’ conferences) while screens only keep people at a distance.

    Kathleen Alcala

    Take the time to find out what your fellow writers are working on. Don’t just dog the agents and editors. You might find commonalities and make connections that will serve you well in the future.

    J. Sommers

    Clothing you feel happy in, sure, but also look at weather reports from your destination. Amirite, attendees of AWP2013?

    yi shun

    Great comments, all of you! Thanks for taking the time out to weigh in! I’m adding to my must-have list, for sure!

    […] [The Whidbey Island Writers Conference is October 25-27, 2013. Follow news and tips @whidbeywriters on Twitter, and check out Yi Shun's first piece in this series, "5 Must-Haves For a Successful Writers' Conference Experience."] […]

    […] and admission badges, be sure to revisit a couple of helpful posts from the past, like “5 Must-Haves For a Successful Writers Conference Experience” and “Critical Components to an Elevator Pitch.” And don’t forget to reread […]

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