Preparing for a Conference

When getting ready for a conference, writers agonize over creating the perfect one-sheet sales pitch, polishing manuscripts, and how they’ll conduct themselves when meeting with agents and editors. But not every preparation is writing-related. I’ve been on faculty at many conferences and I’ve learned a few tricks to help make each conference a happier one.

Get plenty of rest before the conference

I realize that many writers don’t have the luxury of getting enough rest most of the time, much less before a conference. But if you can manage going to bed a little earlier each night a week or so beforehand, you should be more refreshed when you arrive.

Hydrate before the conference

Staying well hydrated helps you keep energized any time, but is especially important before a conference, particularly since down time – and therefore the chance to stay hydrated – is limited during many conferences.

Be aware if the conference will be at a high altitude. Though I drank lots of extra water a few days before a high-altitude conference and was able to cope well enough to meet all my obligations, I didn’t feel I was always at my best. I learned later that for high altitudes, you need to hydrate at least two weeks in advance. Longer is even better.

Know the Rules

Some conferences are held at church camps so they have special rules of conduct. Become aware of those rules so you can be sure to comply.

Make a list

Create a document you can use for all your trips to include everything you need but might tend to forget, such as a health insurance card, Band-Aids, travel bedroom slippers, or a key piece of jewelry. Use the list as you pack.

Map Out Clothing for Each Day

Write down what outfit you plan to wear each day and take the paper with you. It’s amazing how this small action can help you stay organized during the trip. Also, throw in an extra outfit. If you are flying, pack that extra outfit in your carry-on in case your main bag gets lost. Include your most comfortable shoes because some — even reliable — shoes can feel like cramped wood blocks after a big day.

Try to Arrive Early

If possible, try to arrive early enough so that you can settle in and catch your breath rather than hitting the ground running. Most conference schedules are packed, so an early rest will help you be at your best. Have fun!

Your turn:

What is your favorite conference story?

What tips can you offer to prepare for a conference?

35 Responses to Preparing for a Conference

  1. Avatar
    Angie Dicken June 2, 2016 at 5:35 am #

    Conference has been on my mind lately! I just started up my one sheet design services to my fellow authors and I’m booking my summer with writing and designing!

    Something I always take to conference is a multi-page portfolio folder with all my one sheets, writing samples, and printed out schedule taped inside. That way I have everything in one place divided by projects. It helps during the appointment process when my nerves are already on edge!

    Can’t wait to see you in a few months, Tamela!

  2. Avatar
    Richard Mabry June 2, 2016 at 6:49 am #

    Tamela, when you mention conferences, I go back to one of my favorite stories. One writer wanted so badly to sit at a particular editor’s table that she actually pushed aside a woman about to sit down in the last open chair. Of course, the woman she pushed aside was this editor’s “first reader.” The author made an impression, all right–but the wrong kind.

    Good suggestions. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:03 am #

      Thanks, Richard! I’ve heard more than one story about conferees ignoring, elbowing, or otherwise offending others when trying to reach an “important” person. People always remember when they’ve been pushed aside and it’s a big turnoff, as you pointed out.

      This is a good reminder to take off your blinders at a conference and look around, not just hone in on the person you think you need to see. If it’s to be, God will open the door.

  3. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker June 2, 2016 at 7:30 am #

    As an introvert, conferences can be exhausting, even though I enjoy talking with writers, editors and agents about writing. I give myself “permission” to skip something when I can feel my energy lagging and go back to my room or a quiet spot to rest and recharge. You don’t have to attend everything you possibly can if it means you’ll be draggy or mental exhausted. Setting aside time to be by yourself can be the difference between a great conference and a not-so-great one.

  4. Avatar
    Martha Rogers June 2, 2016 at 8:09 am #

    I’ve been making a check-list for clothes and when I plan to wear them for years. Sure makes for easier packing and saves time when I know what I will wear that day.

    My best advice is to take at least five minutes before an appointment check in and find a quiet place to pray and organize your thoughts. Those few minutes with the Lord make a tremendous difference.

    I always felt like a child in the principal’s office who can’t think of a word to say to this “Authority Figure” until I made myself see each editor as someone who was there to listen.

    Sarah is right about giving yourself permission to miss something when you need recharging. It does make a difference.

    I will never forget the first time I met you, Tamela. Your smile and friendliness made a lasting impression on me.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:05 am #

      Awww, you are so sweet, Martha! I’m blessed to be part of your journey!

      This is a great tip about prayer. Many conferences do offer a prayer room, often manned by volunteers who’ll pray with you.

  5. Avatar
    Eva Marie Everson June 2, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Tamela, here’s my favorite story: I’ve been a long-time conference faculty member, from PA to FL, from Mid-Atlantic to Mt. Hermon. Mine is a familiar face, but that doesn’t mean everyone knows me.

    Years ago, before I became the director of FCWC, I arrived as a faculty member. I walked into the registration hall where a line of conferees stood in front of a table, raring to go. Behind the table sat my dear friend (and fellow faculty member), Linda Gilden.

    I stood quietly behind a not-yet-friend until I managed to get close enough to be heard. My personality, as you know, is “let’s have some fun,” so I tapped mt foot, sighed loudly, and said, “What TAKES these people so long to check us in?”

    Linda looked up, saw the complainant was me, and rolled her eyes as if to say, “Yes, Eva … we see you … stop it!” LOL

    So, of course, I continued. “Man, if I were running this show, I’d be in my room already…”

    Linda started laughing, and she shook her head as she kept her face down so she wouldn’t totally lose it (she and I have been dear friends for years!).

    Finally, the woman in front of me turned and whispered, “I don’t think they like it when we come in a complain right away.”

    “Oh,” I said.

    “If you want to get a contract while you’re here,” the woman continued, “you don’t want to tick them off before the conference even starts.”

    “Got it,” I said.

    Later, after the faculty was introduced, the woman came up to me and said, “Now I get it! You were just giving Linda a hard time! I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t recognize you.”

    “Don’t be,” I said. “After all, I’m going to use this story for YEARS as to what NOT to do at a conference.”

    And I have.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:11 am #

      Hilarious, Eva! I used to think everyone knows me since my picture is all over the internet and in conference bulletins everywhere. But seeing someone in person doesn’t mean they’ll make the connection with your photo. And you have to witness people’s interactions with one another to understand years of chemistry they’ve built between themselves. Just an aside of how much you can learn at a great conference.

      And this gives me a chance to brag on what a great job you and your team do in organizing and hosting the Florida conference in February each year. I hope our blog readers will check it out. And the Blue Ridge Conference that you assist with is awesome, too.

      Thanks for sharing!

  6. Avatar
    Carol Ashby June 2, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    I’m sorry you weren’t at high altitude again this year, Tamela. I was looking forward to meeting you if you were.

    Like Angie, I took one sheets, synopses, and the first couple of chapters of my finished novels and my current WIP in a multipocket folder. I used another multipocket folder to organize my conference information including registration/lodging info, general faculty info, daily schedules, my research into the faculty I had requested appointments with and the questions I planned to ask them, etc.
    I also took a hard-cover folder that holds a full 8×11 notepad for taking notes and holding handouts (which I printed out from the conference website). That gives me a hard surface and plenty of space for taking very complete notes during sessions and keynotes.
    I carry everything in a fabric briefcase (lightweight) with a shoulder strap so I can keep everything with me at all times without it being a nuisance even in cafeteria lines.

    If it is a cafeteria-type conference, I suggest you go to the cafeteria alone a few times and introduce yourself to fellow attendees standing in line with you. I met some great people that way. A couple were true kindred spirits, and we had a blast eating together later. I also had a most enjoyable breakfast with an agent just because we both arrived at the cafeteria line alone at the same time. I got to know a really nice person while also learning a lot about the business.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:18 am #

      Carol, sorry I missed you! Hope to meet you at another conference, though.

      I love the idea of not letting your materials get in the way. Recently in a narrow cafeteria line, someone from a different group kept hitting me with a book bag every time he moved. (He called it a backpack but I associate it with books from my kids’ school days.) And rollies are hazardous since someone walking with you can trip over them. Always remember that anything you carry or roll with you adds to the room you consume in the environment, so if you add to your dimensions, be both careful and nimble.

  7. Avatar
    Penelope Childers June 2, 2016 at 9:00 am #

    The last conference I attended I decided to relax and not even memorize a pitch. I knew my subject and just went with God as my guide. The results were amazing. The outcome was beyond my expectations.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:19 am #

      Penelope, I’m sure everyone you met enjoyed the relaxed you, so they could relax as well.

  8. Avatar
    Sheri Parmelee June 2, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    Tamela, thanks for the super ideas. One thing I try to do is to maintain my normal exercise routine when traveling to a conference. I get up at pretty much the same time as when I am at home and usually check out the gym ahead of time. If there is a fee for using the facilities, it is good to know ahead of time. Is there a laundry room that I can wash my used exercise clothes? Will I need to pack laundry detergent? Will I be washing my clothes in the bathroom sink? Where can I dry them?

    Another travel tip is to take raw carrots in my baggage, as well as vitamins and other healthy snacks. The carrots are a great source of fiber, which helps with….well, you know. The healthy snacks are good alternative to the candy machine which is calling your name.

    A conference is not an excuse to overeat. If you want your clothes to fit as well on the last day of the conference as they did when you arrive, steer clear of fattening desserts that seem to cry out to you as you pass by and look for raw fruit and vegetables (be careful with broccoli- it gets stuck in dental work and does not improve your smile!).

    I look forward to seeing you all at the ACFW conference in August!
    Best,
    Sheri

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:25 am #

      Sheri, thanks for the wonderful health tips! Every conference I’ve attended has been loaded with delicious desserts and fabulous rolls. I don’t indulge often in either at home, so it’s easy to give in to temptation at a conference!

      Michelle Medlock Adams, who is represented by Steve Laube, offered exercise classes at Blue Ridge and Florida. I believe this is her custom. So that’s another great option when she’s present!

  9. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka June 2, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    I try to always bring a smile. When I sit down at a table for a meal or in a class where I don’t know anyone, my initial instinct is to try to be invisible. But, when I take a moment and say hello to someone and introduce myself, it helps me (and hopefully the other person) feel a bit more comfortable. Being intentional about seeing those who feel alone and reaching out to them can bring about new friendships.

  10. Avatar
    Natalie Monk June 2, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    What excellent tips! I especially love the one about getting rest beforehand. That’s one thing I plan to do differently this year.

    My first time at a conference, I sat at a table with an agent, and one by one the agent asked us authors to tell her about our stories. Four of the authors (myself not included) had written books based around a WWII German POW camp in Alabama. We all laughed, but it reminded me there is no new thing under the sun and that great minds will often stumble upon other great minds writing nearly the same thing. Which is why it’s imperative to strengthen our author voices and capitalize on our unique backgrounds and worldviews when writing and presenting ourselves and our manuscripts.

    At my first national conference, I got an appointment with my dream editor, but something went wrong with the scheduling and my editor didn’t show. As a result, I was invited to pitch to another friendly editor who noticed my plight and we established a connection. Also, I made friends with another author waiting for her own editor to show, an author who later invited me to submit an idea to the novella collection she was preparing to submit to her agent.

    On my way out, I met my dream editor in the hall, and she gave me her cell number so we could set up another appointment later that day, which went very well. By the way, I’ve NEVER used her number other than setting up that appointment, but I always thought it was cool to have my dream editor’s cell number in my phone! 🙂 Which goes to show when things go “wrong” at a conference, it can lead to other things going very right. I like to call it Providence. 🙂

    Thanks for such a great post, Tamela!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:28 am #

      Natalie, I love this story! This is a great testimony as to why there’s no need to become upset when something goes wrong at a conference. And believe me, things can go wrong no matter how organized and wonderful the conference is.

      Keep walking with the Lord!

  11. Avatar
    Sandra Lovelace June 2, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    Yay, I followed all your suggestions for my trip to Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last week and I had a God-blessed time. 😀

  12. Avatar
    Darlene L. Turner June 2, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    Conferences can be so intimating. I like to prepare with lots of prayer, and ask my family and friends to uplift me as well. Also, I’m very much a list person. I write down everything I’m taking. If I don’t do this, I’m lost!

    Thanks for this great post, Tamela!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:30 am #

      Darlene, the more conferences you attend, the less intimidating they will feel. Always great to have a team of prayer warriors behind you whether it’s your first or twenty-first conference!

  13. Avatar
    Laura Christianson June 2, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

    Don’t forget to put “business cards and onesheets” on your packing list.

  14. Avatar
    Barbara Blakey June 2, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    So much good advice! Some I follow already and some I plan to for the next conference–such as hydrating days ahead. Just hadn’t thought about it. Most of us probably do our research on the agents and editors we want to meet with. I prepare a notebook ahead of time and memorize personal facts about them, such as where they live, the type of pet they own, etc. It helps me connect with them as person to person and not just see them as someone who can help me reach my dreams.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 3, 2016 at 6:32 am #

      Barbara, that’s a great idea. I appreciate when an author has some idea about me and why he or she chose to pitch to me when I go to a conference.

  15. Avatar
    Barbara June 3, 2016 at 8:02 am #

    Tamela, I like your emphasis on hydration. I tend to carry a water bottle with me always, but it’s not something I’d think to encourage other new conferees to do.
    I think the best thing someone can do in preparation for a conference is check their perspective by asking themselves, “Why am I attending?” and “Do I have specific goals?”
    I think those two questions will help guide their interactions with people. It will also help when things may be disheartening or confusing, just to remember, “I came hear to learn and that’s what I’m doing.”

    Thanks for this post! I shared it with a friend who is eagerly waiting to attend her first conference in two months.

  16. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield June 3, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    Great advice, Tamela! I’ve only attended one conference, but by far the most important thing I did ahead of time was research the agents and reps as thoroughly as I could and not only decide, but prayerfully prioritize whom to try to meet: when appointment sheets full up, sometimes you do have to make choices. I continually updated that list as the conference progressed and I heard new speakers, as well. I’m too much of an introvert to memorize and mention the agents’ pets, like Barbara Blakey posted that she does, but not too much to introduce myself to anyone who looked like a fun person to know, and that’s how I met the agent who invited me to walk across campus to lunch and make my pitch, then to submit a full proposal. (Am I promoting perambulation pitches here? I sure am! ;-D)

  17. Avatar
    Jean Wilund June 4, 2016 at 10:56 am #

    These are great tips. I never thought of hydrating beforehand. That’s excellent!

    One of the main things I’ve learned to do before a conference is to pray and ask God what is the one thing He most wants me to focus on regarding classes.

    It’s easy to get excited about the incredible variety of offerings and instructors. I dream of the day I can focus on the novel brewing in my imagination, but I’ve got to finish my other projects first. Only after I determine what information I most need at this point in my career, I look to see which classes cover it. This keeps me from being wonderfully tempted off the track God currently has me on by fun classes I don’t need right now.

    Then, when time allows, I throw in a class either taught by an instructor I’m excited to meet or that gives me a taste of one of my future dream projects. And I split up my time during meals meeting authors who write what I want to learn now and those who I should meet for the future. And I keep my eyes and ears open to the wonderful conferees surrounding me. Some of my most meaningful contacts have been with other attenders rather than instructors. God is working all around us in and through every person there. Thanks!

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