I attended my first writers’ conference in 1989. Yes, I am that old.
I was a magazine editor at the time, and knew absolutely nothing about writers’ conferences. Since then, however, I have served on faculty more than a hundred times, and have learned a thing or two about writers’ conferences, knowledge that I am happy to impart—for the right price. Today, since we are approaching the height of the Christian writers’ conference season, that price is “free.” Lucky you.
So, let me share seven tips for your next conference:
- Prioritize learning at your first conference, selling and networking thereafter
Every writers’ conference has a plethora of workshops on practically every writing and publishing subject you can imagine, from “writing personal experience stories” to “building a brand” and “don’t write about zombies; write for them” (I might have made up that last one). You will learn something new at every writers’ conference you attend. But you’ll cheat yourself if you don’t also begin developing relationships with other writers and pitching your work (devotions, articles, books, etc.) to editors and agents. That’s why most writers’ conferences provide the opportunity to schedule appointments with the pros, so seize the opportunity.
- Choose your conference strategically
There are so many good conferences, and you can’t possibly attend all of them. So carefully peruse the brochure or website according to your budget and priorities. Consider location; will you be able to carpool with someone or commute from Aunt Iphigenia’s house? Review the classes; do the topics address your top needs as a writer? Study the faculty; will you be able to show your work to editors and agents who publish the sort of stuff you write?
- Plan (and print) ahead
Even for your first conference, take a sample of your writing to show to someone and learn from their feedback. Have quality business cards printed and ready (preferably with a professional-looking photo of you). Write and print query letters addressed to specific editors you plan to meet. Prepare one-sheets for a book or two. Take along copies of a book proposal in case an editor loves your idea and wants to take it back to the office after the conference.
- Don’t try to do everything
If you’re anything like me, you want to get your money’s worth from a conference. But resist the urge to do everything you possibly can at the conference. You’ll exhaust yourself and exhausted people don’t usually make great decisions or first impressions. Include recovery time in your schedule, as your head will probably be spinning after the first day.
- Leave the introvert at home
Many writers are introverts, but I suggest that you leave the introvert at home and try to function like an extrovert at a writers’ conference. That doesn’t mean you have to be the life of the party, just that you work a little harder to introduce yourself, strike up conversations, and ask questions. Your fellow writers (and even editors and agents) like to talk about words, books, writing, and themselves, so invite them to do so at every opportunity. If you do, I promise: you will make lifelong friends and develop rewarding connections.
- Consider writers’ conferences an ongoing part of your growth strategy
Don’t imagine that you will attend a writers’ conference and then go home knowing everything you need to know to succeed. Rather, consider regular writers’ conferences (I recommend two a year, if you can afford it) to be an ongoing part of your growth strategy as a writer. Over the next few years you will be amazed at the ground you’ve covered and the progress you’ve made.
- Follow up
Editors say it all the time: a small percentage of the manuscripts they invite from conferees actually get sent. Don’t be a dunce. When an editor invites you to send a proposal or manuscript after a conference, move heaven and earth if you must, but send it! Even if you don’t get such an invitation, you can still follow up your conference experience with a thank you note to the director or a faculty member or an editor with whom you met. And one of the best ways to follow up your conference is to set goals and schedule your writing between that conference and the next.
There you have it. I could easily list seven more suggestions, but who has time for that? We have packing and preparing to do.