Tips for Conference Prep

Is there really a conference season? True, conferences rarely take place during the Christmas season but there seems to be a conference somewhere at any given time. And that means, authors are preparing to go to conferences all year. Here are a few perennial tips I hope you can use.

Thinking about going:

  • Do I have the funds? For a national conference you must fly to, I recommend aiming to have at least $1,000 available to cover costs. Depending on the conference, you may need more. Short on funds? Try a local conference, or attend a national conference taking place nearby.
  • Do I need an agent? I’ve talked to many authors at conferences and some were just speaking with agents, not editors. This is a great strategy if you want an agent, since agents will open the door to editors.
  • What about editors? If you’re unsure, meet with both if possible. Some publishers work directly with authors, while others work primarily or exclusively through agents. Your meetings can help you decide where your work fits.

Information needed:

  • Is the agent or editor looking for my type of manuscript? This information should be available on the conference website.
  • What do I need for my meetings? Some agents and editors do not want to see writing samples, for example. I often ask to see them. My philosophy is that if you have materials available, you can use them if needed. If not, no loss.
  1. One-sheets of all your WIPs.
  2. Writing samples.
  3. Business cards.

During the meeting:

  • I will RELAX! This can be tough! But you can talk to me. I assure you, within hours of my plane landing back home, my family asks about dinner and laundry. A mountain of clothes always awaits me, too!
  • I will be myself. If you are not, how will you know if the agent is a good fit for you?
  • I will be prepared with what I want to discuss. Next career move? Current WIP? Switching agents? It’s YOUR meeting – you tell us!

One last tip: if an agent or editor says to follow up, please do so. We want to hear from you!

Your turn:

What conference do you most highly recommend?

What tips can you offer?


44 Responses to Tips for Conference Prep

  1. Janine Rosche November 16, 2017 at 5:22 am #

    Hi Tamela! For me, when I go to a conference, I learn a great deal! I then need to go back through my whole manuscript, strengthening it based on the new knowledge. What is the window of time you have to submit a full manuscript? Also, once you submit a full, you should hold the reins a bit, correct? It’s tactless to keep sending work out if someone is taking time to review your full, right?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 10:59 am #

      Janine, speaking for myself, I’d prefer to see an awesome manuscript than one hurried along to me because of a “deadline” that really doesn’t exist until a publisher issues a contract. Those are the serious deadlines! You can query all you like while we review, but do let everyone know you’re sending to multiple agents.

  2. Damon J. Gray November 16, 2017 at 6:29 am #

    I enjoyed the West Coast Christian Writers’ Conference in Pleasanton. The keynotes were excellent, and the individual sessions so filled with information that they were borderline overwhelming. The most valuable time, however, was the informal visits between sessions, standing in line at the food truck, browsing the bookstore – those times of informal, unstructured interaction.

    I also found the Leverage Speaker Conference to be quite valuable!

    I tend toward smaller venues, so I have not braved the Mount Hermon Conference yet. I suppose the day will come when I need to break through my discomfort and invest in that one. I hear wonderful things about it.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 11:00 am #

      Mount Hermon is an excellent conference, one of many!

      • Laura Christianson November 16, 2017 at 11:23 am #

        Damon, Glad you enjoyed the West Coast Christian Writers Conference! I am on the board for that organization, and wanted you (and other readers of the comments) to know that we’re doing something different for the 2018 conference. We are hosting a new LIT Masterclass — a one-day conference for intermediate-to-advanced writers. It’s geared for writers who have attended a previous writing conference and have some writing experience (blogging counts!). It’ll be a small, intimate conference, limited to 60 attendees. There’ll be small group sessions with a writing coach so everyone will get personal attention. You can learn about it at

        We’ll be hosting the regular WCCW Writers Conference in 2019, and plan to alternate between LIT and the 2-day conference every other year.

  3. Julie Christian November 16, 2017 at 6:49 am #

    Thank you for the great tips! I am planning on attending my first conference in February, and I feel like a tiny little fish jumping into a deep ocean. After reading your blog post, I feel at least a little bit more informed!

    I do have a question. If I begin most of my interactions with, “I am very new at this, is it okay if I ask a lot of questions?” Or the disclaimer, “Please let me know if I have asked you too many questions,” will it make me look bad?

    Is being a newbie at writing professionally viewed as a bad thing?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 11:02 am #

      I’d think your question would be disarming and the agent may even chuckle. I’d be fine with it, Julie. I love newbie writers!

      • Julie Christian November 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

        Thank you so much, Tamela! I appreciate your feedback!

    • Laura Christianson November 16, 2017 at 11:30 am #

      Julie, In addition to making your “newbie” comment to agents and editors, I recommend that you meet with freelancers, coaching & critique team members, prayer team, or whatever non-agent presence is at the conference you’ll be attending. Most of these people are experienced industry professionals, and they tend to have more time, are less stressed, and can offer fantastic insights to you one-on-one. People are SO willing to help… don’t be afraid to ask. I have met so many people who tell me that interaction with freelancers at conferences is every bit as valuable as the keynotes, workshops, and meeting with agents and editors. Go for it!

      • Julie Christian November 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

        Thank you, Laura!

        My husband and I have agreed that I am going to my first conference in February. I will definitely be putting all of your suggestions to good use. I don’t want to mess up and fall victim to a tragic first timer error!
        I appreciate your kindness!

  4. Tracey Dyck November 16, 2017 at 7:49 am #

    Great tips! I attended my first conference, Realm Makers, last last summer and had an incredible time. One tip I learned was that it’s okay to miss out on a few things–I unintentionally double-booked my schedule with agent and mentor appointments WHILE classes were going on. As much as I wanted to hear the speakers, I decided meeting with professionals one on one was more important at the moment. Got to have a great conversation with Steve Laube because of it. 🙂

  5. Loretta Eidson November 16, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    Great post, Tamela. The conferences I attend are the ACFW Conference, Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, The Novelist Retreat at Blue Ridge, and the young, but growing Mid-South Christian Writers Conference. I can vouch for your personable and professional meetings. Thank you for being you!

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 16, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    Wish I could go to a writers’ conference! it would be nice to meet other writers in person.

    Did go to other conferences in the past, and I can offer a couple of suggestions:

    1) Don’t overschedule. As Damon said in his comment above, informal and unstructured interaction’s important, and it can be the high point of the conference experience.

    2) Dress comfortably. If I ever go, I’ll be the dude in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, with wraparound Oakleys. Might not be impressive, but it’s honest, and it’s fun.

    3) Guys, don’t read ladies’ nametags. Obvious reasons.

    4) Be sparing with perfume and cologne or aftershave; if you’re really giving a pitch in an elevator, you don’t want the agent or editor to be looking for the escape panel in the roof.

    5) Pursuant to #4 above, watch what you eat; maybe skip the French onion soup.

    6) Carry toothpicks and floss, and after a meal or a snack, check your teeth. Rabbits look cute with lettuce caught between their incisors; writers don’t.

    7) Don’t let a fellow-writer or two monopolize your time. Some people feel awfully lonely and a little scared at their first couple of conferences, and will attach to an acquaintance or even a friendly stranger for support. It’s understandable, but it can really mess up your experience. You’ve no obligation to be a babysitter.

    8) Keep a notebook with you, and jot down the names of the people with whom you’ve spoken. Forgetting that you’ve had a long heart-to-heart with the acquisitions editor at Random Penguin can be downright embarrassing. (Why a notebook and not your phone? Because you’re a WRITER, that’s why!)

    9) Resolve to go with the flow. Appointments will get canceled, you’ll leave your one-sheets in your room, and you’ll blow out a flip-flop and have to go through the dy barefoot. It won’t be a perfect day, but it can still be a good one…if you make the choice.

    • Carol Ashby November 16, 2017 at 11:02 am #

      Mostly great suggestions, Andrew. As the veteran of many conferences, I’d say it’s fine for guys to read ladies’ name tags. How else will you know their names? Just do it quickly enough that no one starts feeling uncomfortable about your motives.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 11:05 am #

      Thanks so much for sharing, Andrew! As for the name tags, I respect what you said, while also agreeing with Carol. Another option? We can all do our best to make sure the name tag doesn’t fall or rest in an awkward place.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 16, 2017 at 11:09 am #

      Carol and Tamela, yeah, but I’m kind of old-school. Barb says that I am one of the finest minds of the Victorian era, and would make Mr. Darcy look like a flaming libertine.

  7. Sarah Hamaker November 16, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    I will echo Tamela’s last tip about following up after the conference if the editor or agent requested something from you. They are not in the habit of creating busy work for themselves–if they asked for a proposal, sample chapters, full manuscript, etc., it is because you intrigued them enough with your pitch or conversation to want to know more.

    I’ve talked with many writers, especially new ones, who will share that they’ve had such a request but then express their uncertainty about whether to follow up or not. Do it! Even if it’s months later (do remind the editor or agent of when and where you met, though).

    Personally, I always follow up with a short, handwritten note (if I have an address) or email saying how much I enjoyed meeting them soon after the conference. Even if the meeting didn’t go as I expected, I appreciate their time in listening to my pitch. Besides, you never know when those little gestures might one day make a difference!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 11:06 am #

      True, Sarah, and the handwritten note gives you a good and polite way to get your name in front of the agent again.

  8. Carol Ashby November 16, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    The ACFW national conference was excellent. I focused on the business-oriented sessions and came home with many ideas for improving what I’m doing. I heard the writing craft sessions were also superb. The worship times were great.

    The best part was meeting some of the folks I’ve gotten to know here and making new writing friends. I’m a true extrovert, so meeting new people really pumps up my energy level. One of the best parts was sharing a room with my critique partner, whom I’d never seen face-to-face before. She was a Genesis finalist, and that added to the fun of the banquet for me.

  9. Norma Brumbaugh November 16, 2017 at 9:49 am #

    I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but I’m sure the day is coming. I’m confident it will be a wonderful experience. Besides the practical side of things, I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people I’ve become acquainted with through forums like this one and listening to some of the gurus in the business speak and conduct workshops. Tamela, your suggestions are sure to be helpful.

  10. CJ Myerly November 16, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a conference yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it when the times comes. Your tips are always so valuable! I’m looking forward to connecting with people I’ve “met” through the ACFW and learning from the workshops.

  11. LINDA CLARE November 16, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    Hi Tamala,
    Just FYI for your readers, on my writing tips blog my post this week is about AFTER the conference. Must be something in the air! Interested readers can see my post at Go conferees!
    Linda Clare

  12. November 16, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    Great advice, Tamela. Andrew had some good ones as well.

    I’ve been to ACFW and Mt. Hermon and they are both excellent conferences, but they are large, and may be intimidating to some. I’ve also attended smaller ACW conferences and I met Steve Laube in the 90’s at one here in Houston. I’ve been to one in Tulsa that no longer meets, but it’s where I met Karen Ball and Francine Rivers and Cecil Murphy. The biggest thrill was meeting you, Tamela, at ACFW and then signing on with you as my agent.

    I am also the director of a smaller 1-day conference in Houston, Texas. We have three workshops four times a day with times set aside for attendees to pick the faculty members brains. We have workshops for both fiction and non-fiction.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 11:09 am #

      Martha, you are so kind and I am soooo blessed to be your agent — and friend! I love your one-day conference in Houston, too! I highly recommend it to anyone who’s able to go.

  13. Edward Lane November 16, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    The American Christian Fiction writers conference in Grapevine was super! My tip is to get an interview with Lynette Eason. She is nice and smart.

  14. Janet Ann Collins November 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference is WONDERFUL!
    My advice is, expect to become exhausted. It’s okay to skip a workshop and take a nap, if needed. And allow yourself some recovery time at home before getting back to the normal routine.
    Writers are communicators but writing is a solitary business, so when we get together we understand each other as nobody else can. And at that conference we also share our faith, so expect to make new friends. Even if you don’t get a contract you’ll learn a lot and become a better writer.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      Janet, those are good points. I think they apply to any good Christian writers conference.

  15. M. R. Shupp November 16, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

    I’m starting to consider which writing conferences I want to attend next year! I attended the Ohio Christian Writers Conference, and it was wonderful. So extremely helpful. There seem to be so many conferences available, it’s hard to choose which ones would be best for me to attend!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      Yes, we are blessed with so many choices! I’d say if you are flexible with both time and budget, then look at the faculty and classes to help you decide.

  16. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D November 16, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

    I loved the ACFW conference in Nashville last August. It would have been great to go again this year but my teaching schedule would not permit it. My advice is to take a LOT of notes, connect with someone and exchange email addresses, and talk to agents.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

      Sheri, this gives me a good opportunity to let people who aren’t already aware know that conference CDs are available for purchase for those who want to listen to the workshops.

  17. David Rawlings November 16, 2017 at 10:54 pm #

    I went to ACFW in Nashville in 2016 Tamela, and came up from Australia. That meant I had to ensure I made the most of my time and didn’t waste an opportunity. Some things I did:

    * Make two lists – things you NEED to do and things you’d LIKE to do. I knew before I landed at the Omni Hotel who I NEEDED to talk to and why I needed to talk to them. Whether that was an agent, publisher, editor or author I admired, I had a list of those on hand who I couldn’t afford to not chat to. Then, if they were the only people I got to talk to, they were the ones who were important for the next step in my writing.
    * Do your homework. When I spoke to a publisher or agent, I knew their list and what they were looking for. I also knew what they looked like so if I bumped into them I could seize the moment.
    * Make notes at the end of the conversation, not the day. Every time I saw an agent or editor, I spent a few minutes jotting down the key points or action items for later. It saved sitting down, exhausted, at the end of the day and trying to remember everything. There’s a lot to remember.
    * Open the conversation for later. Sometimes you’ve only got a few minutes (or less) with someone, so grab a card, FB profile, Twitter handle – anything!
    * Follow up after the conference. I spent a month after Nashville following up the right people, sending subs if requested, connecting in social media and continuing the conversation. The conference is just the opening stanza …

    And the hardest part …

    * Finding an off switch occasionally so you can enjoy simply chatting to fellow writers and sharing in their joys and challenges. Some of the best conversations I had were with other authors and I now have them as my critique partners from the other side of the world.

    As a fiction writer, for me ACFW is the Conference to get to.

  18. Linda Riggs Mayfield November 17, 2017 at 11:38 am #

    The Write-to-Publish Conference at Wheaton, IL, is the only one I’ve attended, and it was great. I think the most important things to do before a conference are (1) professionally prepare ahead of time, and (2) pray specifically for wisdom and direction–and patience. I got the conference program as soon as it was posted, and planned which sessions to attend. I Googled every agent and editor who would be offering appointments, to see exactly what they were seeking, and to assess whether we might be a good fit or not, so I wouldn’t waste my time or theirs making pitches to the wrong people. I followed the online advice to prepare 1-minute, 3- minute, and 15-minute pitches for both my books, so I would be comfortable and prepared for any opportunity. I took advantage of the opportunity to submit a manuscript for review before the conference and get feedback on it there. As soon as I arrived at the venue, I signed up for meetings with the people I had already selected as good fits while they still had openings, and highlighted the locations of the session I planned to attend. The first day, I had the opportunity to use a short pitch walking to lunch with an agent who was on my list for later in the week–and SHE asked for it–it hadn’t even occurred to me that walking to lunch would be an appropriate time. 🙂

    I made and kept 7 appointments to pitch one fiction and one non-fiction book, and came home with 7 invitations to submit proposals. Heady stuff! Here’s where the prayer prep comes in: That was 2 years ago, and I still don’t have an agent or a publisher. I opted not to submit to one agent because his agency’s web site contained so many errors I would have been embarrassed to send people to it, and thought if they didn’t attend to their own details and image any better than that, they probably wouldn’t attend to mine, either. Another editor was going to require such drastic changes to the format of the Bible study I proposed that I opted not to commit to that time investment just on spec. One agent passed on my book, but gave me a referral to another agent whom he thought would be a better fit. She never responded.

    But now I do have contacts I treasure, an invitation to submit a proposal for a different book because one editor liked my writing but not the controversial topic, a statement from an agent that she loved my book but won’t represent me until I build a substantial platform–AND my ongoing online relationship with the agents at the Steve Laube Agency, one of whom I met at WTP at Wheaton. Win-win!

  19. Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    What a fabulous action plan, Linda! Thanks for sharing.

  20. Sami A. Abrams November 22, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

    The ACFW conference in Dallas was my first large conference. I am grateful my friends made the recommendations you stated. Being new to the business is extremely overwhelming, and the reminder to be yourself is very important. I had a fantastic experience because of this.
    I was shocked to find out how many people do not follow up. However, once you send the requested material, is there a suggested wait time before following up if you haven’t heard from an agent or editor?

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