Wednesday, October 22, 2014

5 Tips to Getting the Most Out of a Writers' Conference

Hello, friends! Kate here.

I wanted to write a follow-up post in my entry on the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I can honestly say going to that conference was one of the most important and positive things I did as a writer. However, at the same time, it can be a tremendously overwhelming experience. Whether you’re a first-time conference attendee or just looking to get a little more out of your next conference, here are five tips to help you rock any writers’ conference!

1. Prepare, plan…and play it by ear. Take it from a couple o’ gals who tried to wing their first conference—getting your stuff together in advance will save you a whole lot of stress. Take a good look at the workshops and presenters; highlight the ones that are most important to you. Research the agents and editors attending. Know which ones represent your genre, and make note of their names and a few of their clients. And perhaps most importantly, have your work in order. Leah and I spent the night before the conference madly editing our first draft, crafting an elevator pitch, and printing out pages in the hotel lobby. Make these things part of your packing list so you’re ready to go before the conference even begins. That being said, don’t be afraid to switch up your plan. You may really connect with a certain presenter and want to switch to their workshop, or catch an opportunity to pitch your book or talk with someone important.

2. Put your party pants on and get ready to mingle. Hey, us writers are happy hermits but once a year, we gotta crawl out of our dark holes, look wistfully back at our blinking computer screens and say, “Well, manuscript, I’m going out.” I am definitely not comfortable meeting strangers or starting conversations, but getting out of your comfort zone and making new connections is so important. Connecting with other authors is a great way to build a community of people who understand you and will support you through your ups and downs. Also, you never know who you’ll end up meeting. On our last dinner at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in 2013, an agent sat beside Leah and I. After talking with him all evening, he asked what our book was about, and ended up requesting a full! Even though he didn’t end up offering representation, he sent us a detailed letter with critiques that really helped us improve the book. Without making that personal connection, we would have never received such important feedback!

3. Pitch pitch pitch pitch pitch. Alright, this point depends on where you are in the writing process, but if you are at a conference with a fully-edited novel and you are ready to query…for goodness sakes, pitch the crap out of that book! Pitching face-to-face is a great way to judge an agent’s initial reaction to your premise as well as to catch their attention. If you have the opportunity to buddy-up with someone, have them take notes for you at the workshop so you can make the most of meeting agents and wooing them with your fantastic book! At SiWC, Leah attended the workshops so I was able to pitch as much as I could. We ended up with ten requests by the end! That’s way better than what we would have done if we just sent out good ol’ regular email queries.

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy it. It’s so easy to get over-stimulated by everything going on: pitches and workshops and fancy dinners and people to meet. Yes, you’re at a conference to promote your work, but don’t forget that this is supposed to be fun! You’re here because you love writing and it brings you joy—don’t lose that pleasure by stressing out about everything. Give yourself time to go up to the hotel room and take a nap or just rest you mind. Have a conversation with your lunch-mates about something totally un-writing related. Look around and enjoy the fact that for this one weekend, you’re not in reality. Any SiWC alumni will know the feeling when the emcee Carol puts on her dinglehoppers and all of these strangers are suddenly your friends, sharing an inside joke. Enjoy that moment.

5. Bring the magic home. When you leave a writers’ conference for the first time, I guarantee something inside you will change. You’ll suddenly be full of inspiration, hope, revelation. Don’t let that magic die out once you get back to reality. Remember why you were there and the feeling of being surrounded by your people. Remember that you are a writer.

To all those attending SiWC this year, best of luck and have a great time at the greatest writers’ conference on Earth! To anyone else attending conferences in the future, hopefully these tips help you to get the most of what I’m sure will be an amazing experience.

Let us know in the comments your tips and tricks at any writers’ conference!

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