In my last post, I listed some advice that I picked up from the experts while attending The Northern Ohio SCBWI conference back on September 10th and 11th. Today I am posting my personal recommendations of things to keep in mind when attending a writers’ conference.
1. Go ahead and ask questions.
A conference not only provides an opportunity for in-depth information on specific topics during break-out sessions, it is a great chance to get answers directly from the experts, rather than one’s peers.
As an editor remarked at the conference, they expect to talk with people and answer questions, that’s part of the reason they’re there. But be courteous — they don’t want to be cornered in the bathroom. 😉
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
Dinner was the first thing on the agenda Friday night, and when I walked into the dining room, my lack of conference experience flared. A lot of the tables were already filled, and I had no idea where to sit.
The conference organizers happened to be crowded around the entrance, and I said to one of them, “I have never been to a conference before. Is there a seating chart, or do we just find a spot?”
The woman looked at the lady next to her and asked, “Where should I put her?” I ended up seated at a table with the agent and one of the editors, fifteen feet from the podium.
3. Determine your conference goals ahead of time.
“Why are you here?” was the question posed in the Welcome Speech at the start of dinner.
“Why am I here?” I asked myself. I was excited to finally be at a writers’ conference, but what were my intentions? I had said to friends that I just wanted to look friendly and not spill my food, but deep down, I knew that my subconscious goal was to snag an agent.
As there was only one agent at the event, my chances were rather slim, but my subconscious didn’t care, and the agent happened to be eating dinner two people away from me. Unfortunately for me, he spent the evening in conversation with the man to his left, and I didn’t even have the nerve to make eye contact.
By the next morning, I had revised my goal to just say hi to him, which I managed to do.
Moral of the Story: Figure out before attending what your goals are, but be realistic and don’t forget to enjoy the moment.
4. Get the critique.
Frequently, conferences will afford the opportunity to have an editor or agent critique a portion of your manuscript, discuss the project with you and answer questions specific to your work. Even if you don’t agree with the advice, it gives you the chance to see your manuscript through the eyes of a professional, which is never a bad thing.
5. Tweet your conference plans (#conferencename) before you go.
I didn’t do this, but someone I follow did (@lkblackburne), and she happened to be going to the same conference! As a result of her tweet, I was able to meet her there and actually have a conversation – something of a rarity in the virtual world of social media. I also met someone else who follows her, and now we’re following each other, as well (@dotificus). It’s a small writing world, after all.
6. Bring along a sizeable carryall.
I happened upon a wonderful shoulder bag to carry at the conference, more than large enough to tote anything I might have needed. Some of it I was smart enough to bring along, such as several pens, a pad of paper for taking notes, and some simple business cards that included the title of my manuscript and the hook. Post-it notes came in handy, as did several copies of my first few pages along with the cover sheet to my manuscript.
I could have also used a mini stapler and some TicTacs, but next time I’ll know better.
7. Don’t be intimidated by the food.
Lunch at the conference involved the tallest sandwich I have ever seen, and the roll that encased it was firm enough that it didn’t flatten down when squeezed. I glanced around the table and saw that none of my nine companions had braved it. Every one of them had taken the top off and was politely sawing at the contents with a knife and fork. I tried that, but there was crispy bacon involved, so it wasn’t easy.
The pasta side salad and a small bowl of fresh fruit allowed me to contemplate the matter, and I ended up putting the lid back on and eating my lunch like the Earl of Sandwich intended. Delicious. And no one said a word. I think that they were all secretly jealous.
8. Don’t forget to have some fun.
Don’t miss the opportunity to make new connections outside the confines of the scheduled events. After the official program has ended Friday night, grab some of your new writing buddies and head on over to the hotel lounge. Bonus: If you stick to soft drinks, they are frequently on the house.