With the rapid approach of the RWA National Convention (and RWA-WF mini-con), among other great conferences this summer and fall, I thought it might be helpful to post an article offering advice to those attending their first-ever writing major conference. Having now attended a few large and smaller conferences, I feel more or less qualified to offer some advice.
Things to Bring:
1. Business cards and/or swag to exchange with other writers you will meet. This is a chance to begin ‘branding’ your work, so use Vistaprint or some other site to create professional cards. A conference is a great way to build a network of writer friends, and business cards are the easiest way to keep track of whom you meet (and for them to keep track of you).
2. A catchy one-sentence pitch describing your current novel (in case you have an opportunity to discuss it with an agent or editor). Now, this doesn’t mean you should stalk agents and editors, or pounce on them in the bathroom. But you should be prepared if you are asked about your work. Also, in my experience, you don’t need to bring sample chapters or your manuscript, but you may want to bring a one-page synopsis.
3. Casual but professional clothes (layer, because while some locations are warm, conference centers can often be chilly). You will be walking and standing a lot, so I also advocate comfortable shoes over pretty ones. If you are going to the RITA awards dinner, pack something you might wear to a fancy restaurant (you do not need formal cocktail attire, although some will be more dressed than others).
4. Some people like to lug their laptops around to workshops, but I prefer a notebook (lightweight). I can use my phone or iPad to access social media and email during short breaks, and transfer notes to my computer later if I feel it necessary.
5. A book bag! There will be lots of free books given away at workshops and conference luncheons, not to mention the ones available for sale. A canvas book bag makes it easy to tote them, along with your wallet and notebook, around all day without having to run back to your room.
Set Reasonable Expectations and Goals.
Decide what you main goals are (honing craft, learning industry trends, meeting agents and editors) and then use the conference agenda to your advantage. Plan out, in advance, which workshop sessions you want to attend. I look for those hosted by the agents or authors I most respect, even if the topics aren’t always immediately relatable to my work. I figure most craft tips apply to all writing, so I want to learn from the best. And good agents’ advice generally applies to all genres as well.
Chances are slim that you will walk away with a major contract, but you can walk away with invaluable contacts and friendships to help you along the journey to publication and beyond. Be polite. Listen as much or more than you talk about yourself. Ask for tips and advice from those with more experience. Soak in all the writing love and have fun.
Are you a member of local and/or online communities? Reach out to your chapter mates and see who else will be attending the conference. Try to make plans for lunch or dinner so you don’t feel awkward or lonely during the breaks. But if you are alone, there are others like you who are eager to make new friends and talk about writing. Look around and reach out.
Smart Use of Social Media
You can use Twitter and Facebook not only to post interesting things you are doing and learning on your pages, but also to follow/find people, events and other interesting things happening at the conference.
I think this about sums up my advice. I wish you a wonderful conference season and hope these little tips help make it a little less scary your first time around!
Romance with Heart
In The Cards, Montlake Romance, Coming December 9, 2014