Writing conferences are a great place to connect with fellow writers, expand your knowledge of writing and publishing through workshops and panels, and even network with publishers and literary agents. But for a conference newbie, they can also be a little intimidating. Thankfully, most writing conferences are designed to accommodate writers at every stage of their careers. Whether you're planning to write your first novel or already working with an agent or publisher, there is always something to gain from attending a writing conference. No matter the event or your level of experience, we've put together a compilation of everything you need to know to prepare for your first writing conference.
Research, research, research!
When deciding on which writing conference you'd like to attend, it's important that you look for one that best suits your writing goals. Most conferences offer a variety of workshops, panels, and networking events, allowing you to pick and choose what events are most interesting to you. But it’s also important to choose a conference that overall encompasses what you’re most interested in. Are you focused on publishing your book? Check out the Writing Workshop of Chicago. Are you looking to sell a screenplay? Try the ScreenCraft Writers Summit. If you have no interest in writing children’s books, then a conference like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators might not be the right fit for you.
Do a thorough background check on the attending agents and panelists.
Now that you've selected your conference (and likely put down a decent-sized payment for your ticket), it's time to take your research to the next level. In the weeks or sometimes months leading up to a conference, the event will typically release a list of the panelists, experts, and agents that will be attending. While you may be eager to try to network with them all, do some internet stalking in advance to figure out which ones would be most beneficial for you to meet, and plan your day accordingly.
Consider your ad-ons.
Many conferences offer ad-ons like networking dinners, cocktail hours, and sometimes even one-on-one pitch sessions. It's important to take a close look at your current standing as a writer when you decide how to spend your money. If you’re halfway through the first draft of your novel, it would likely be a better choice to opt for a networking dinner rather than a pitch session. Most agents won't accept half-finished manuscripts, so you're much better off saving your money and only pitching when your manuscript is not only finished, but polished. The last thing us writers need is to be rejected before we’ve done the hardest possible thing a writer can do-- finish a book!
You know those business cards you've been meaning to order? Now is the time to do so. Keep them simple and memorable. Make sure they include your name, website, and contact information, but not too much else. We advise against including any more information than this, as the cards will begin to look cluttered. Don't worry about putting the name of your book on your business card. If you have a book you plan on pitching to an agent, we recommend ordering book teaser postcards. Tinker with some basic photo editing software or hire a graphic designer for a reasonable price, and create a mock book cover for the front of the postcard. Include a blurb about your book on the back, along with your contact info, and be ready to hand them out to any interested agents and publishers. You may even want to consider bringing a few hard copies of the first five pages of your book (just in case).
Not to be blunt, but writing is a very competitive field. That being said, it’s important to remain supportive of one another, but also keep in mind that not all writers have our best interests at heart. While it's great to connect with other writers when you attend a conference, make sure to keep focused on your goals. If your goal is to publish that novel you've been slaving away at for years, don't get "stuck" listening to a fellow author tell you about how their book is going to be the next Twilight. Instead, find polite ways to excuse yourself from the conversation and remain focused on the contacts you set out to make.
The most important thing to remember when heading into your first conference is to have confidence in yourself and your work, and have fun. Whether you walk away with a book deal, or simply learn about the importance of outlining, you've still taken a huge step in your journey of becoming a better, more confident writer.