My name tag for the James River Writers Conference- those colorful little dots represented the various genres- YA, romance, children’s, mystery, etc. You just put the dot stickers on to show people what you write.
If you have never been to a writing conference, you must go. The energy there was amazing- it was thrilling to be around people who were just as passionate about writing as I am and to see so many who have turned that passion into a successful writing career. There was something inspiring about the connections being made and the overall buzzy feeling that Big Things were happening all over the conference for the two days everyone was there.
Looking back, I can see many things I did right, and many other things I probably could have done better to prepare for the conference. In case anybody else is thinking of attending their first conference, here is my list in hopes that you may learn something from it.
Things I Did Right (yay me!):
1. I made some contacts ahead of time so I had someone to talk to. I took my mom with me for moral support- well, that and she’s just written a book and so this writing conference stuff was right up her alley- but a conference is all about networking. One of the best ways to meet new people is through people you already know. And my mom and I had different interests as far as the panel discussions went, so it wasn’t as scary heading into a session on my own because I knew chances were good that there would be somebody there I knew.
This pic turned out a bit blurry (and I blurred out some of my info on purpose), but I just wanted to show the cool shiny foil effect on my cards. I like shiny things.
2. I had business cards. I wasn’t sure about this one, but BOY am I glad I did. Because EVERYBODY had a card. I went through Vistaprint (got a Groupon- woot!) and got a stack of these babies. I chose a pattern and colors that were polished and professional and also uniquely me. I pretty much gave one to everyone I met, and you’ll read later how that caused me a bit of a problem...
3. I put a lot of thought into my look. This may seem weird, but at a writing conference the only thing you really have time to share with people is a first impression. I wanted to make a good one, so first I decided I wanted to be memorable. Not like, blue hair and sparkly eyelash extensions memorable, but someone who stood out a bit from the crowd while still looking both approachable and professional. I had a strong suspicion that there would be a lot of people wearing black and dark colors there, and when we came down the escalator to the main floor of the conference, I saw that I was right- it was a sea of black. I wore tan skinny chinos with knee-high brown boots, a flowy flowery top and a cream cardigan over top (layers are very important). I felt like myself and I felt confident that my look was out of the norm.
My gorgeous business card case. Hooray for Etsy!
4. I paid attention to details. Along the same lines as #3, this one may seem kind of silly, but I bought a new laptop bag that would match my style and I also got a really pretty holder for my business cards. Again, seems shallow, but those unique touches were the catalyst for some great connections. One of the panelists actually complimented my bag and I thanked her and told her I’d bought it on Etsy. We talked about how much we love Etsy, and then I asked her what she would be talking on. It was a great way to break the ice.
5. I talked to lots and lots of people. Just before the conference started, I visited the various tables and chatted with people manning them. Because it was their job to talk to people, I found it to be a good way to ease into the “chatmosphere." Then at lunch my mom and I sat at a table with a playwright, a YA writer, a children’s writer, a novelist, and a guy who was a filmmaker but wants to move into writing books. All fascinating people with varied backgrounds and interesting goals. In each panel discussion I tried to introduce myself to the people I sat next to, and I was rewarded with some very interesting conversations.
6. I had a pitch prepared. It’s the question you will get asked: “So, what are you working on?” You’d better be prepared with an answer! I spent some time before the conference condensing my novel down to a brief synopsis that I could deliver in about a minute and a half. I rehearsed it, I tried it out on my family (my kids got so sick of me saying it) so that by the time the conference rolled around, I could rattle off the gist of my book to anyone who asked- and they did!
7. I didn’t pitch my book to an agent. This was a tough one for me, because they were all right there. All you had to do was sign up and an agent or publisher was ALL YOURS for eight minutes! That’s right- you get to skip swimming in the slush pile and move straight up to a one-on-one! So why didn’t I do it? It was so tempting, but my book is not yet finished, and I just knew that if (hope beyond hope) an agent asked for the first chapter or (as angels sing) a full manuscript, I would be frantically trying to come up with something good enough to send them. I don’t need that kind of pressure right now. I need to finish my book! There will always be next year. (By the way, my amazing mother did do a pitch session and the publisher she met with asked her for a first chapter! Woohoo!)
Okay, so that’s the rundown of my pats on the back. Here are the things I need to fix for next year:
1. Finish my darn book. One of the main, super exciting reasons you go to a writing conference is the chance to meet people who can make your publishing dreams come true. But they can’t do that until you write your book. A writing conference is a great deadline to shoot for! So next year, the book will be done and as good as I can get it so that I’ll be ready if I chance to get that big break.
2. Bring more business cards. Remember how I said I was handing out those fabulous business cards left and right? Well, those cards were so fab that they were printed on some very thick card stock. And that cute little card case was just that- little. I hadn’t realized how few cards it really held. Fortunately, I didn’t run out, but by the end I started to get a little nervous- should I refuse to give a card to a fellow writer in case I needed it for someone more important? Nobody should have to make those kinds of decisions, people! Bring plenty of cards!!
3. Arrive earlier to panel discussions for better seats. A few of the sessions I attended were pretty packed, and others not as much. I was doing a lot of chatting in the hall in between, and so sometimes I had a decent seat if the session wasn’t too full, but a few times I was clamoring for a chair in the back. I much preferred the familiarity of interaction that came with sitting up front- being able to see the panelists up close felt much more informal and enjoyable.
4. Do more research about participating authors ahead of time- especially those whose work is similar to mine. Because there were SO many presenters, I just felt like I didn’t have the time to research every single one of them, but I really wish I had paid closer attention to the YA authors and their books and maybe bought some of the books ahead of time so I could get them signed. Not necessarily because I want the prestige of owning an autographed copy, but for the opportunity it would bring to meet the author and make a connection.
So there’s my rundown. Again, it was an amazing experience, and I cannot wait for next year. I was impressed by the camaraderie shared among writers. There was no jealousy or negativity as far as I could see- everyone was super supportive of everyone else, and I saw lots of big hugs in the hallway outside of the pitch room- both celebrating successes and comforting failures. I even hugged a writer I’d just met at lunch- she had told me about her book (which I thought sounded awesome) and said she was doing her pitch that afternoon. I saw her later and asked how it went, and she said that the agent requested the full manuscript. SCORE! I was so excited for her that I hugged her. She was so excited she didn’t care! LOL!
So, to help get me to my goal and in the awesome supportive and motivational spirit of writing conferences and the upcoming NaNoWriMo, I invite you ALL to join me tonight for a writing sprint! Don’t worry if you’re doing NaNoWriMo- join us anyway and do a 1-hour brainstorm! Need to do revisions? That works too! Meet me at MMW tonight just before 10pm EST (9pm CST, 8pm MST, 7pm PST)- I will put up a NEW post just for our sprint- just click on the post, leave a comment to let me know you’re sprinting with us, and then GO! Come back and check in every 15 minutes- 10:15, 10:30, 10:45, 11- to let us know how you’re doing! Word count or other progress- everything is to be celebrated! Let’s just DO it! :-)
Have you ever attended a writing conference? Was there anything you felt like you did well? Anything you could have done better?