Wednesday, May 4, 2016

10 Things You Can Do Now to Make the Most of a Writing Conference Experience

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In a few weeks, I’ll attend my eleventh writing conference—the sixth one I’ve attended at the Blue Ridge Mountain ChristianWriter’s Conference. If it wasn’t for this conference, I wouldn’t have the writing career that I have today. My book wouldn’t be published. I wouldn’t have the networks I have, the friendships I’ve made with other writers, the knowledge about the writing craft, or even the motivation to pursue this career for a living.

However, I’ve discovered that simply paying for a conference and showing up isn’t enough. If one wants to make the most of their time at a conference, they must do a bit of homework and go into it with the right mindset, goals, and intentions.  

Yes, the quality of your conference experience begins at home. Right now.

Below are 10 things you can do now to make the most of your conference experience:

  1. Write down your intentions for this conference. Why are you attending? What are the projects you hope to pitch? What do you hope to gain from this experience? How will this further your writing journey?
  2. Purchase professional business cards. Make sure that it displays your picture, website, genre you write, and contact info. When I go through business cards after a conference, the ones that display the person’s headshot stands out more than ones that simply include a name and info. If you have a book, I suggest investing in professional bookmarks to pass out at the conference as well.
  3. Print the conference schedule. Study the classes and highlight the ones you’d like to attend.
  4. Research the faculty. Which authors, editors, and agents would you like to make appointments with, and what do you hope to discuss with them? Make sure you understand what agents/editors are searching for. If you write children’s books, for instance, don’t plan to pitch to an agent who is only seeking historical fiction.
  5. Prepare projects you’re pitching. Have you created a one-sheet for your fiction manuscript? Have you printed a few copies of the first three chapters? Do you have a folder or binder that you can keep these in? Have you prepared to give an elevator pitch?
  6. Gather materials. Will you take notes with your laptop, notebook, or tablet? What bag will you carry, and where will you store business cards? Make sure your bag is big enough to carry water bottle(s), snacks, note-taking supplies, books you may purchase, and possibly a sweater for the conference rooms. You might also want a folder to store miscellaneous handouts, bookmarks, your schedule, etc.
  7. Prepare your wardrobe. Although you’ll sit during classes, there’s usually a lot of walking involved at conferences. Make sure you bring several pairs of comfortable shoes. You’ll also want to research the conference attire so you can prepare your outfits ahead of time. Some conferences, such as Blue Ridge, proclaim their attire is more laid-back. Jeans are acceptable. However, I would probably stay clear of jeans at other conferences, such as ACFW.
  8. Get plenty of rest beforehand. You’re going to be busy 24/7 at a writing conference. There have been plenty times I’ve stayed up past midnight, talking with people in the lobby. You’ll want to make sure you have a lot of energy stored up, and that your mind is in top shape.
  9. Bring a journal. I haven’t done this, although I probably will at this year’s conference. Often, the days become a blur when you’re meeting several people, attending workshops, pitching, etc. Every year is different, and every conference seems to further my writing journey in significant ways. If I would’ve kept a journal at previous conferences, it’d be nice to look back and remember which days made the most impact.
  10. Most importantly, spend time with God. Ask Him to guide your steps at the conference, lead you in the right conversations, choose the right classes, and give you the vision He wants you to have for your writing journey. Even if you have days at the conference that seem insignificant, trust that He’s still in control. You don’t necessarily need to come home with a publishing offer in order to feel like you’ve “made it”. You never know how God can use the friendships you make, the classes you take—and yes, even the rejections you may receive—to help further your writing journey.

Remember: The quality of your conference experience could be determined by the homework you put into it beforehand, so don’t wait until the last minute to prepare.


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Have you attended a writer’s conference? If so, what other tips could you add to this list? If not, do you think attending one could help further your writing career?

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  1. What would your opinion be of attending a writers conference just to learn and meet people but not pitching? (If that makes sense...)
    I haven't attended a writers conference yet but I hope too one day! :-) Of all the conferences you've attended which did you like best?

    1. Hi, Naomi!

      I think it's completely fine to go to a conference without the intention of pitching. There are people, however, who would advise to wait until you have a manuscript to pitch. If I did that, then I wouldn't have met my publisher for Purple Moon. Just saying! ;) (The first draft of the book was complete, but it was in rough draft form. I had to revise and edit it before I sent the manuscript to my publisher, as he requested at the conference.)

      There is so much a writer can gain from a conference. Yes, it can get pricey--so sometimes it is wise to save your money until you will gain more from the experience by pitching to agents/editors.

      But I recommend attending one as often as you can. I've benefitted greatly from each one I've been to--even the ones when I didn't have anything to pitch (which have been most of them!). It's similar to a college experience: You're surrounded by like-minded individuals, studying the same field, and learning from professionals 24/7. It's a dream. <3

      My favorite conference is the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference, which is the one I'm attending in a couple weeks. It's also where I met my publisher when I was 16. I love the laid back atmosphere, the location of the blue ridge mountains. Everything about it is perfect. It's actually the only "big" Christian conference I've attended, so I'm sure others are great as well.

      I hope you'll be able to go to one some day! Let me know if/when you do. =)



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