By Pat Stoltey
Since the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference is rapidly approaching (September 9-11 in Denver), it seems fitting to talk about how to get the most from your experience. Here are my ten suggestions:
1. Become a member of the organization sponsoring the conference. If that organization has a Yahoo! Group, join it as well. It’s the best way to make contacts before the event and find the volunteer jobs I mention in #3.
2. If you have an area of expertise useful to authors, send a workshop or panel proposal for the conference committee’s consideration. At Colorado Gold, some of the well-attended sessions are presented by unpublished writers or others with knowledge of marketing, firearms, critique groups, writing press releases, police procedures, digital publishing options, and more. It's too late for this year's Colorado Gold, but not too late if you're thinking about 2012 gatherings such as Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins in March 2012 or Colorado Gold in September 2012.
3. Volunteer to work before and/or during the conference. Volunteers assemble registration materials, work at the registration tables, moderate panels and presentations (which includes introduction, timekeeping, Q&A moderating, and room cleanup), gather donations for the hospitality room, and other duties.
4. If there’s a critique workshop included with the conference you choose, and if you have a manuscript ready for critique, sign up for one of these sessions even if it costs a little extra. This is especially worthwhile if the workshop sessions are moderated by agents and editors, as are the Friday afternoon sessions at Colorado Gold.
5. If pitch appointments are available, and you have a completed manuscript, sign up. If it’s your first time, don’t be afraid. There are plenty of online and print resources to help you master the art of pitching. Agent Rachelle Gardner has a series of posts on her blog that are definitely worth your time. Secrets of a Great Pitch specifically addresses pitching at conferences (and Rachelle will be attending Colorado Gold this year, so she might be exactly the person you want to listen to). Do not pitch your book to editors or agents at inappropriate times, but don't be afraid to chat with them during social events.
6. Study the program and the workshop descriptions before you go to the conference so you have a good idea which workshops and panels will be most useful to you. At Colorado Gold, sessions are ranked beginning craft, advanced craft, special interest, etc. to help attendees decide.
7. Arrive at the conference with a smile. Pay attention to people. If you see someone wandering or sitting alone, start a conversation. Listen. Exchange business cards. Make a point of talking to at least one new person at every session you attend.
8. Find out where your conference hospitality room is and make an appearance there each day, even if you don’t stay too long. While some rooms will be non-alcoholic and open all day, others will be small and noisy late evening events with a bar. Either way, editors and agents may be present. Be on your best behavior.
9. Some conferences provide a book of handouts with the registration materials, which is helpful for note taking. Be prepared to take additional notes during a workshop or panel. This year's Colorado Gold will have the booklet on a jump drive included in the registration packet. In August, the booklet will be available online for downloading.
10. When you get home, follow up on the contacts you made. Read your contacts’ blogs and leave a comment, or e-mail them. If an editor or agent invites you to submit a partial, follow through.
Veteran conference attendees, do you have any additional helpful hints for those writers going to their first conference?