Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ten Ways to Get the Most from a Writers’ Conference

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 At Colorado Gold, some of the well-attended sessions are presented by unpublished writers or others with knowledge of marketing, firearms, critique groups, writing press releases, police procedures, digital publishing options, and more.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?


Anonymous said...

Pat - Tremendous advice for making the most of conference opportunities. I would also add that if the conference provides social activities (I don't just mean the hospitality room), sign up for at least one. A lot of networking doesn't happen formally and connections can be personally fulfilling and professionally valuable.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Patricia,
Great tips for conference attendees. Tips #6 and #7 are especially important.

This is related to #10:

Conferences make great content. After I get home I go over my notes then post about my experience on my blog. Then three months or so later I drag out my notes to refresh what I've learned--and sometimes blog about that.

Donna V.

Joanne Kennedy said...

Great advice! If it's your first conference, you may feel shy at first, but remember that everyone loves to talk about their work. Just ask the magic question: "What do you write?" and you'll have conversations off and running.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I ever go to a writer's conference, I'll be ready!

Elspeth Futcher said...

Thanks, Pat! I'm attending my first conference in October.

Angela Parson Myers said...

Going to be in the area at that time, but the conference coincides with the big anime convention in Denver, and I promised my grandkids I'd go with them to that. Bummer.

J.A. Kazimer said...

ALWAYS talk to strangers. Sit down with someone you've never met and say, "So what do you write?"

And then listen to them. You never know what seemingly innocent comment or bit of advice will turn you into a bestseller or international spy. Either way, the price of five words will be worth it.

Giles Hash said...

I'm INCREDIBLY excited for my first conference! I didn't even know there was a hospitality room. I'll have to check that out!

Looking forward to meeting so many other writers.

Patricia Stoltey said...

More great advice. Thanks everyone. I love writers conferences (and the mystery conventions too) and wish I could attend lots more than I do.

Anonymous said...

Great post - absolutely talk to strangers. I treat everyone at writer's conferences as if they are my long lost family, because in a way, it's true.
Hold doors open for people, sit next to someone new at every workshop, and at RMFW - don't be intimidated by the people with ALL the extra ribbons - they don't bite. Promise. And they have a genuine wealth of information. Buy one of them a drink and you'll be amazed at how friendly they really are, and how helpful.
Oh - and sit next to interesting people at meals. It's OK if you have one friend you want to sit with, but make sure you change it up a little at every meal and, again, reach out and talk to all those strangers.