Writers Conference Prep

7:03 AM

The conference is looming and your stomach is in knots. This was not a good idea. I'm not ready. Of course not. No one is. Give yourself a head start by prepping as much as you can pre-conference.

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SFWC's Agent Speed Dating

Arrive Early

Not always possible, but I found this to be incredibly helpful at SFWC. Due to lack of smarts, I booked myself flying out 1 day early. However, I was able to settle into my room, hike sight-see around Nob Hill, and attend the very first networking dinner. Oh the dinner! I was able to introduce myself to the directors of the conference without a lot of competition, and they were excited to introduce me around. In fact, throughout the conference, Michael Larsen introduced me to many other YA Fantasy writers and people living in NYC. I started the conference with friends right off the bat.

Prep Your Schedule

Sure there may be a updated one at registrant but it's best to prepare. Know what classes are your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd priority. Then when you get the actual schedule at registration, you can spend less time checking which seasons to visit and more time chatting up the other attendees. Additionally, you might find your 1st choice is actually for non-fiction and you only write fiction. Don't waste your time. Go sit in your 2nd choice.

Locate Caffeine

Like fire exits, it's good to know. You don't want to find yourself stuck at the top of Nob Hill with only minibar diet coke. It doesn't matter how thrilling the topic. If you're used to drinking 3 cups of coffee a day, you will need it.

Get Your Shit Together

Or at least look like you do. I am the first to wear the same sweatpants, no makeup, and hair in a messy bun everyday I can. However, looking the part influences others. People want to talk to those who look like they know what they're doing. Look classy and put together.

Notebook & Pen 

Yes, you can bring your laptop or tablet, but please don't set up your whole desk in front of us. Most conferences don't have tables for the audience just chairs. The chair next to your is not reserved for your water and bag. It's prime butt space.

Keep It Light

Most conferences give you a tote and freebies. Try to limit what you carry around.

Networking & Events

As agent Pam van Hylckama said during the YA Pitchathon at SFWC, "You can't be an introvert right now. Put it away and meet people. You can introvert again after [the conference is over]."

  • Make sure you reach out and talk to other people there. Chances are they are just as uncomfortable and awkward as you.  
  • Events:  The conference sets up networking events for a reason. Get your ass over there and mingle. This might be your chance to corner Agent of the Year or meet your next critique partner. 
  • Just talk to people. For tips on how, see The Socially Awkward Guide to Networking.

What to Wear

Check the conference page on tips for packing. They will often suggest a dress code and comments about preparing for the weather. A conference in Spain is going to require different outdoor clothes than one in Wisconsin. Beyond that, only pack clothing that is both comfy and professional. You don't need to whip out a tie or blazer unless that is comfortable for you. Unless you wear heels everyday, wear flats. You can run more easily between sessions, up to your room, or away from creepers in flat shoes.

Take a Break

Especially for introverts, being ON all the time is rough. Take time to refuel. Pick out an hour here or an evening there where you can relax. Use the time to ponder some of the amazing things you have learned. If you push yourself to go go go, you might lose focus near the end and struggle to network and listen.

Other Great Tips from around the Interweb:

Research Agents by Tara Sim

"Researching the agents beforehand will help decide who to talk and pitch your work to, and make you look more knowledgeable."

Come Armed with Questions by Gala Darling

"As soon as you book your ticket, start jotting down any questions you have, no matter how silly they may seem. For extra-organised Virgo points, put these questions in the notebook you’re planning on bringing to the event. Keep writing down any questions that occur to you in the time between securing your ticket and the workshop itself.

Inevitably, many of these questions will be answered during the class or seminar. But there will be a few that are more specific that you really want to know about, and will fly out of your head when you’re in a room full of people, being overstimulated. (Then, of course, three days later, you’ll be sitting in front of your computer, it will hit you, and you’ll think, ‘DAMN! I wish I’d asked that!’)

So write down everything you can think of… And don’t be too afraid to raise your hand in class!"

Organize your own event (at the event) by Buffer

“Bring folks together for coffee, lunch, a late happy hour, or a morning networking event,” says Keath. “If you are a runner, get some attendees together to go for a run in the morning – it is a constructive and memorable way to bring together groups of people at an event for intros, networking, and quality discussion. (Make sure to know the event schedule and to avoid conflicting with events or vendor rules if you are a business.)”

And of course.... Smile! by Gala Darling

"It’s a simple tip, for sure, but it makes such a difference! Sometimes when we think we have a neutral face, we’re actually doing a chronic bitchface. Eep! (I am so guilty of this!) Standing around looking dour makes it less appealing for other people to approach you, and that will impact your day.

As much as you can remember to do it, smile! Grin and laugh and beam at other people. Nine times out of ten, they’ll smile right back!"

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