Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting Ready for Your First Writing Conference

Welcome to another installment of GPF. Today we welcome Ru from And Then She Was Like Blah Blah Blah. Her blog deals with a variety of aspects to her life, so if you want a unique view of a writer's goings-on, head over there and say hi.

So this is what it's like getting ready for your first-ever writing conference:

1. First, you're going to wonder why you decided to [buy a house, get a dog, change jobs, agree to coach kids' soccer, plant a garden, join a new gym, etc.] in the months beforehand, because jeez-louise, didn't you intend to have a lot more writing done before the big day? But alas, you made your life choices, and now you are stuck with them.

(I once got the advice that if you want to start a brand new project, no matter what it is, give yourself 90 uninterrupted days to do it. Don't plan vacations in that time, don't make sweeping life-changing decisions. Just focus on your new project for 90 days.

Now I have given you that advice, and you will ruefully remember it when are staring down the barrel of, "Oh gosh, that conference is in two weeks, isn't it?" just like I am now. Circle of life, friends.)

2. Second, you're going to remember that pretty much everyone who is a "writer" instead of an "author" is in the same boat you are, unless they're independently wealthy (damn them). So really, it's going to be ok. We all have houses that need buying and soccer that needs coachin!

3. Third, you're going to have a flashback to the first day of high school (or worse, junior high) and wonder, "Who will I eat lunch with?" "Why didn't I consult anyone else I knew before signing up for this conference?" and "What will I wear?"

I have no advice on this score, other than having attended a lot of conferences in hotels, I've found that they tend to run cold. Pack a sweater. One that looks nice with slacks, because you're not a hobo.

4. Fourth, you're going to re-research the staff of the conference. Now, I know you did this when you signed up, but everyone needs a refresher. Remember which authors, which agents, which editors, etc. are going to be at this conference. Telling yourself, "I am the intellectual equal of everyone here" goes a long way, but knowing something about the people you might be talking to helps you from awkwardly blurting out, "Do you know where the toilets are?" when pressed for information.

5. Fifth, you're going to review your own pitch, query, and synopsis of anything you have written or are writing. I like to think of every conversation as an opportunity to give a really awful job interview. AVOID THAT OPPORTUNITY.

It's a writing conference, folks--people just like yourself are going to be asking you, "So what do you write?" Have an answer. Don't stumble around like I did (and sometimes do), finally muttering something about, "My mom really likes it." And then you're back to Step 3, awkwardly eating your boxed lunch alone as you pretend to read old text messages.

C'mon, the words, "Contemporary young adult" aren't really that hard to blurt out, are they? Let's all practice with something easy to build our confidence. "Humorous commercial women's fiction." "Dystopian thriller." "Memoir." "Epic fantasy." "Oh gosh, I thought this conference was on weather patterns, bye!" (Always give yourself an out.)

6. Sixth, you're going to think to yourself, "Gosh, should I be bringing business cards?" And then you're going to say, "Of course not, why would I do something so pompous?" And then you're going to say, "Is it pompousness, or is it professionalism?" And then you're going to google the answer and then decide how much weight to give to that answer, because it is just the internet, after all, and really, do you have time to go to Office Max? No, you don't.

7. Seventh, you're going to just embrace the fact that when it comes to things like this, you're kind of just not going to know what you're doing. So pack a swimming suit along with that sweater and remember -- most conferences end by 9pm, but hotel hot tubs are forever.

Thanks so much for these useful tips, Ru.

Anyone else have some interesting conference tips?


  1. Yes! All great tips. Mine? Protein bars. Hunger can strike at the most inopportune times. And who wants to pitch with a nauseous, growling stomach?

  2. LOL! I can so identify with "Who will I eat lunch with?" I'm such an introvert it's hard to sit down at a table full of strangers. But it's wonderful to discover everyone is so friendly.

  3. I have never been to a conference, but like the tips nonetheless.

  4. That's funny. lol. I love going to writing conferences. The best bits are the tea breaks when you can chat with other people who are in the same situation as you are.

  5. I have never been to a conference, Ru, but I can identify with your fears and feelings.

    Nice meeting you, Ru. Thanks, Misha.

  6. Great post! Thanks Ru. For the writing conference uninitiated amongst us, this is invaluable.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  7. Business cards turned out to be a lifesaver for the last conference I went to. We were swapping them with each other like crazy. I found three really cool online buds that way. Also, they function well as bookmarks later on.

    The sweater tip is very true. For some reason, it is believed that freezing the attendees is a good thing.

    Don't be afraid to speak up. I did this and ended up getting a lot more compliments on my voice than what I was talking about. But I got the attention of an agent and we chatted. Nothing came of it, but it felt really good getting to sit and kick some rocks around for a bit.

    Most importantly, amid the professionalism - good God please be professional - remember to have fun. Otherwise, your nerves will will be fried before the last panel lets out.

  8. LOL. I have yet to go to a writing conference--so I'll have to keep these tips in mind. :)

  9. Hee hee hee. When my income doubles I'm so going to be there--the crazy one in the party hat telling everyone to mix it up and stop staring at their toes. That or I'll be carrying a box of cubed cheese and pitifully bribing people to "Please love me."

    Great post Ru!

  10. Funny thing is I was like - don't really want to go to a writing conference. After reading this post... oddly enough I am starting to change my mind :)

  11. Great tips! My first conference was so anxiety-inducing.

  12. I think Ru's blog name is the best ever. Every time I visit her blog and see the name, it makes me smile. :)

    Great tips (and funny!) on writers conferences ~ thanks!


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