Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A User's Guide to Writing Conferences

Today we're taking a break from the ongoing saga of my pool installation to talk about writing. I'm trying to learn something about social media, and awesome fellow author and Social Media Princess Lisa Lewis Tyre is hosting a blog party where a bunch of authors can link their blogs to hers, thereby increasing readership and making us all rich and famous. Or something like that. I haven't done it before, and maybe I'm not crystal clear on the process. Hope you like it!

Writers are known for their propensity to sit alone, hunched over keyboards, guzzling coffee (i.e. scotch). That being the case, experts on these things (i.e. professors of abnormal psychology) say that the solitary nature of our craft makes it vital that we occasionally try to interact with other humans. But how can we do that? It's hard to find normal people who want to hang out with whiskey-breathed loners who are chained to their computers. That's why there are writing conferences. They're social, informative, and tax deductible. (i.e. If your accountant says they are; don't take my word for anything that can land you prison in the likely event that I'm clueless.)

If you're going to attend a writing conference, it's important to understand how to make the most of your time there. These events aren't cheap, and it would be a shame to waste the weekend locked in your room with your laptop and a bottle of Jameson's. You can do that at home for free. The tips below are the accumulated wisdom (i.e. random musings) of the many writing conferences I've attended over the years. Please note that while I think these are good ideas, your results may vary. Don't follow any of them if they might land you in prison. As mentioned above, I'm probably clueless.

1.      Do smile and say hello to everyone. Most will smile and say hello back. Practically everyone at the event is there to meet new people, so introducing yourself to strangers at a conference isn't as odd as doing it on a subway platform or at the dentist's office.

2.      Don't be scared off by the very small percentage of conference goers who act like jerks and ignore you when you say hello. My favorites are those who glance at my name tag, decide I'm nobody, then move away. It's not their fault; some people were simply raised by antisocial wolves. Just remember what they're missing by not being friends with someone as awesome as you.

3.      Do go to conferences alone if you can't find a fellow writer to go with you. If you follow Step #1 above, you'll meet plenty of people and won't feel like the unpopular fifth grader who sits by herself in the school cafeteria.

4.      Don't obsess about your wardrobe. Comfortable business casual (khakis, blouse, light sweater, low-heeled shoes) works just fine for most conferences. You're going to be sitting for long periods of time, then sprinting after fleeing agents and editors who you want to pitch your book to. (Hence the relaxed pants and footwear) Also, conference hotels have unpredictable environmental controls, so short sleeves under a long-sleeved outer layer are helpful.

5.      Do eat dessert. Lots of these events have dessert receptions of some sort, and they're terrific! They often take place in the evening when people are relaxed and enjoying themselves. It's a great time to get to know other attendees because a chocolate fountain makes people drop their guard.

6.      Don't spend the whole time on the phone. Tragically, your spouse and children have your phone number, but you can discourage them from calling every time the dog needs to go outside or the toilet paper roll is empty. If you're on the phone, you'll miss everything that you paid for at the conference. You can talk to your family for free when you get home.

7.      Do your homework so you'll recognize keynote speakers, agents, editors, etc. when you see them in the elevator, at the bar, etc. Have your "elevator pitch" prepared so you can share it with anyone who will listen.

8.      Don't drag around copies of your manuscript in hopes of forcing them on agents or editors. If you're invited to submit something, it's common practice to send it after the event.

9.      Do pack a couple of granola bars in your conference bag. You'll be embarrassed if your stomach rumbles just as your dream agent starts explaining what she's looking for in the perfect manuscript submission.

10.   Don't skip the sessions. You'll probably learn something. In fact, you'll probably learn a lot of somethings.

11.   Do have fun! Whether you write with the hope of becoming a rich, famous author, or you've just got a story to tell and you want to learn how to tell it better, this is a terrific chance to meet people who share your passion. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Let's try to link this to Lisa Lewis Tyre's blog and see if it works!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for the fabulous blog party! It was a blast!

  2. It did work, Kim, and I have to say, I agree with everything you said. Except maybe the granola bars. What I do is raid the dessert reception and cram as much as I can into my bag. :-) (P.S. It was so nice to meet you at wik! And I really enjoyed the book!)

    1. It was great meeting you at WIK, too! It was my first Southern Breeze SCBWI event, and it was great. Glad you liked the book.
      Now I need to figure out how to reply to other people's blogs. I tried on Wednesday during the blog party, but it told me to register at Wordpress or something. I'll get there... ;)