13 Pieces of Advice for Your First Writers Conference

I’ve attended 7 conferences. I went to my first conference as a teenager and realized from that moment how crucial they are to improving my craft if I wanted to take writing seriously. These are the conferences I’ve attended:

Now it’s your turn. It’s your first conference…or maybe it’s just been a while. Or maybe you still feel new. Either way, you are going to learn a lot and network a lot and it will feel incredibly overwhelming, but hopefully in a good way. (For those of you who aren’t even sure if you want to attend a writers conference, check out my 8 pieces of advice for new writers.) Here are 13 of the best pointers I can give you to prep for your writing conference. (Tweet this!)

1. Come prepared to pitch your book

Come prepared to pitch your book even if you don’t want to or don’t plan to or don’t think it’s ready. (Tweet tip #1!) It’s good to have that prepared just in case a publisher says, “I’d love to hear about your book.” I got my contract for A Time to Die when it wasn’t even half-written. I told Jeff Gerke, “I’m not pitching my book. Just give me pointers.” and he had me pitch it anyway. It’s good practice, good to be prepared, and you never know who will show interest in you or your writing!

2. Make Business Cards

BUSINESS CARDS!!If you haven’t already, make business cards for yourself as a writer. (Tweet tip #2!) I use VistaPrint. It’s cheap and you can get a small box if you’re not thinking you’ll use them forever. Just include the simple things: what genre you write, a picture of you, an e-mail, and any social media links. These get exchanged a lot at conferences, mainly as a way to keep in touch with other people you meet. I didn’t do that my first conference and wished I had.

3. Prepare to be overwhelmed

Depending on what type of person you are, getting overwhelmed with information can either leave you discouraged or exhilarated. Sometimes both. A lot of authors will get discouraged just by the sheer magnitude of information that they learn at a conference. The best thing to do is to be willing to learn. (Tweet tip #3!) Take notes and take it in stride. Don’t try to swallow everything at once! That being said…

4. If the conference records sessions, buy the CDs

If the conference sells CDs of the sessions and workshops, get a few! You’ll forget half of what they taught (probably more than half) a week after you’ve returned home. Don’t rely solely on your memory to remember everything! Purchase CDs of some of your favorite classes and then you’ll have those classes forever. (Tweet tip #4!)

5. Study the people who will be there.

Know who the professionals are. (Tweet tip #5!) Know who you’ll be meeting there. Read about every single author, publisher, teacher, and editor listed on the conference’s website. That way if you find yourself in an elevator with one of them, you won’t be wondering if they’re someone you should pitch your story to or not.

6. Browse the Conference bookstore

Browse the bookstore and consider buying a book! (Tweet tip #6!) This is a great way to support new authors that you meet at the conference, you can also connect through browsing. I always go planning to buy at least two or three books there, simply as a support and because you never know what new gems you’ll find!

7. Put together your newsletter

If you haven’t put together a newsletter yet, at least START one (even if it’s four times a year) because you can get a lot of people’s e-mails and “okays” to sign them up for your newsletter when you meet at conferences. This is a great start to marketing. (Tweet tip #7!)

8. Print out some hard copies of your manuscript chapters

Not the whole manuscript! Just a chapter or two. When you’re in your one-on-one, you never know when they’ll request to see part of your manuscript. Even if it’s just a fellow author and not a publisher, editor, or agent, you want to be prepared. Professional. You don’t want to be scrambling on your iPad (that chooses that moment to freeze up) or iPhone or bulky computer. That wastes both of your time and comes off as tacky. So print up a copy or two (or three) of your first few chapters! (Tweet tip #8)

9. Be sociable

I can hear the introvert in you screaming and running for that darkened corner. Don’t panic! I’m not asking you to become extroverted, but let’s just think about this for a second:

You’re going to a writers conference that will be filled with people who are passionate about the same things you are passionate about! Chances are that 90% of them will be introverts, too (like you!) These are the people in your industry who have connections, who get nervous about the same things, and who can become a support group or critique group or simply…writer friends. So…sit by someone during a workshop!

writer-conference-tips

Don’t miss this opportunity. Be willing to meet new people and talk to them, even if the conversation has to start with, “Hey, so I get super nervous meeting new people.” You’ll be surprised by how many say, “Me too!” (Tweet tip #9)

It doesn’t hurt to plan a few generic conversation starters like…”What genre do you write?” or “How do you think the conference is going?” or “Who is your one-on-one appointment with?” or “Have you ever been to a writers conference before?”

10. Know how to talk about yourself

I hated this aspect of writers conferences. When I first started attending, I would have been perfectly content if no on ever asked me about my book or writing…or life…or self. Yeah.

But don’t be afraid to talk about yourself. (Tweet tip #10)People/editors/publishers/writers want to know about you! want to know about you! (So if you’re at a conference where I’m at, come up to be and be like, “Yo, Nadine. I’m following your advice. So…talk to me and help me practice.” I’m totally fine with putting you on the spot. 😉 )

Share about your book. 

I know there are a million articles out there about “elevator pitches” and they freak me out. I still don’t have my elevator pitches down for the books I’ve already written and published! Instead, I settle for condensing my explanation as short as possible. “My book is about a world where everyone knows exactly how long they have to live.”

Boom.

The person will probably ask you more about it. But you at least had a starter! Be confident. God’s created you to be a writer! You’re His soldier! Be confident in His calling for you! [Inserts awesome Aragorn pre-battle pep-talk]

Share about you.

Family, habits, how you started writing. We all have those stories. Be real, be authentic. Share.

11. Eat with people!

coffee-social-media-writer-conferenceThis is where you get to be casual with the people who freak you out. Watch where your favorite publisher is sitting in the cafeteria (in a non-stalkerish way) and ask if you can join him/her for lunch! Or hop in line for coffee with the professional who just taught your workshop! Or follow that author you admire (again…in a non-stalkerish way) and join him/her for dinner. Then you can ask for conference tips! 😉 (Tweet tip #11)

12. Connect on social media

When I first went to conferences, I tried to turn off all social media so I wouldn’t get distracted. It worked. I didn’t get distracted. But I also didn’t connect long term with anyone there. Once I left, I didn’t know how to keep in touch!

Here’s what will happen.

Nadine meets Susie, an awesome editor and author. Nadine likes chatting with Susie. Susie leaves for a one-on-one meeting. Nadine stalks looks up Susie online. Adds Susie on Twitter. Adds Susie on Facebook. Adds Susie on Goodreads. Adds Susie on…you get the picture.

Then Nadine tweets about meeting Susie.

Connection made.

Tweet about the conference. Share quotes, favorite moments, pictures on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. People who are at the conference will love to connect over the same thing. People who aren’t at the conference will then be updated on how it’s going for you. Don’t be on social media all the time, but don’t let it go stagnant during the conference either. (Tweet tip #12)

13. Follow up on requests post-conference

writer-conference-adviceIt’s happened. You received a partial manuscript request. Or a request for your proposal. Or a request for…ANYTHING.

Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — ignore these! You’d be shocked how many authors receive a manuscript request from a publisher or agent and then go home and never send it. If it’s not ready, then tell the writing professional that you need more time. They understand.

Hey, Jeff Gerke requested the full manuscript of A Time to Die and waited two years for me to finish writing it and then send it to him! Yes. Two years. (Did you read that?) Then guess what happened? He offered me a contract.

But I didn’t just drop off the face of the earth for two years. I sent him update e-mails about every six months or so. So…communicate. If you need more time to put together your proposal, tell the publisher/agent. If you need more time to polish your manuscript, tell them. They don’t like shoddy work any more than you do. If you’re showing the initiative to tighten your craft, they respect that.

What I do: I keep a taped notecard in the back of my notebook and write a running list of things to do when I get home. Things like:

  1. E-mail Awesome Author Friend a PDF of my book. She wants to read it and write a review!
  2. Send That Cool Publisher my proposal within 4 weeks. [insert publisher’s e-mail]
  3. Send New-Author Nancy a list of my favorite writing craft books [insert her e-mail or tape her business card here]

Then when I get home, I have the reminders of all the crucial things I have to do. So…follow up! (Tweet tip #13)

 

So those are my tips. I could go on. No matter what, you’ll probably be nervous. I still get nervous. That’s okay, don’t forget to pray and to give this opportunity to God. He put you there after all. He knows His plans for you. Be confident in Him and conquer!

Have you ever been to a writers conference before?

What tip do you find the most helpful (or what tip did I forget?)

 



About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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12 Comments

  1. Hi Nadine, great post here. I’m also a conference veteran for the Colorado conferences, ACFW, and San Diego CWG conferences, plus others. I agree with everything here, and loved your tip about the note card in the back of the binder. Good thought for the in-the-moment ideas. On a marketing note, also think about how you can work with other authors on future projects together. For example, you might consider guest-blogging on their site, or meet others in your genre and team up to do a Facebook event or create a reader resource together. This summer, I’m traveling to Texas for media work and meeting some author friends I met at conferences. It’s been great to keep connected and watch their careers, and encourage one another in the craft. I’ll be at ACFW too! See you there…

    • Yes, the notecard ended up being much more useful than I originally thought it would be! I love your addition of getting to know authors for future projects. Good points! Maybe I’ll add that to the re-write of this post I do in future years. 😉

      Looking forward to seeing you at ACFW!

  2. 14. Have fun! I spend all year looking forward to conference season. You get to talk to people about your dream, your passion, your book! And they actually care! They want to hear about it. That’s incredible.

    Also, if you’re being confident and having fun, you are way more likely to make strong connections with the people you meet. Like any other business, this is about building relationships, and that can take some time. Even if publishers and agents aren’t falling all over themselves to sign you for your current project, they are noticing how you handle yourself. You’ll be amazed at how the relationships you start at your first conference will affect your experience the following year. So take a little pressure off yourself, smile, and enjoy it!

    • YES! Why didn’t I put this one up there? Conferences are my favorite times of the year!

      You make some good points, Clint. I’ll certainly add those in if I revamp the post someday. 🙂

  3. Oh, excellent pointers! I really need to start getting myself mentally prepared for Realm Makers and my costume! 😀

    I can hardly wait to meet you in person and all the other writerly friends I’ve connected with online. Yea! I’m so excited. And this is my first writer’s conference!! Eeep!

    But yeah, the nerves! I am all thumbs when it comes to interacting with people at times. I’m thinking of having generic questions written down to ask people. My brain goes completely blank when I meet someone. I know I should ask a question, but I’ve got nothing in the moment. Ha! The same goes for tag lines, info about me, etc. I’ll be like Willy Wonka from the Chocolate Factory. “Greetings Starshine, the earth says hello!” Or not… 😛

    I’ve got the opportunity for appointments, but I hadn’t planned on meeting anyone and I’m not wanting to pitch anything. But like you said, you never know! So now I’m wondering if I should even sign up for them. Career planning? Mentorship? What do I even ask? Ha!

    Thanks for sharing these pointers! I shall be rereading this list. 🙂

    • I still haven’t planned my costume. :/

      Eee! This is a fantastic conference for you to attend as your first, I think. Since EVERYONE is in a similar genre! And I like the Willy Wonka plan. 😛

      I recommend you make appointments. It’s easier to cancel them if, in the moment, you decide you don’t want them. The professionals don’t mind because then that opens the door for someone else to hop in or gives that professional an extra needed break. [grin]

      When I make appointments if I’m not planning to pitch or show any work, I try to think of industry questions I have, like, “How do you think I can market myself well? What are some top pieces of advice?” or “What do you think about agents? Do you think I should pursue one?” This is your chance to learn about the stuff you don’t know how to ask. Last conference I met with an agent and said, “Okay, I don’t understand what agents do. I’m not here to pitch. I was just hoping you could explain it to me.” She was perfectly happy to just chat and help me understand! The professionals admire that willingness to learn. AND it’s much less stressful just having a conversation instead of a pitch session. 😉

      Any other questions?

      • Oh! Those are good questions! I think I will sign up then. Now I just have to figure out, who?! There was a bunch to choose from. And I agree! I am so glad that I’m not looking to pitch anything. I’d probably hyperventilate. Ha! I just want to keep a low profile and LEARN. I am glad this will be my first conference experience. It will be more like meeting friends, since I know a bunch of the writers that will be attending. And it is a smaller conference. Much easier on an introvert, maybe? An introvert looking to connect, rather than hide away among the crowds. 🙂

        Oh, and no costume yet??? Hey, if you need a brainstorm session, message me!

  4. Nadine, thank you. I’ve been considering going to a day or two of ACFW conference (the whole thing is too expensive for us right now). These tips are priceless. I hope to see you there!

  5. These are so good! I’ve been going to conference for years, and these are pure gold. I’m sharing them with my writers group. (And reminding myself!)

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