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Making The Most Of Writers Conferences

Not all writers make it a habit of going to writers’ conferences, but they are a part of many writers’ professional lives. These conferences are a meeting ground for literary agents, editors, writing instructors, and fellow scribes who gather to share knowledge and expertise, make contacts, and meet specific goals, whether it’s a writer pitching a novel or an agent scoring a best-seller.

Although you can find day workshops that are more affordable, longer conferences are often not cheap. They range from 200 to 500 dollars and up, so it’s important to choose wisely. Here are some tips to help you get the most for your money.

Here’s where you can find a list of writing conferences organized by date and state.

What to look for:

First, you’ll want to locate conferences that fit your particular needs. Some focus on children’s writing, while others are for romance or mystery writers. Narrow down the field to those that pertain to your genre. The Internet is full of information on various conferences.

As with all investments, a little research can go a long way. Request all the information offered and go over it carefully. Do some checking with fellow writers or critique groups for opinions, and research the guest speaker(s).

Take a good look at the opportunities available. Are there workshops, networking opportunities, well-known lecturers? If all you’re offered is a chance to hear an obscure author read her work, you won’t get much out of the experience.

Make note of the specifics, such as the travel requirements, lodging choices, and facilities. You may want to stick closer to home, or choose a mountain retreat over urban classrooms. Is there lodging available, or are you responsible for making hotel arrangements separately?

Double-check for hidden costs, and tally all possible expenses. If you’re organized and ask well in advance, you may be able to apply for a scholarship (or partial scholarship) to help defray the cost. The same goes for volunteering at the conference. You’ll have to ask for these options, as they probably won’t be advertised. You may also choose to attend with a friend. If you each take different seminars and workshops and then share notes, you’ll get more for your money.

What to do:

Clarify your conference goals before the actual event. Are you hoping to meet an agent, hone your writing skills, schmooze with other writers, learn new trends, and/or promote your work? Plan your time accordingly. If networking is your objective, skip the guest lecture and attend the less formal cocktail party instead. Or sign up for that “new media” seminar if you’re interested in learning new trends.

Wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately. “Business casual” is a safe bet, although there are usually opportunities for more formal dress during dinners, etc. Be sure you’re remembered for your professional and engaging personality, not your plunging neckline or glow-in-the-dark cowboy boots.

Keep an eye on the time. If you’ve made appointments to speak with editors or agents, don’t be late. Stick to your allotted time out of courtesy both to the editor or agent and to your fellow writers.

Bring a light shoulder bag or briefcase stocked with your business cards, a notebook, extra pens…and use your bag for the free handouts. When you receive a business card, make a note on the back to remind you who you talked to and what it was about. It’s best to keep your hands free, so check other luggage and your coat in advance.

Position yourself carefully—asking questions from the front of the room will get you noticed, while the back row is a good place if you plan to slip out early.

Be prepared to do some work—networking can be exhausting, and this is not the time to sit back and be a passive observer. Everyone at this conference shares a common interest, so don’t let insecurity keep you from meeting new people and learning from them. The energy of these events can be very inspirational.

After the conference, send “nice to meet you” notes to agents or editors you spoke to, and be sure to mention where you met and (briefly) what you talked about.

Pitching your work:

Feel free to bring copies of your query letter, synopsis, or a few sample chapters or other writing samples. (Note: Writer’s Relief will proofread, format, and submit your manuscripts to literary agents and editors. We also compose query letters and cover letters, and we manage all the tasks related to making submissions. Learn more about Writer’s Relief’s process for submitting to literary agents and editors)

Some conferences have time set aside specifically for pitching your work, so be prepared in advance and take advantage of this time. Make sure your pitch is polished (practice giving it to the mirror, your friends, your parrot), exciting, and BRIEF. There’s no need to compulsively tell everything about the story and the reason it was written. Agents and editors are trained to spot a good opportunity on very little information, and you want to avoid that glazed look in their eyes if you go on and on.

Do not aggressively corner agents and editors and subject them to a verbal pitch during dinner or in the restroom. You’ll only aggravate them or scare them away. And be careful what you say. Editors and agents often run in the same circles, and if you’ve been ranting about other writers or editors, you will be remembered—but not in the way you’d like. Read more: Ten Things NOT To Do At A Writer’s Conference.

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