I've been thinking about writer's conferences lately. There are about 10 billion writer's conferences held annually in North America. It is an industry unto itself - teaching the writer to write.
Conferences are expensive - they cost money to attend, and to get to. They take up time you could spend writing, and did I mention they are expensive?
What do you get for your time and money? Here are some tips to help you get the most out your time (and money) spent at a writer's conference.
1) Choose Wisely - Different conferences appeal to different writers. While you will learn something at just about any conference you go to, choose one that best fits your career goals. For example, ACFW's conference is for writers of Christian fiction. How well does that fit in with your writing goals? The Word Guild holds an annual conference in Guelph that teaches to as broad a spectrum of writing as possible (songwriting, journalism, devotional writing, fiction, non-fiction, marketing, etc.). Mt. Hermon offers different "tracks" for writers at different stages of their career, from just starting out, to professional career track. Take time to study the different conferences offered and choose the one that best supports your goals.
2) Plan Ahead - Did I say writing conferences cost you time? They do, and not just the time you take to attend them. In order to get the most out of the time you spend at a writer's conference, you first need to spend time planning. Once you've decided which conference to attend, it is important to study the conference from different angles. Read up on the faculty. Choose classes and workshops that best fit with your writing goals. You can always purchase the CD of other classes that interest you - but be sure to attend the classes that fit best with your goals.
3) Know Thyself - Decide what you want out of a conference before you attend. Are you ready to pitch to an editor or agent? Do you have a completed work? Is your proposal in good order? Is this what you really want to do? I've heard so many stories about writers had an editor request a manuscript and the writer didn't follow through. Why? Lots of reasons, I'm sure - but don't waste people's time. If you aren't sure you are ready for the next step, that's fine. Wait until you are ready. Know when its right for you. Because the writing world is small - and if you pitch something and don't follow through, you'll be remembered, and not in the way you'd like to be remembered.
4) Be Yourself - Because writer's conferences provide the opportunity to meet with authors, editors, and agents face to face, its important to be yourself. Part of what you are selling is yourself - your creativity, ability to work with obstacles, your willingness to learn, etc. Be professional (and for heaven's sake dress professionally!), but be yourself.
5) Breath Deeply - It can be scary to attend a writer's conference. Remember to take time out from the go-go-go and take time for yourself. Relax. Your entire career is NOT hinging on this one conference. Your hopes and dreams will NOT explode if you miss a workshop. As you plan your goals for the conference, plan in some time to breath.
6) Make Contact - A huge benefit is the connections you will make with other writers. It will benefit your career, your life, and your experiences at the conference. Very cool things happen when we begin to connect with other writers. Trust me.
7) Play it Cool - The electric charge - the excitement of a conference is contagious. And, at times, it can turn into a frenzy of emotions and emoting. There is an element of competition at conferences - so many writers trying to impress so few editors and agents. Don't buy into the emotional craziness that can come with attending a conference. Stay cool. You have a plan, stick to it. Look for opportunities to make the plan happen, but don't push. Be confident, calm, and in control of your emotions. If you feel yourself freaking out (it's normal to freak out), remove yourself, get alone, or go talk to a trusted friend. Take a step back until you are back in control and able to continue pursuing your goals.
8) Be Open - Having a plan in important, but it is equally important to allow for flexibility within your plan. Perhaps you planned to speak to a specific agent but were unable to sign up for an appointment with her. Don't worry. There are many opportunities you can take outside of the formal appointment to speak with that person. Keep your eyes open, pray, and be ready to respond when the time is right. Perhaps you can sit at a table with that person, or attend a workshop she is teaching. Be open to what happens.
9) Count the Cost - Writer's conferences should be understood as investments. You invest time and money into a conference for a reason. Many writers who attend dream of having their manuscript accepted by an editor or agent. It's lovely when that happens, but it doesn't happen all that often. Are you ready to hear the truth about your work? Can you accept criticism? Can you hear "No" and still press on toward your goals?
10) Look to the Future - Use a writer's conference as a stepping stone to your future as a writer. The classes and workshops will offer your valuable advice, but you are the only one who can implement the lessons into your career. Ask yourself: What can I do with this information? How can I put it into practice? How does it fit with my writing and my goals? You created a plan before attending a conference, be sure to create one for after the conference. Put the information, connections, and advice to the best possible use after you return home.
I bid you good writing.