Monday, September 21, 2015

Writer, Do Your Homework

By Andrea Merrell

I just got back from a five-day conference at the beautiful Cove in Asheville, NC. After participating in a variety of conferences over the past ten years (both as an attendee and workshop leader), I can assure you they are wonderful and necessary events for writers. But they can also be a bit overwhelming, especially the larger ones. In order to get the most out of your experience,  it’s important to be prepared.

Before attending my first writers’ conference, I was given
advice about certain items I needed to bring. The advice was great, but I went a little bonkers and was actually over prepared. The huge three-ring binder I carried around for five days—along with all the other paraphernalia I thought I needed—was heavy and so full I could hardly find what I needed at any given time—especially when meeting with editors and publishers.

My roommate (also a newbie) and I would make plans to discuss everything we learned throughout the day before we went to bed, in order to reinforce our newfound knowledge. Instead, we were so exhausted each night, we fell into bed with hardly a word.

Conferences are costly, especially if you have to travel far. You want to get the most out of your investment and doing your homework—before and after the conference—can make all the difference. Here are a few suggestions.

Before the Conference
  • Invest in business cards with contact info and a photo. These are fairly inexpensive and a must-have for networking.


  • Create a one-sheet for your project with a short synopsis (think back cover copy), your photo, and a bio.
  • Make sure you have a sturdy over-the-shoulder or roll-around bag you can keep with you.
  • Always have a pen, pad, and highlighter handy.
  • Check the conference blog or website and study the schedule, presenters, and classes. This will be a big help when it’s time to choose which will be the best fit for you.

During the Conference
  • Don’t be shy. Step out of your comfort zone and meet people. Some of them will become mentors, critique partners, and lifelong friends. Remember that there are other people who are just as nervous as you are, especially if this is your first conference. I’ve found the best way to overcome my own nervousness is to make someone else feel at ease.
  • Have your business cards ready at all times. Offer one every time you meet someone, and be sure to get one from them in return. Make a note on the back if there’s something special you want to remember about that person.
  • Don’t feel locked-in to a class if it’s not right for you. Ask God to direct you to the classes and workshops you need to attend.
  • Realize you don’t have to do everything. There will be constant activity, scads of people to talk to, materials for sale, sights to see, and places to visit (especially if you are at a conference center). I decided my second year that it was okay to skip a class or general session if I was exhausted and needed a power nap. Believe me, it helped me stay alert the rest of the time.

After the Conference
  • Give yourself a couple of days to rest and decompress. You will have a lot to digest and it will take time.
    Conferences can be tiring, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally.
  • Pull out your notes and any handouts you received. If you’re like me, you may even have a to-do list: websites to visit, people to contact, thank you cards to send, and contests to check out. Get everything in order. Go over your notes and file what is important so you can find it when you need it.
  • Go through the business cards you collected. Touch base with the new friends you made. Add their info to your contacts. Check out their blog or website and subscribe to their posts. Connect with them on social media. This is how you network.
  • Most importantly, apply what you learned. When you sit down to write (or rewrite) think about the tips and techniques you learned that can take your writing to the next level.

What suggestions can you add to the list? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles, artur84, Photokanok, and anankkml.)

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