~ By Katie McCoach
Note: This post originally appeared here.
Attending a writer’s conference is a whirlwind of activity; meeting wonderful people, learning new things, and growing your career. It’s amazing. It’s exhausting.
When I went to RWA in 2014 it was hands-down the best writer event I had ever been to. I’ve since been to a few more events, workshops, and conferences, and I still stand by this statement. RWA is the conference for romance-focused writers, but honestly, any writer would benefit from the conference. The workshops are wonderful and can be applied to any genre. If you do write romance, please go.
Attending a conference is a big step, and it’s a lot to take in at once.
Here are tips for BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER to get the most out of your next conference:
- Plan your outfits. Will it be hot outside? Cold in the AC? What does the FAQ site for the conference recommend for attire? Most conferences are business casual, with allowance for jeans – sometimes. Use your best judgement on an outfit.
- Pack your best, snazziest, most comfortable shoes. Shoes get noticed! Believe me. I read this before I went to RWA the first time and my shoes (they had cat ears) and the shoes of others were the beginning of a conversation starter many times. But keep in mind you’ll be walking back and forth between workshops all day.
- Prepare your pitch. You never know who you’ll meet, and one of the most common questions you’ll be asked is, “What do you write?”
- Have an action plan. Use the time before the conference to determine which workshops you don’t want to miss and how to plan your day for them. If there are two you want to go to, go to the one that doesn’t offer a recording of the event later (many workshops have recordings you can purchase during or after the conference).
- Bring an extra suitcase. At RWA specifically, you’ll receive SO many books. No joke; tons. I had to ship about 10 to my friend and I still barely fit the rest in my suitcase, even though I prepared extra room.
- Talk to everyone you meet; smile, engage, be friendly. You’ll meet people when you’re in line at the bathroom. It could be an agent. It could be your next critique partner. A new friend. I know things like this seem daunting to many, especially to introverts, but keep in mind the more you talk to others, the easier it gets. And the more you’ll get out of the conference.
- Business cards are great for keeping in touch with people you meet. When you meet someone, jot down a couple notes on the back of their card to remember them. One thing I liked doing was connecting on Twitter immediately if their handle was on their business card. This way we could easily keep in touch and stay active in the writing community.
- Use the conference hashtag to Tweet while you are there. This is a great way for followers to learn new things, and to connect with other conference goers. For RWA this year, the hashtag is #RWA16. Those staying home, I encourage you to follow along!
- At the workshops, take notes! I like jotting down quotes the instructor says that I plan to tweet or share in a blog post later. Consider what type of note taking is best for you…do you better retain by hand or by computer?
- Set up downtime if you need it. These events are a flurry of activity. I’m an introvert, like many writers, and I gain energy by being alone and regrouping. If this is you too, be sure to work that time in. If there’s a period when you aren’t really feeling any of the classes, then take the time for yourself so you’ll be more energized for workshops later.
- Planning to see a specific author or speaker? Get there early!
- Volunteer! Help set up a luncheon or workshop, or awards ceremony.
- Drink responsibly. Do NOT overdo it on the alcohol. Yes, there is a hotel bar, and yes half the conference will be there every night including editors and agents, but it’s very important you stay alert and professional, no matter how much you want to let loose. Know your limit, pace yourself, drink tons of water.
- Remember that going to a conference isn’t writing, so write when you can. Staying in a hotel by the beach might be the perfect writing retreat for you. Exploring might get those creative juices flowing, so if you are in a new area, take time to see the sights.
- Remember at a writing conference you are surrounded by others who love writing and reading as much as you do. This is a place where you can be YOU. This is the time that writing doesn’t have to be lonely.
- Talk to your local or online chapter about events or opportunities to meet other chapter members. This can be a great opportunity to meet others before the conference is in full swing. My first trip to RWA, I met two ladies from the local LA chapter (that I was not yet apart of) on the plane. It was great to connect—and we’ve since kept in touch (and I’ve joined the chapter)—but it was even better for those ladies because they knew each other already ahead of time. They had others to talk to about the conference, to know how to prepare.
- Put yourself out there. When I arrived to RWA14 on the first day, I knew no one. So I literally walked up for four women and asked to join them for lunch. They accepted me and we ended up getting together a bunch throughout the event. Not only do I recommend you take risks, but also recognize when others are putting themselves out there.
- Things to keep on you: Band-Aids, mints, WATER. ALL the water. Over the counter pain meds. Notepad. Pens. Business cards.
- Wear your Fitbit/step tracker. OK, this is for all the fitness lovers out there, but I personally love when I look at my Fitbit steps and feel super BA. If you meet others wearing theirs, you could even set up a friendly competition to see who gets the most steps.
- Work in at least a day to spend time doing whatever gets you back in the groove. That might be spending time with your family, lounging in bed, cleaning, unpacking – but take the time for yourself (if you can). Writer’s conferences take tons of mental and physical energy, it’s OK to take a day off.
- Organize all of the business cards you gathered and reach out to those you want to stay connected to.
- Put together a blog post, or a personal list for yourself, on the things you learned. It’s important to realize what part of the conference or workshops helped you the most. What do you want to apply to your writing? Was there something that inspired you?
- If you received a request from an agent or editor, take a couple weeks and apply everything you learned to your current manuscript, and then send it off to those agents.
- Read all of the fun, wonderful books you received.
* What are your conference tips? Any questions about your first conference? I’ll respond in the comments!
KATIE McCOACH is a freelance developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog at http://www.katiemccoach.com/blog and be sure to also follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.