Getting the Most out of Attending a Literary Conference
By Joshua J. Perkey
Conferences can be great fun and an excellent way to improve your craft—but that depends a lot on how your approach. Before anything else, though, there is one thing you need to consider: what do you want to gain out of attending the conference? There are many goals, and all are laudable. It depends on your needs. Think about the following ideas, then consider what it is you want to accomplish.
Ok, time for some specifics. Here are some things to think about to have an awesome conference experience:
1. Networking. Conferences are a great way to meet people. Let’s face it, writing is a solitary craft, but perfecting that craft requires feedback; marketing that book or magazine article requires knowing who to send it to; and keeping yourself sane requires talking to real people—face to face—from time to time. Here’s a little more on this one:
1a. Meet people. Talk to other authors. They are engaged in the same work you are and trying to do the same thing you do. They want to find the best way to share their thoughts and stories, and you’ll find more support than you ever expected. Don’t be afraid to make new friends. The odd thing about this business, and contrary to what we may intuitively think, the more we network and help each other, the more likely we all are to be successful. Expanding relationships expands the possibility of getting noticed.
1b. Meet agents and editors—but be polite and respectful of their time. They come to conferences expecting writers to approach them, and they are prepared to engage you. But they are real people, too. Just be friendly, and you’ll be amazed. I once had a 2 hour conversation with British literary agent Ian Drury just by saying hello. He was funny, engaging, and a pleasure to talk to and learn from.
1c. Come with your pitch prepared, and share it with as many people as you can. This is the time to practice. Ask other writers for feedback. You’ll be amazed at how quickly it gets better. Two years ago I rewrote my entire pitch after a couple of experienced writers heard it and provided requested suggestions—and it was much, much improved. Just don’t shove your manuscript in front of anyone. Editors, agents, and other writers may be interested in your work—but they’ll let you know if they want to see it.
1d. Bring business cards, and don’t skimp here. This may be your one chance to make an impression. It’s worth a few bucks to look classy and professional. And ask others for their cards. It’s still the number one way at conferences for sharing contact information, including websites, blogs, and email.
2. Improving Your Craft. Conferences are built around workshops and classes. Take a peak beforehand and see what meets your needs. Don’t worry about missing a particular class. Make friends and share notes with others, or find the presenters you missed online. They may be willing to share some of their presentation with you later.
3. Marketing. You’ll learn the latest trends and what pitfalls to avoid—and you’ll learn where to go to find more information. And the more people you meet, the better you’ll be at marketing.
4. You’ll Get Energized. Conferences always, always get me excited about the craft. Go because you’ll want to be better and do more and make a difference in your own writing and in the world you engage in.
5. Pick a Conference that Meets Your Goals. There are a gazillion conferences. Ok, not that many, but there are a lot. Many of them target a specific genre, and some might be better for you than others. Research online and ask others where they would attend. Then evaluate your goals, go, and enjoy. In the end, it’s not just about getting published. It’s about enjoying the experience of story and the craft and meeting others engaged in the craft.
6. Most important of all, relax, have fun, and enjoy the time you have!