How to prepare for your first writer conference

IMG_0777Writer conference season will be here before you know it. Though there are writing conferences that take place throughout the year, most of them take place in the spring. If you’ve never attended a conference, I highly recommend it. There is nothing more inspirational than being in a room full of other writers and sharing your successes, and failures, with one another. These are the people that will understand what it takes to write a book and how important all the milestones along the way are.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your first (or next) writer conference.

Pretend to be an extrovert for the day

Let’s get the hardest one out of the way first. I know most writers tend to also be introverts. I’m an introvert so I totally get it. But on conference day, you can’t be an introvert. A huge part of going to a conference is networking. Your writing is also a business and you have to make connections with others in the business if you want to be successful. You never know who you are going to meet at these conferences, but the important thing is being open to meeting them. To put yourself out there and introduce yourself. Some as simple as “Hi I’m Holly. I write science fiction. What do you write?” can open up a world of possibilities. At past conferences I’ve attended I’ve met very successful indie and traditional authors, other writers in my genre that have become beta readers for me, editors, cover designers, a woman who catalogues and verifies writing contests and even the owner of a small publishing house. I’ve stayed connected with these people over social media and they’ve been really supportive through my publishing process. They like, share, and comment on my posts. They’ve shared my successes with their followers.  This is all part of building your platform.

As great as this all is, I know how hard it can be to execute it. My natural instinct is to hide in the back and not make eye contact with anyone. The big thing for me is knowing ahead of time that I’ll have to be social. That way I can store up all my people energy and prepare myself for a rewarding, but exhausting day. Also, don’t make any plans for the day after the conference so you can hide under a blanket and recharge your batteries.

Go in prepared

There are lots of ways to prepare for the conference ahead of time. If you look at the conference’s website there is a good chance the agenda will be there. And if not, at the very least there is probably a list of speakers and classes. Study this ahead of time and decide what your priorities are. That way come conference day you’ll already have a plan in place and won’t miss something you are really interested it.

You’ll also want to come up with a strategy for talking about your work. I know writers hate talking about their work and dread the question “What’s your book about?” Conferences are a great way to get comfortable talking about your work in a low-pressure environment. More likely than not, the person asking about your work is also a writer and knows how hard it can be to answer it. They will be supportive and encouraging. So, come up with a few pitches you want to try out and have them ready so throw out there and see how they work with no risk.

The last thing to prepare for ahead of time is agent pitches. These are usually an add on (extra cost) to the conference. You’ll have a set amount of time to pitch your story to the agent to see if you can convince them to request your manuscript. Make sure you take some time to research the agent you’ll be pitching to. At least for me, the more I know about someone the less scary they seem. Agents are just people so if you can learn a little about them it might help with the nerves when it comes time for you to actually make your pitch.

Business cards

Before your conference you’ll want to make sure you have some business cards made that include all of your social media accounts. As you make connections with people throughout the conference you’ll want to have these on hand to pass out. This will help ensure that those connections you make don’t end as soon as the conference is over. You can have business cards made at any office supply store or several places online and they are fairly cheap so there’s no excuses. I also like to have a few business card holders on me. One for my cards and then an empty one for all the cards I’ll get from other writers throughout the conference.

Bring something to take notes with

Before the conference is over, there’s a good chance that you’ll receive an overwhelming amount of information, everything from improving your craft, to publishing options, to social media tips. Even with the handouts they usually pass out, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to remember everything. That’s why you want to bring something to take notes. You’re spending money to attend the conference and learn and grow your business. It would be silly not to try to capture as much of that knowledge as you can. This might seem like common sense, but I’m always amazed by the number of people at the conference with nothing to take notes with.

*Introvert tip* “Hey that’s a really cool notebook,” is a great icebreaker.

Follow up

So, the conference is over, you have a notebook full of helpful information, and a stack of business cards, so what do you do now? Pull out those business cards and start following up with the people met at the conference. Send out some emails saying how it nice it was to meet them and include any personal information you can. If they offered to beta read for you, now would be the time to follow up on that if you are interested. Connect with them over social media. When it comes times to publish these people will be some of your biggest supporters. It amazing how powerful an in-person connection can be, don’t waste it.

6 responses to “How to prepare for your first writer conference”

  1. Going to my 3rd one in 2 weeks; my very first was last spring and I made myself get through my first pitch. Outgoing? I tried really hard and I’m the intovert’s introvert. Only exchanged a couple business cards but gathered a few more Twitter handles and promptly later pronounced them all my #MichiganWriters friends, so from there I found many more Michigan Writers.
    But LUNCH was a terribly discouraging setback! The tables were filling up as we went through the line and a hotel employee directed me into an adjacent café. Everyone could see me, but…not a single person joined me! Wasn’t the employee directing others?! So I spent the entire lunch looking like I sat where I didn’t belong and was avoiding everyone. High school all over again! I seem to be the one who always ends up in these situations… *sigh*


    • I’m so sorry that happened to you. I know the first conference I went to I had a really hard time connecting with people and lunch is always the hardest. Especially when it seems everyone already knows one another. Any chance the conference you’ll be at in 2 weeks is the Rochester Writers Conference? I only ask since you mentioned Michigan writers. If so I’ll be there as well and we can be lunch buddies.


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