15 Tips on Choosing & Attending A Conference


This is the very last post in my series on the Chicago Writer’s Conference 2015. After this, I swear I’ll shut up! I just want to share a few nuggets of wisdom for anyone attending a conference. This is for the ages!

When choosing a conference:

  1. Go Local to Start. If you’re new to conferences, or looking for writing buddies, go local. While it may seem awesome to visit a far-off land instead of a near one, keep in mind that the farther you live from a conference, the less likely you are to find attendees who live near you. And, if it’s your first time going, you should test-run on a cheaper, closer conference.
  2. Carefully Consider the Content. For example, Chicago had at least two different conferences this year. One suited me (and my wallet) better. Don’t go to conferences where you aren’t excited for at least half of the planned sessions.
  3. Choose One with Pitch Sessions. If you are looking for representation, this is the best way to meet agents in person in a situation where they won’t feel too pestered by you. Many agents find most of their new clients in person.
  4. Avoid Writing-Prompt-Heavy Conferences. You can’t always tell that a conference’s sessions will be more writing exercise and less presentation, but if you can, go with the presentations. You will learn a lot more.

Once you choose a conference, I suggest you:

  1. Plan a Trip With an Extra Day. If you aren’t a local, don’t go for just the conference duration – make sure you get at least one free day to enjoy the unfamiliar city and make room for opportunities!
  2. Make a Lunch Sign. Make a sign that says “If you write [your genre here], come to lunch with us!” and stand by the conference exits when lunch gets out. You’ll have a great time and make friends who write the same stuff!
  3. Sign Up Early, and Sign Up For Everything. Signing up early means you can maximize what you get out of the conference. Sign for every pitch session (as long as the agent reps your genre) and every intensive (as long as it pertains to you). The cost will be high – but it will be more than worth it. Have the biggest, most open budget you can manage.
  4. Buy the Books. Get the presenter’s books – as gifts! They will sign them to anyone for you, and write personal messages. Some even give their e-mail addresses and have real conversations with you. Don’t miss this!
  5. Be Bold and Go Early. If you’re an introvert, get over it for the day. Talk to everyone, all the time. Throw your business cards everywhere. Go out for drinks in the evening with other attendees. And go early to the sessions and cocktail parties; this will give you extra (quiet) networking time with other early arrivals.
  6. Tweet and Blog About the Conference. Take pictures – say what you’re doing – and use the hashtags they provide. After it’s over, blog about your biggest takeaways, and share the posting on the conference’s Twitter. You can get retweets and followers this way.
  7. Take Clear Notes by Hand and Write Summaries Later, in a blog or just for yourself. This will cement the ideas more strongly in your head and keep you from forgetting the best gems.
  8. Milk It! Go to every possible session, even if it’s not your thing (the sessions I learned most from were not the ones I looked forward to, and vice versa). Hit every cocktail party and download every extra. And for gods’ sake, take the free pens!
  9. Let Looks Gravitate You. If you see two people, but one looks more your style, talk to that person.It’s more likely that you’ll write similar stuff or get along better. Seems weird, I know – but it proved wildly true for me.
  10. Put Your Twitter Handle on Your I.D. Card. Most conferences give you name tags – put your Twitter handle on them too!
  11. Take AWESOME Business Cards. Take at least 100 cards – you’ll need them! I’ve gotten great advice from an agent on what makes a business card awesome. Make sure it has the following:
    • A picture of you. It will help people remember who you are.
    • Your Twitter handle. Don’t have one? Get one. It should be your name, or something close
    • Your web page. Pay for a domain. No one is impressed by you.website.com!
    • Space for notes. So someone can write in stuff about you.
    • Name, phone number and e-mail. Make sure these are all professional and permanent. You don’t want to have to reprint the cards later.
    • Something nifty on the back, like a calendar. If the card is useful, they might keep it around!
    • And DON’T title yourself an “author” or “writer.” Leave it off – it can be seen as pretentious.

And finally: You will be overwhelmed. Go with it. 

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