You may want to read PART ONE and PART TWO before jumping right into the tips for attending a conference so you can see where I was at in my career and why going to a conference turned my attitude and my writing around.
Sticking you neck out and going to a writer's conference can be scary, especially if you've never been to one before. It can be hard to know what to expect or even if it's worth it to go.
(Hint...it's worth it).
In this blog post, I'm hoping to leave you with a few tips on what you can possibly expect and what you can do to make the experience the best it can be.
First: It doesn't matter if you write poetry, fiction, picture books, short stories, or nonfiction, a writers conference is for everyone. Everyone is welcome. There will be people at ALL stages in their writing that will be attending. So, don't feel as though, "I can't go to a writers conference because I haven't published a book or I don't think I'll fit in" because you will fit in just as you are. That is the truth. Writers who are further along in their career love to help other writers. Do not be intimidated by them. Where else can you go to learn and ask questions of those who have been where you are? Writers as a whole are very supportive of one another.
Second: Most writers are introverts by nature. You may worry how it will possibly work to go to a conference when you're not super out-going. That's okay. The great majority of those in attendance feel the same way as you do. Take it at your pace. Don't feel as though you have to be someone you're not. Be you and know being an introvert is NOT a bad thing. (7 Reasons Why Introverts are Good at Writing).
Third: Try and be a little brave and get to know other writers. The best way to do this is to simply ask, "What do you write?" or "How is your writing going?" Writers LOVE a chance to talk about their passion, and those two questions alone will even get the most introverted of introverts talking. This is how writing groups can be formed and how you might find a great critique partner or even just a great writing friend. If you find someone you feel a kindred spirit to, don't be afraid to ask to friend them on social media or get their email address so you can continue to connect after the conference is over.
Fourth: This one kind of goes along with tip #3, if you have business cards or bookmarks, bring them. When you meet someone, it is so much easier to hand them a card so you can connect. If you don't have business cards or bookmarks, think about getting some. There are a lot of places where you can design and order some for relatively cheap. You may think you're not at that point in your writing career where business cards are even necessary, but that's not true. Even just having a business card with your picture on it and your email will be enough. It can be hard to keep track of everyone you meet, and handing out a card can be extremely helpful. Vista Print or Moo (are just a few places you can look into for ordering business cards and other needs).
Fifth: What do I wear? You can not believe how much of a worry this can be for some writers attending a conference. In the Facebook group for the conference I attended, this came up quite a bit. Here's the thing--wear what makes you comfortable. Period. You will find some attendees wearing the high heels or ties, but the great majority wore jeans and t-shirt. Be yourself. Be comfortable. Now, if you are happening to meet with an agent or editor (pitch and critique sessions are something you can sign up for if you feel you are ready) then you may perhaps want to dress a little nicer. Otherwise, to be honest, no one is really paying attention to what your wearing anyway. There is no reason to be uncomfortable if you don't need to be.
Sixth: Bring extra money. Often times at conferences, there will an opportunity to purchase books by those who have come to teach and present classes. It's not only a great to support your fellow authors, which is always good, but you will kick yourself if you find a presenter "speaks to you" and you didn't bring extra cash along. Of course, you can purchase their books later, but having their signature in the book, written to you, is always a perk.
Seventh: Don't try to do everything. Oh, you will want to! There will be so much available from keynote speakers, to classes, to late night mingling. If you're up for it, then go for it. But if you're not, that's perfectly fine. A full weekend of classes can be exhausting. Once again. take it at your pace and do what works for you. At the conference I attended, they actually had a Quiet Room. Sometimes you may feel you need to skip a class and take a time-out to rejuvenate. Maybe you can't do the after conference party. That's okay. Do what works for you. Conferences can be overwhelming and your head might be spinning from everything you learned. Schedule some down time.
Lastly: Have fun! Go with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Take notes. Lots of notes. But remember you've been looking forward to this conference, so go with the right attitude. Embrace the path YOU are on and by all means, DO NOT compare yourself to others. There will always be bigger fish in the sea. That's a given. So, don't fall into that trap of thinking. That is a surefire way to kill your experience. Bask in the excitement of everyone around you. Let it wash over you, so that when you leave the conference, you feel like you have walked away a much better person and writer than you were when you first walked in.
Please leave you tips and tricks in the comments below. Let's share with one another what works and what doesn't when attending writers conventions.