How do you turn a conference into a career-boosting event?
Follow these tips to prepare, fully utilize a conference, and then follow up afterwards for the most success.
Before the conference
Spend some time preparing before you go to the conference. Take some time to figure out the lay of the land, what’s going on, who you’ll want to meet, and what you’ll need to have with you in order to maximize your conference time.
- Be prepared. Before you go, spend some time going through the schedule and program materials, which are often available online ahead of time. Figure out which sessions you are most interested in attending, sign up for a critique session or two if you can and see which speakers you’d like to listen to.
- See who is attending. Many conferences will tell you which agents and editors are attending ahead of time. Some may even provide a list of fellow attendees. It might be worth your time to do a bit of Googling and find out a little bit about the people who will be there. See if there is anyone you would really like to meet, whether they’re an author you admire or someone working on a similar project. Then, make a point to find them and say hello during the conference.
- Make sure you have what you need with you. Whether you’re traveling out of town or attending a hometown conference, go prepared each day. Wear comfortable shoes since you’ll likely be walking a bit between sessions and meals. Bring a light jacket or sweater, a water bottle, snacks, notebook, pens, a sturdy bag to carry all the materials you’ll acquire — including the program guide and materials, session handouts, and any books you purchase — as well as a thick stack of your business cards.
During the conference
While you’re at the conference, make the most of the opportunity and maximize your time there. Use your pre-conference prep to make the most of your experience, but always leave room for serendipity.
- Experiment. When you’re at the conference, try and check out a little of everything. Even if you think a poetry reading or young adult author talk isn’t really your thing, give it a try. Spend most of your time focused on your prime interests, but make a point to branch out and try something new as well. It’s a great opportunity to dip a toe into a new field and learn a little more without having to make a commitment.
- Be flexible. While it’s useful to have a plan for your schedule, stay flexible to allow for new opportunities. If you wanted to attend an agent panel but instead find yourself invited out to lunch with a crew of fascinating authors, it’s okay change your plans. Be open to the serendipity that happens at conferences.
- Bring your business cards. When you’re out meeting people, be sure to exchange cards. When you receive a business card, take a couple minutes as soon as you can to make a few notes on it. Write down who the person is, where you know them from, and any “topics of interest” like if they’re also working on a historical novel from the same era you are or they’re going to be visiting your hometown in the fall. You might think you’ll commit it all to memory, but the flurry of faces and facts you’ll encounter during the conference are very easy to mix up, especially once you’re back home.
- Keep your receipts. When you’re out and about meeting new people, be sure to keep your receipts. Ask your tax preparer whether you can deduct conference fees, travel expenses, materials, and even meals as a business expense.
After you get home
The great part about writer’s conferences is that they don’t end when you get home. You’ll leave with knowledge, ideas, inspiration and hopefully some new contacts.
What should you do when you return from a writer’s conference?
- Don’t procrastinate. Resist the temptation to shove your notebook and stack of newly acquired business cards in a closet and get back to it when you “have time.” Sure, your work has been piling up while you’ve been conferencing. But if you let the conference learning end the second you get home, you’re not taking full advantage of this great opportunity.
- Take action. Take some time soon after you return home to go through your notes, contacts, and conference material. See what you’ve highlighted or made a note about. Turn these into action items. Make a list of conference “to dos”, put them on your calendar, and bribe yourself with ice cream (or whatever it takes) for checking at least a few of them off your list.
- Use your business cards as a tool. And what do you do with that pocket full of business cards? First, scan the cards or take a photo and back them up to the cloud. It’s easy to lose cards, but if you have the information saved somewhere, you’ll be able to refer to it when needed.
- Stay in touch. Then reach out. And do it soon before it slips your mind or before you forget who they are (or vice versa). Send a short and friendly email saying you enjoyed meeting them at the conference, and maybe offer to connect them with the editor friend you mentioned over tuna salad. Then, connect on social media to stay up-to-date with each other.
- Don’t overdo it. That doesn’t mean liking or commenting on everything they post — that can be creepy. But every writer appreciates when you re-Tweet an occasional post or share one of their stories with your followers once in a while. If you have some like-minded conference peers, you could even see if they’re interested in starting an online writer’s group.
- Reach out to editors and agents ASAP. Conferences also make it possible to connect with editors and agents. If you’ve made a connection, reach out quickly before they forget about you and your manuscript. Follow up with them and if they’ve requested your novel or proposal, be sure to send it right away.
- Reflect. After the conference, take some time to reflect on what worked well and what you’d like to do differently next time. You can use this reflection to make your next conference even better.
All ready to head to a writing conference?