10 Tips for Attending a Writers’ Conference

This weekend I attended the DFW Writers’ Conference. It was my second year, and this time I got some things right (that I learned last year) and some things wrong (that I experimented with this year). So I thought I’d share with you all some of my newfound tips, so that you can be more prepared at the next con you attend. And I totally recommend DFWcon, by the way. Great stuff.

Clockwise from the top: Addley Fannin, me, Kelsey Macke, and Febe Moss.

Without further ado, the top 10 things I learned:

1. Set your goals ahead of time. Choose 1-2 big ones and prioritize.

2. The first thing you should do is pick up your nametag, write your Twitter handle under your name, and put it on. I wish I could claim this idea as my own, but I totally snagged it from networking queen Kelsey Macke.

3. Be on Twitter. This is one I didn’t do, and I regret not doing it. I don’t have a smart phone (which, quite honestly, I greatly value for the rest of the year), so I definitely felt like I was missing out on all the #DFWcon hashtag conversations. Maybe next year I’ll borrow one or something.

4. Make yourself recognizable in person and online. This includes 1) Don’t forget your nametag when you change outfits that night or the next day. 2) Follow tip #2 above. 3) Make your actual name your Twitter handle. And 4) Make your Twitter picture look like you ahead of time, so we can make the name/face/Twitter connection.

5. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. You won’t know until you try.

6. Go with positive people who share similar goals. Like my all-time favorite wingwoman Febe Moss.

7. Find new friends (like the awesome Christine Arnold), and meet up with them more than once to reinforce the connection.

8. Follow up online with connections you made. Find them on Twitter, say hi, and give them a follow.

9. Now, some people will disagree with this. But I say don’t make it your goal to pitch to agents in social situations. Be ready, but don’t pitch unless they invite you to. Accepting that some interactions will just be for fun takes a lot of the pressure off and made my time a lot more enjoyable. Plus, just because you don’t pitch at the con doesn’t mean you can’t query them later and remind them how you met.

10. Leave classes that don’t do it for you. You’ve paid too much money to waste an hour in a class that isn’t what you need.

Those are the things I learned this year! Have you been to a writers’ conference before? Do you have any other tips to add?

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  • Tex, Ma’am

    Awesome list! Just one more thing I’d add: after you have some awesomefabulous conversation with somebody and swap contact info, stop and take a sec to write yourself a note on who they were and what you talked about. I have all these business cards for all these neat people, and (especially for the cards with no photo), can’t remember who was who!

    • Thanks! That’s a great tip. In fact, having your photo on your business card is another great tip. I do that simply because I know how hard it is to remember names with no faces attached. So yeah, great addition to the list!

  • Aww thanks! I love being your wingwoman!

  • awww thanks! You could bring the ipad and tweet that way!

    • Well, I did have my husband’s iPad, but it seemed weird to get out that big clunky thing during a class and start tweeting. I guess I should have done it anyway, but I didn’t. =/

  • Great tips, Annie. I especially liked #9. If I was an agent, I would find a writer who could be cool in a social situation to be a breath of fresh air (since they probably get pitched even when they go to the restroom!) and I would automatically be more open to that person, and remember her when she followed up with me later.

    I agree about leaving classes that don’t do it for you. I do that online, as well. There’s just too much info out there (anywhere you go) to take it all in. The more we listen to what actually feels right for us and suits our needs, the less time we waste.

    I’ll be sure to recommend your tips to anyone I know who is heading for conferences. Kudos for building on what you learned from last year’s DFWcon.

    • Thank you so much, Milli! You’re absolutely right about the agents needing a break. I was amazed at how intense and relentless some of the writers were — not out of any bad intentions, but out of desperation and a lack of social awareness. So yes, I do think they appreciate it when a writer can just chat and be friendly.

      We do have to choose what to spend our time listening to, including classes. I think most of the people who teach such things understand that sometimes it just isn’t what a participant was expecting. Time is a valuable thing, and switching to a different class certainly isn’t personal.

  • Richardsfive

    Big thumbs up for tip #9. And a small addition to tip #10: If you think you are going to bug out of a class try for an aisle seat and don’t sit on the front row. Terrific list, Annie. Thanks!

    • Ah yes, the aisle seat. It’s a much-coveted thing for that reason. I absolutely did that when I could, but many of the classes were so packed that it just wasn’t an option. But luckily, at this con, writers were constantly coming and going because we all had individual pitch slots scheduled, so most people attributed late-comers and early-leavers to that. Thanks Regina!

  • Love the twitter handle idea! Saw it and should have done it, lol. Totally agree that Febe is awesome! (She put up with my grumbly tummy in the Science Fiction class). And I wish I would have done more of number 10! There was only 1 class that REALLY disappointed me and I should have left. I spent an hour thinking, “This isn’t what I need.”

    Excellent list! I’d also recommend hanging out at the conference center during some of the down times when everyone else seems to leave. I had several networking opportunities open up when the crowds cleared.

    I’ll be referring to your list before my next conference! Thank you!

    • Hi D.B.! I wish I would have done a little more of #10 too. I think sometimes it’s hard for introverts (which didn’t it seem like everyone was?) to draw attention to themselves in that way. But yeah, we should seek what we need.

      Staying around during down-time is a great addition! Thanks so much!

  • Good lessons, Annie. And I know what you mean about doing better the next time around. When I attended AWP in Chicago this year, I was much more productive than last year here in DC, where there was so much going on and I just got lost.

    I think agents will appreciate your #9, and YES on #10. I’m kicking myself for never having thought of #2.

    • Thanks Patrick! We were too; Kelsey started a chain of Twitter handle nametags as people saw ours throughout the day. And yes, I’m hoping that every year I’ll make new mistakes instead of the same ones. 😉

  • Great tips. #4 is SO key—we can’t help but think of people as their handles since that’s how we chat these days. No need to make people work hard to put your name with your face and all that. I wish they put little avatars on name tags too!

    • Wow, that’s a great idea! Although I actually wore the shirt I’m wearing in my avatar one night, so that would have been pretty funny to see me in the shirt in my picture on my nametag, lol. But I still think it’s a good idea. Even when people do have pictures of themselves, it’s sometimes hard to recognize them in person from that. Thanks Nina!

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  • Good stuff, Annie. It was great to see you this year! You’ve inspired me to write up my own 10 tips from a Director’s perspective. Will work on it tomorrow. I think you’re spot on with not forcing a pitch during the social times. That is the time for you to visit with the agents, and make sure they know who you are BEFORE you pitch them. Then when they see you later, they will already know who you are–and everyone likes a friendly face in a crowd of strangers.

    • Thanks Jason. It was great seeing you too! I love the idea of a list from your perspective as Director! Definitely let me know if you decide to put that up. Someone should do a DFWcon 2012 links round up, too, because I’ve seen several other good post-con posts. That’s a great point, too, about becoming a friendly face instead of just another pitch. Good stuff — and great job on the con this year, too! We all hugely appreciate your hard work.

    • Just kidding. I found it! Everyone should definitely go check out Jason’s list here: http://jasonamyers.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/attending-a-conference-seven-things-you-must-know/

  • I’ve only been to one conference, and since I went through my college I was basically there as a bewildered student nowhere near the stage of looking for agents. But your post reminded me I should look into one’s that might be coming near me: I just moved to the Boston area, so there must be at least one I could attend.

    • Yeah, I imagine I would have been pretty overwhelmed at that stage too. But yes, you should definitely try to find one near you! It’s a great experience.

  • Donna Gough

    Great list and suggestions!

  • Annie – thanks, we love this, esp. # 9. Agents (and publishers and editors) are people, too, and need down time. Also, we’d add, don’t bring a manuscript and foist it on others. 1) It’s too heavy to lug around for a weekend, and 2) there’s this lovely thing called “email.”

    • Thank you! I agree about the manuscript, as well. Our conference told its attendees not to bring their MSs because they thought the temptation to offer it up would be too high, which is the problem. I would say, though, to have your MS ready on a zip drive. It’s rare for agents and editors to ask for the full manuscript at the conference, but it does happen. In fact, it happened to me in 2010. An agent told me, “Send me the whole thing and I’ll read it tonight,” but I didn’t have it with me. It was okay, of course. I just sent it to her when I got home and she still read it, but had I been more prepared it would have been even more exciting. =)

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