In a few days, I’ll be headed off to my first writer’s conference. I chose Midwest Writer’s Workshop for its relatively low price and close proximity to home. I won’t have to worry about hotels or plane tickets or restaurants. However, the ease of all of my organization so far has made the whole conference seem vague and, well, not really that big a deal.
But it is a big deal. I’ve never been surrounded by hundreds of other writers before, all with the same (or similar) goals and ambitions and frustrations that I have. I’ve had my pieces workshopped, and I’ve taken a few creative writing classes, but it has never been anything like this. This is basically a writer’s camp, but preparing for MWW is nothing like preparing for the summer camps I attended as a kid. No need for bugspray, sunscreen, or secret hoards of snacks. (Well, okay, maybe the snacks, though they won’t need to be hidden under a mattress.) Here is what I know about preparing for writer’s conferences so far:
- Bring business cards. Be ready to trade them like the once-coveted Lion King cards and (no joke) Torah cards I brought to Jew camp. But this time, instead of looking for the rarest cards or the ones with the biggest names, my conference networking will be all about finding the right matches. I’ll be looking for people who are working on projects that are similar to mine, or who may be interested in what I write, or know someone who is. I’m not looking for a book deal here (not that I’d turn one down, of course), just for some advice on how to go about landing one when I start querying at the end of the year and some contacts to whom I can send said queries. If I’m a successful trader, my business card collection at the end of the week will be full of those people. And, if you’re one of those people, introduce yourself!
- Have an elevator pitch ready. Or at least some form of an elevator pitch, even if you’re not actually pitching. People will ask what your book/short story/poetry collection is about. My usual “I don’t like to talk about my writing until I’ve got a draft done” won’t cut it. First, because I have a draft (which needed an overhaul of the setting and several plot adjustments; read: a complete re-write); and second, because that’s just not professional. I could get away with saying things like that when writing was a hobby, something I dabbled in for fun. But now that I consider myself a professional writer, I need to be ready to talk about my work. And not just ready to, but eager to. I need to be as enthusiastic about my book out loud as I am in my head. Because no one wants to hear a weak, mumbled synopsis of the twelfth “work in progress” someone’s talked about that morning.
- Have a plan. Know which sessions you want to attend, and which speakers/authors/agents you want to talk to. Also, be prepared to deviate from the plan if a great conversation is keeping you from a session or if meeting one of the speakers makes you decide to go to her talk instead of the one on your original agenda.
- Take notes on everything. When someone gives you a business card, write down where you were or what you were talking about so you’ll remember which card goes with which person later. Take notes on what the speakers say in their sessions, even if you think you’ll remember it later. There will be so many things that you’re trying to remember, from that tip about setting to when that session on dialogue is to how to get to the meeting room to where you parked your car. If someone gives you some great advice at lunch or in line for the restroom, find a tactful way to jot that down, too. I’ve always been a compulsive note-taker, so hopefully this won’t be too hard for me.
- Have fun. You’re going to be overwhelmed by all of the agents, the “real” authors, the people whose work makes yours look like an attempt to prove the infinite monkey theorem gone wrong. Don’t be intimidated by them. Learn from them. They’ve been in your shoes, and they may have some of the best advice you’ll get.
Any other pre-conference tips? Or are any of you going to be at MWW? If so, be ready to swap business cards with me!