20 Tips for Attending Your Next Writing Conference
It’s almost time for the upcoming SCBWI Iowa Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think Spring Conference! Will you be attending?
I had chosen a couple of months ago to write a post all about tips for attending a writing conference with the spring conference in mind. Then, COVID-19 arrived, and there was some uncertainty with the logistics of the upcoming conference.
Thanks to the work of an amazing SCBWI team and the speakers, the Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think Conference should still happen albeit online instead of in person. Those who register will have the opportunity to watch all of the sessions live online AND be able to watch all of the recorded sessions for up to a month after the conference at their own convenience all for a reduced price!
You can check out all the details and register for the Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think conference here
The tips I have in this post are targeted more for an in-person writing conference, but I decided to still include them. After all, the upcoming writing conference will hopefully not be the only writing conference in SCBWI’s future. The tips I felt were pertinent to a virtual conference have been marked with an asterisk.
So, on to the tips for attending a writing conference.
Before the Conference
Be Patient with the Organizers*
There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work done to plan and organize conferences. You can reach out to the organizers with questions, but please be patient with them.
Remember, many of them are volunteers with jobs, families, and other commitments. They aren’t organizing conferences for fame and fortune!
Review the Conference Schedule*
Print, highlight, and mark up the conference schedule if needed to ensure you don’t accidentally write down the wrong information. Double-check all the dates and times. If you must choose between multiple sessions taking place at the same time, which one makes the most sense for your writing path? When are the deadlines for registering, submitting manuscripts for critiques, or submitting any other needed information? Make sure to get everything completed on time.
Research the Speakers*
A lot of information can be found by doing a quick Google search and reading through the speakers’ websites and social media platforms. Some of the speakers may even have interviews available online to listen to or read. Literary agents often have manuscript wish lists, which conference attendees can view ahead of time. Maybe
something they are wanting is something you already have or are interested in writing!
Reading books the speakers have written, edited, or published is also helpful. Yes, it’s quite a bit of homework, but researching the speakers in advance can make the presentations more valuable.
Think of Questions to Ask*
Are there any relevant questions the speakers may be able to answer that you can’t find by doing a simple online search? Is there anything specific you would like to ask the speakers about their experience or process? Of course, you may come up with questions while listening to the presentations, but being prepared with a few questions in advance to ask at an appropriate time may be beneficial.
Prepare Business Cards (and Postcards)
Literary agents and editors don’t want to go home with stacks of manuscripts! Would you? Instead, have some business cards (and postcards if you are an illustrator) prepared to hand out to literary agents and editors at the conference. You can submit your manuscript to them later if they are interested in it.
Business cards and postcards aren’t just for literary agents and editors, though. Make sure to have enough to hand out to fellow writers and illustrators you may meet at the conference. You never know when you will make lifelong friends who can encourage you through your writing journey. They may be just one business card away to stay in touch!
Create a Manuscript List and Elevator Pitches
If I were to ask you about the manuscript you are working on right now, what would you say? Would you ramble on and on and take more time trying to explain the manuscript than time it would take to actually read the manuscript? Or am I the only one guilty of that?
Preparing and practicing elevator pitches for each manuscript can help ease the tension when someone asks what your manuscript is about. Elevator pitches are short, sweet, and can be delivered in about a minute. A list of manuscript titles along with each elevator pitch may be a good reference for you during the conference. Maybe one of the speakers will mention they are looking for a certain kind of manuscript that happens to fit the description of one you already have. No point in carrying all of your manuscripts around when you can have a handy dandy list!
Prepare a Stand-Up Bag
A stand-up-bag big enough to hold a notebook, pens, highlighters, a water bottle, any books you purchase, the conference schedule and handouts, and anything else you deem a necessity is very convenient. Bonus points if it has pockets to access your business cards and postcards easily!
During the Conference
Arrive on Time (or Early)*
Traffic and even technology can sometimes hinder arrival time but still try your best to arrive on time. Arriving late may cause an unneeded distraction.
Pajamas may be comfortable, but they are not appropriate for a writing conference. Wear casual/business casual clothing and wear layers if attending in person. Different rooms may vary significantly in temperature, so be prepared.
Hand out Business Cards (and Postcards)
Only hand out business cards or postcards at appropriate times. Slipping one under the stall in a bathroom is not recommended! Don’t forget business cards are not only for literary agents and editors. Try making some new writer and illustrator friends.
Having an editor or agent critique your work may be an excellent opportunity to hear the perspective of a professional. During a critique session, try to focus more on learning from the experience and advice presented than trying to pitch or sell your story. Keep an open mind with the feedback. Stay within your time limit, and remember interrupting and yelling at a critiquer will not improve your manuscript.
Just because I told you to research the speakers before the conference does not give you permission to stalk them in person! Don’t become the creepy character you read about in books. Let the speakers go to the bathroom in peace. Don’t be lurking around every corner. The speakers are people, too.
Ask questions at appropriate times instead of interrupting. Don’t be loud and obnoxious. Make your first impression count as a positive experience. Be professional!
Be Patient with the Organizers*
Yes, I’m repeating this one, but it is just as important during the conference as it is before the conference. Things happen. Technology doesn’t always work on cue. The food and drinks may not be prepared just the way you like. Please be flexible and understanding.
Take Lots of Notes*
There will be a lot of information in a condensed period of time. It’s impossible to remember it all. Listen attentively to what the speakers are saying and take detailed notes even during critiques to refer back to later. Focus on learning as much as you can in the time you have.
An advantage of many conferences is that literary agents and editors often allow conference attendees to submit manuscripts to them for a certain period of time after the conference. Make sure to write down all of the manuscript submission deadlines and details in an easy-to-find location.
Don’t Record Presentations*
Just like you have spent a considerable amount of time creating your manuscripts, the speakers have spent time putting their presentations together. Their material is theirs. Be courteous and don’t record them unless you havepermission.
Network with Authors and Illustrators
Sure, some authors and illustrators find literary agents and editors at writing conferences, but that should not be your only focus. If it is, you may end up being
disappointed if it doesn’t happen for you. Take the time to meet other writers and illustrators. Network, encourage, and be encouraged. The idea of networking can be very intimidating for writers who are introverts, so having a few conversation starters in mind ahead of time may ease the tension during the conference. Maybe you will find a critique partner or support team at your next writing conference.
There is a lot of information to learn, people to meet, and sessions to attend, but you should still make sure to enjoy your time. Where else do you get to mingle with other writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals all in one location? Have fun while still being professional.
After the Conference
Send Thank You Messages*
The organizers, presenters, and critiquers have spent quite a bit of time preparing for the conference. Be courteous. Thank them for what they have done without expecting anything more in return.
Take Some Time*
Conferences can feel like one giant “brain dump”, and it may take some time to digest all of the information. Don’t let it overwhelm you. It’s okay to step away from your conference notes for a few days (or more), breathe, and relax. All those notes you took during the conference will still be there when you have had a few days to recuperate from all theexcitement.
Read Through Notes*
After you have had some time to breathe, read through your notes and take action. There’s no point in taking a lot of notes and learning a bunch of information if you aren’t going to actually use it. Is there anything you learned you can implement in your writing right now? Is there anything you can use in the near future? Do you have any manuscripts that seem appropriate for the literary agents or editors who presented at the conference? Record any deadlines on your calendar. Use the information you learned to improve your writings and to submit to the appropriate places.
Talk to Others*
Reach out to someone else who attended the conference and discuss it together. Do you have different perspectives on what was taught? Is there something they heard you may have missed? Reflect on the conference together to retain even more information.
Prep and Send Submissions*
If you have any manuscripts that seem appropriate to the literary agents or editors who are accepting manuscripts from conference attendees, edit them and send them before the deadline.
Write Your Next Manuscript*
Use the information you have learned to move forward in your writing journey. Don’t quit. Keep working on your manuscripts. Be encouraged, knowing you are not in this alone.
(Don’t forget, you can register for the Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think conference here.)
Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, children’s book author, freelance writer, and the Regional Social Chair for SCBWI Iowa Cedar Rapids. Free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more information about Brigitte and her writings can be found on brigittebrulz.com.