You’ve decided to go to a writers’ conference. You’ve paid the registration fee and booked your travel. Now, how do you make the most out of the three days dedicated to furthering your career? Here’s how:
1. Plan your agenda in advance. The amount of breakout sessions and workshops offered at these things can be overwhelming and you’ll most likely want to attend 90% of them. You can’t. Many are offered simultaneously so you’ll have to make some tough choices. Check out the schedule well before you go and rank in order the sessions you think offer the most value for you. That way, you can read up on the speakers and prepare questions you’d like to ask them before you step foot into the room.
2. Read the speakers’ bios. Yes, all of them. Harkening back to my first tip, you won’t be able to sit in on all of their sessions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t meet and chat with them while you’re there. Know enough about each of them to formulate the questions you’d like to ask if you find yourself riding up in the elevator or sitting across from them in one of the networking events.
3. Go to the networking events. Yes, they usually cost extra, but unlike the sessions themselves, this is a time to socialize with speakers and other attendees. During the sessions, time is limited to ask any follow-up questions, and in this more relaxed atmosphere, you’ll have a better chance to really chat one-on-one.
4. Spend time meeting and getting to know other attendees. At every conference I’ve been to, I’ve seen attendees who are so laser-focused on meeting agents and speakers, they put zero effort into getting to know other writers. What a wasted opportunity. Other writers are the ones who will act as beta readers, join your writing groups, and perhaps even collaborate with you. They bring just as much value as the speakers and agents.
5. Work in time to actually write. This is tougher than it sounds. Skipping sessions may feel like money wasted but over-scheduling can be counterproductive. Give yourself some time to relax and process what you’ve learned in the sessions. The creative juices will be flowing. Cultivate that experience and jot down those new concepts and ideas.
6. See the city. If you’ve traveled to a new city for the conference, allow yourself to see it as a working vacation. Spend an evening out at a famous restaurant or take the morning to go check out the tourist sight. Some conferences, like the San Francisco Writers Conference, actually include sunrise walking tours on their itinerary to give attendees the chance to take a walking tour of the Financial District.
7. Don’t blow your budget. You want to be grateful for the experience afterward, not regret it when your credit card bill comes. Find ways to save money, if you need to. That might include staying at a nearby three-star hotel instead of the four-star hotel where the conference is located, bringing a package of granola bars instead of paying for restaurant breakfasts, checking out online deals for any tourist attractions you plan to see, and finding the most economical airport transfers.
8. Contact the editors of writing or travel magazines and blogs and let them know you’ll be attending the conference and would like to submit an article about it afterward. They may or may not pay you for your article, but you can always use it as a published writing sample and a way to drive traffic to your own website. The editor may respond with a specific request to interview one of the speakers, which will allow you to sit down one-on-one, and get to know him or her better. Some of these speakers would be difficult to meet with otherwise.
9. Don’t buy the books. As a speaker who also sells books at conferences this may sound like I’m betraying my people. But the truth is, you can find the same books on Amazon for half the price and they’ll be at your door by the time you arrive home. If you want the author to sign your copy, buy it from them (or the conference bookstore directly), but if you just want to read it, wait a few days and save some cash.
10. Submit your work to contests. Many of the conferences also offer writing contests. If you plan well enough in advance, you may just win and the registration costs of attending may be waived. In addition, every time you send that screenplay, novel, or short story out, you can announce that it won a contest which makes people more likely to want to read your submission before the hundreds of other submissions they’ve received the same week.
11. Offer to volunteer. Volunteers are routinely given discounted (or free) registration in exchange for helping to organize the sessions, make photocopies, make badges, sign in attendees and fill tote bags. It’s easy stuff and it can make it more affordable.
12. And last, enjoy yourself. Leave the pressures of work and other obligations behind and focus on yourself and your writing for a few days. You deserve it.