6 Ways to Screw Up Your Writing Conference

Business Writing Coach Folks who’ve been paying attention know I’m a big fan of conferences. I’ve said it before and will say it again, writing conferences will give you more information and introduce you to more people who can help your career than all the MFAs Full Sail University can talk you into buying.

A week from today, I’ll be presenting at the Willamette Writers Conference, as will my buddy John Ellis and a few dozen other smart folks. We’ll be packed into the hotel with hundreds of people who work as writers, editors, agents and others who serve the writing and publishing industries.

You should go to conferences, but you should do it right when you go. Make your next con your best ever by avoiding these rookie mistakes.

1. Sit in the Back Row

Yes, the information at conference classes is great and you can learn everything from the back that you do at the front. But you won’t make eye contact with the presenter. If you don’t do that, it’s harder to buy him a beer after and strike up a conversation with somebody who knows stuff you want to learn and likes to talk about that stuff. Sit in front. Make the connection.

2. Sleep Off Site

The best action in a writing conference happens after hours. As a writing and business coach, it’s where I give the most free advice. As a working writer, it’s where I’ve found the best connections. Every con has a room, table, bar or restaurant where the after party rolls. Sleeping on site means you can stay there as long as you want and talk to as many people as possible.

3. Bring Your Friends

The main point of going to a conference is to meet new people and make new connections. If you bring buddies, you’re more likely to just hang out together and not do that. If you do go with a friend, or attend a con where you find a friend of yours through no fault of your own, agree to spend some time together and the rest of your time talking to strangers.

4. Don’t Take Notes

You will be drinking from an information fire hose the entire weekend. By Monday you’ll be hard pressed to list what presentations you went to, let alone what was in them. Take notes in all of them. Also, scribble a sentence or two on the back of each business card you collect, enough information to remind you why you want to contact that person later.

5. Forget Your Business Card

On the topic of business cards, bring yours. Bring extras. Pass them out like candy. It breaks the ice, tells people how to contact you and encourages them to pass you their information. More importantly, it makes you look and feel like a pro. Since writing is one of the few industries where conference attendees wish they were professionals in the field, this alone will make you stand out.

6. Be Shy

Or unenergetic, or inclined to hang out in your hotel room the whole time. If you’re naturally gregarious, this is easy. If not, challenge yourself to talk to a minimum number of strangers every hour, or every meal. Reward yourself with five minutes of “you time” when you succeed. The people you meet are absolutely the most important aspect of con attendance, so make sure you meet people.

Readers who’ve been to cons, what advice would you give to newbies. Readers who haven’t, what are your biggest hopes and fears about your first con?



3 Ways Writers Can Own SEO

SEO BloggingBusiness writers know that over the past two years, Google has made changes to her search algorithms that are bad news to many SEO pros. But it’s good news for writers. Those changes penalized sites for using black hat and grey hat tricks that gamed the system, and rewarded sites that have clever, useful and engaging content. Put another way, Google gives preferential treatment to websites that contain well-written words. There’s more to it than that, of course, but the bottom line is the Internet is now a writer’s best playground ever. Here are five ways you can use that to your advantage for yourself and your clients. 1. Write Really, Really Well Yeah, this one’s kind of a “well, duh” statement, but it’s been missing from SEO for a few years now. Any business writing — whether it’s you for a client or you for your own writing business — now depends on making your words as tight, as effective, as interesting as possible. Good words foster engagement, interest and repeat visits. Bad writing is bad business. 2. Play the Keyword Game Keywords are the grammar of business writing for the web. If you put them in your writing, Google notices what you’re doing and lets others know what you’re writing about. If you don’t, Google has no idea what your brilliant words are supposed to do. SEO expert and web development advisor John Ellis recommends writing your piece first, then rewriting with keywords in mind. I find I can get them in there on my first pass. Either way, it’s kind of a fun word game getting your keywords in place without turning your prose into tortured sentences. I’m going for a two-word keyword phrase on this one. Can you tell what it is? 3. Engage, Engage, Engage Your words aren’t going to speak for themselves. The business of writing in the 21st century demands that you publicize your own words. For everything you write, I recommend the following steps.

  1. Identify the URL for the piece, or for the owner if it’s in print.
  2. Write a 200-word blurb about it and post it on your Google+ account, with a link to the URL and a question that encourages comment.
  3. Mention it on your Facebook or Twitter feeds, again with a question or other action that encourages engagement. Do not ask for likes or shares. Instead ask a meaningful question for people to answer.
  4. Engage vigorously with whatever others have to say about your content. Foster further conversation. Start an argument. Anything to keep the comments coming.
  5. For about one-quarter to one-half of your work, repeat steps 2 through 4 in about a month. For about ten percent of your work, keep repeating steps 2 through 4 once every four to six months.

If you do these three things, Google will eventually notice you. That’s good for your business, good for your writing, and good for your clients. It’s a win-win-win. What could be better than that. SEO is a controversial topic, even among the top-level experts. What do you think about this plan? Do you do something similar? If not, what do you do differently?