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 thoughts on “6 Ways to Screw Up Your Writing Conference

  1. Jason… Great list! My comments as a conference attendee and presenter.

    As a presenter: I am most approachable after speaking AND… have had a few minutes to catch my breath. I want to talk with everyone.. It energizes me and after a presentation I am on an adrenaline high… but my body feels like it just crossed the finish line of a 5k race.

    People that rush up and just start talking AT me 2 seconds after the presentation, do not get my full attention.

    The ones that wait 5 minutes do.

    As an attendee: take notes on the big picture things you want to remember from the presentation don’t try to take it all down. Most presenters will provide slides or a PDF for you to download. This is fantastic access to their material. Take notes on the big things and use the PPT’s and PDF’s form the presenter to fill in the gaps.

    ~ J

  2. Great list! I’m a firm believer in attending writers conferences as well–and not for the reason Stephen King says: [they only] (“offer creative people a chance to find someone to sleep with.”) Anyway, I’d also encourage writers to attend any and all of the social/networking events associated with the conference because you never know who you’ll end up chatting with. It seems to me that a lot of agents and editors prefer to chat with writers in these less-formal situations–it’s much more relaxing for everyone. And when it comes to lunch, try to score a seat at the table where an agent or editor you want to talk to is sitting. As long as you keep it casual and don’t bombard them with your pitch, they’ll likely ask you to tell them about your project.

    • Couldn’t agree more, April. I’ve had a lot of success this last year just from sitting at the grownup table and acting like I belong….

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