Writers’ conferences can provide an excellent opportunity to learn latest trends and network. Though sometimes there’s so much activity going on, it can be difficult to absorb the barrage of information, let alone posing a question to the guest speaker who is immediately mobbed after her presentation. With such an influx of writers at a conference, meaningful one-on-one conversation can be problematic if not impossible. The cost in time and money is no small factor either. Fortunately with some advance planning and considering a few key questions you can reap maximum benefits from the conference.
Prior to the Conference
First of all, think about where you are on your writing journey. Have you just started or have you taken a new direction and aren’t sure where to turn? Or are you stranded on a plateau and trying to figure out how to get to the next level? In what area are you facing the most struggles, craft, production or marketing? What type of people do you need right now to help you reach those goals? Are you looking for a colleague, collaborator or a contractor?
At the same time, you should consider your strengths. What can you share about your writing experiences that might help someone on her journey? Is there a blog, book or podcast that you’ve found to be particularly insightful? Your conversations will be more engaging if you have something to contribute in return.
Next, study the conference panel and evaluate what they have to offer. How can their strengths and experiences help you on your journey? Have a couple of key questions in mind that you can ask if given the opportunity. Keep the questions short and specific. If you have the opportunity for a longer discussion, great but avoid monopolizing the speaker’s time. You don’t want to be that guy.
During the Conference
While it’s nearly impossible at a large conference to meet everyone, avoid the temptation to only reach out to other authors in your genre. At a recent indie author event, one of my friends, a best-selling romance author in her own right, made it a point to stop at each author’s table to chat. Talk to everyone. Someone from outside your genre may have a different angle on a problem you’ve been facing. While authors may write in a few specific genres, many authors are omnivorous readers. You could be chatting with your next fan and not even know it.
Another way that writers limit themselves is to focus exclusively on the well-known, successful authors and ignore the rookies. As far as fledgling writers are concerned, when they’re not in the throes of trying to finish their first novel they’re usually busy learning everything they can about the craft and the business. Sometimes rookies can be the best source of what’s cutting edge.
In addition to whatever notes you’ve taken during the sessions, take time to jot down your observations of the conference as a whole which should include notes on the other writers you met. Start a to-do list of people to contact and follow-up items to tackle when you return home while the ideas are fresh in your mind. Make one of those tasks an appointment with yourself to review your notes a month or two after the conference. By re-reading your notes at a later time, you may glean valuable insight that you missed while caught up in the excitement of the conference.
In Reno, many of the local casinos offer an After-Burner deal providing Burning Man participants the opportunity to decompress with a spa/massage package after leaving the playa before they have to reconnect with the real world. While a spa weekend may not always be possible due to time and budget constraints, consider ways to ease back into your regular schedule. Can you take an extra day off work or at least schedule a date night? Your significant other would probably appreciate it after keeping the home fires burning during your absence. Or can you at least make sure the pantry is stocked and gas tank filled so you don’t have to immediately attend to those errands when you return?
Even if you can’t squeeze in a spa weekend, schedule a lunch or coffee date with to review the conference high lights with either some writer colleagues or like-minded friends. Unless the conference was solely focused on craft, the content on developing your brand and marketing would be useful to any of your friends who are self-employed or starting their own business. Chances are your entrepreneur buddies have a different perspective that would benefit your writing as well. By revisiting and sharing the knowledge you learned and reaching out to other writers you’ve met, the conference becomes a viable asset continually supporting your writing instead of simply a pleasant memory.
Susan Winters balances her writing life with her work as a full-time corporate paralegal. Raised in Northern California, Susan started writing articles for the campus paper and publishing a short story in the college literary magazine and has been alternating between fact and fiction ever since. She is the author of Ever After and Mixed Blessings. Her non-fiction has appeared in Reno News & Review and numerous indie parenting magazines.
As Mariposa Cruz she writes contemporary romance including the Rhythm & Romance series. Her Create on the Side blog features interviews with authors, actors, artists, and musicians who manage their creative pursuits with full-time work. An avid reader, knitter and Salsa dancer, Susan resides in Reno, Nevada with her family.
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