Making the Most of Writing Conferences

This weekend is the NESCBWI 2012 conference, and I am psyched. The chance to hang out with awesome children’s/YA writers, artists, editors, agents, and general enthusiasts? Yes, please! Plus one of the keynote speakers is Sara Zarr, who’s one of my favorite YA writers.

Recently I stumbled across a couple of excellent posts about preparing for conferences and what to expect from the experience. One suggestion from agent Rachel Kent:

“When you select whom you’ll request appointments with, research beyond just reading an agent or editor’s brief description on the conference website. Check out websites, tweets, and blogs for those agents and editors. You’ll develop a better idea of who they are, which can help you to narrow down your top choices. Also, make sure that all of the agents and editors you request to meet are actually looking for what you’re writing. If you do have an agent, you should check in with him or her before finalizing your choices because sometimes agents have had discussions about your book with the editors that you aren’t aware of or know, because of recent conversations, what editors are looking for.”

This is obviously a great suggestion for planning what conferences to attend. It can be a major expense, so it’s only worth going if you there are specific reasons to attend–an author you want to hear, an agent you’d like to connect with, etc.

Julie True Kingsley has some great suggestions as well for making the most of your conference experience while you’re there. Some points I especially like:

“Work on good karma.  A lot of writers’ are introverts (not me, obviously), make a point to talk to those people.  Pull them into conversations at lunch, make them feel comfortable.  We are all in this together.  Make sure everyone is included.”

This is one thing I really liked about SCBWI in January. I was the newbie and people were so willing to include me in conversations or to introduce themselves. And for when you’re not socializing:

“Hide in your room.  Look at your work.  Make notes.  Revise.  This is important because you might have some really incredible breakthroughs with all of that creative energy floating around.”

Obviously being surrounded by people who love writing and books is fantastic; that’s part of the reason to go to conferences. But why not take that energy and go over your draft before breakfast? Might as well use up that enthusiasm before Monday rolls around and you’re back to the day job/cleaning your bathroom/running after your kids.

Based on my own experience at SCBWI and AWP, other suggestions I’d add:

  • Have mints/gum to share.
  • Don’t buy more books at the bookfair than you can carry home.
  • Don’t be afraid to say hi to agents or writers. It doesn’t mean you have to take up an hour of their time, but if they said something thoughtful in a lecture, it’s okay to tell them you enjoyed it.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • You’re probably going to be inside most of the day. You don’t need to bring nine potential outfits.
  • Take notes. Being part of an inspiring workshop is great, but two months later you might not remember the details.
  • If you’re into social media, have fun tweeting/sharing pictures (within reason, of course). It can help connect you with other social media-savvy conference attendees.

Share your own conference suggestions/experiences in the comments. Hope to see some of you this weekend!

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