Like Patricia Rice, I, too, have been attending writers’ conferences for over thirty years. To be honest, I was incredibly shy at first, and even though I have become more extroverted through sheer force of will and some early friendships, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the new faces at my first few conferences. I also had trouble figuring out what to do with all the business cards and addresses I collected.
And sometimes I would wonder exactly what I had hoped to achieve by going to the conference in the first place. I knew I was there to “do business” and “network” but to what purpose? I was bewildered enough that there were many occasions where I would escape back to my room with a good book just to regroup and try to figure it all out. Fast-forward to now, and I’m a presenter at conferences and a professor in an MFA in Creative Writing program. How things have changed for me!
Here are some things I’ve learned about how to not only handle being at a writers’ conference, but how to have fun and further my career while I’m there. And it all comes down to lists.
1. Look at the list of attendees (if it’s posted ahead of time) and check out the Facebook pages and websites to acquaint yourself ahead of time with interesting people. You can send a friend request or post a hello on someone’s wall: “Hey, I own Corgis, too! See you at California Dreamin’!”
2. Make a list of concrete goals for the conference. My very first list said, “Meet three people.” California Dreamin’ offers pitch and critique sessions, workshops, and lots of time to socialize. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn about craft, markets, the business of writing, and to meet editors and other writers.
But what is a smorgasbord of opportunity for one writer can feel like an exhausting marathon of trying to do it all to another. So quantify it. Be realistic about what you think you can achieve. Break down your goals into steps so that you can give yourself gold stars as you achieve them. Rather than listing “SELL MY BOOK” perhaps say, “Practice my pitch with one new friend and meet Editor X.”
3. Be flexible. Once you get to your conference, you may find that the list of goals you made doesn’t reflect the reality. For example, you may discover that a romance line you were planning to submit to is being canceled. It doesn’t make sense to track down the editor in hopes of pitching to her.
Maybe your list includes attending a specific party…and you get invited out to dinner by some writers who loved the question you posed during one of the workshops. Do you skip dinner because it wasn’t on your list?
4. Remind yourself that you’re doing great! Back in those early days, I counted it a great success when I stopped spending so much time in my room wondering if I was doing this conference thing “right” and instead, planted myself in the bar with my book , some guacamole and chips, and a drink. Instead of chastising myself for not introducing myself to an editor in an elevator, I congratulated myself for seeking her out later.
I worked hard to weight my assessment of each conference with good feelings. I did this by making another list, this one of all the positive things that had happened—and reminding myself that opportunity only knocks. I was the one who had been open and receptive to meeting new people, learning new things, and having a great time.
So there’s my list strategy. I see lists as concrete, black-and-white strategies for success. If you see me at the conference, I hope you’ll come up and introduce yourself. I don’t know about you, but inside of me, there’s still that first-timer who’s a little shy. “Meet writing professionals and make friends” is still at the top of every one of my conference lists.
See you soon!
Nancy Holder’s favorite list in publishing is the New York Times Bestseller List, which her YA series, Wicked, appeared on for ten weeks. Beauty and the Beast: Vendetta will come out on November 25th.
Nancy Holder is a multiple award-winning, New York Times bestselling author. Her two new dark young adult dark fantasy series are Crusade and Wolf Springs Chronicles. She has won five Bram Stoker Awards from the Horror Writers Association, as well as a Scribe Award for Best Novel (Saving Grace: Tough Love).
Nancy has sold over eighty novels and one hundred short stories, many of them based on such shows as Highlander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and others. She lives in San Diego with her daughter, Belle, two corgis, and three cats. You can find Nancy at her website or Twitter.