Gotta Do’s for Conference Goers
by Cindy Sproles
Every conference has its unique qualities, but there are certain “gotta do’s” conferees should plan for as conference season approaches.
My first conference was overwhelming. I distinctly remember breaking into a sweat as the conference director opened the doors to schedule appointments. I had no idea what appointments were much less all the initials folks spit out – things like POA, GWS, MS, and RUE. What was I to do? When the director instructed conferees to purchase the conference cassettes (yes, they were cassettes back in the day), I cringed at the cost.
It was easy to see, I had no idea what I needed to do. With that in mind, here are some “gotta do’s” for your conference experience, whether you are a new conferee or not.
- Cost – Let’s address this first. If you are serious about making writing a career, then swallow hard and make the investment. Attending a conference is a substantial investment. Between conference fees, critiques, housing, meals, and transportation, the cost will vary from $500-$1100. It would be nice if conferences were free but they aren’t. Still, like anything else in our lives, if we really want it, we’ll find a way to make it happen. Begin saving early and when registrations open, you aren’t in panic mode. Attending a conference is a business decision and should be treated as such. Add the costs into your business plan, count it as a tax deduction, and invest the funds. Warning: Don’t put yourself in debt to attend. Many larger conferences offer one or two day attendance packages where you can attend the conference on a limited basis rather than attending the entire conference. Smaller conferences do not usually have that luxury. Plan ahead, think smart, and attend.
- Paid Critiques and Mentoring – Conferences offer paid critiques and private mentoring. As you plan for your conference experience, budget funds for a paid critique or a mentoring appointment. The feedback from professionals offer will help you grow as a writer. Mentoring is a bit more costly. These appointments are 30 minutes to 1 hour of one-on-one intense work with a professional. Money well spent if you want to forward your career.
- Conference Recordings – Some smaller conferences do not offer conference recordings, but if the conference you are attending offers them . . .+ leave without purchasing them. Yes, it too is an investment, but once you have these recordings you have them year round for extended learning. Plus, purchasing the recordings takes the pressure off for choosing classes. It’s smart. Spend face time with the teachers at the conference who can help you where you are in your writing at this moment. Then when you get home, you can take the classes that you wanted to attend and couldn’t. It’s a wise decision. Trust me.
- Network – Learn to network. This is your opportunity to make connections in the industry. You’ll meet other authors, publishers, and agents who can help you along your writing journey. Get to know folks. Make friends. Latch onto peers who will join you as accountability partners and critique buddies.
- Don’t jump the gun – In other words, don’t come to a conference seeking an agent until you have a completed, edited, and publishable manuscript. An agent cannot sell what they don’t have. There’s no rush. Learn the craft, work to finish that manuscript and then look for an agent. If you don’t have a manuscript then take time to meet with industry professionals and pick their brains. Find out what they look for in a manuscript and how they shop them. If you don’t have a completed manuscript that is polished and ready for publication, spend your time learning the craft. This is far more valuable than wasting time in areas where you are not ready.
Ready yourself for a productive conference. Make the money you spend become money well spent. When you have the right expectations you’ll enjoy the experience much more. A conference in an investment in your career – a business decision. Focus on learning the craft to the best of your ability while you can sit at the feet of those who have walked the path first. Your time to become published will come. Prepare and learn.