It is conference season again and hopefully you were persuaded by my previous article, 7 Reasons to Attend Writing Conferences, that attending a writing conference is a great experience for any writer. But how do you make the most of a writing conference when there are so many choices about how to spend your time?
At a good conference, the sheer volume of people, talks and opportunities can be overwhelming. One way to help make the most of a writing conference is to be very clear what you are aiming to achieve from your participation. That may seem obvious, but it will be different for each person at each stage in their career. When you are starting out, the best way to make the most of a writing conference is probably to learn all you can about improving your craft. Later you may be aiming to network, perhaps to meet agents or editors, or to find peers who will help with beta reading your work or sharing industry knowledge.
Once you know what you want to achieve, highlight the sessions and events which are key to reaching your goal. Choose craft sessions if your aim is to improve your technique; industry talks or networking events if your goal is to make connections and learn more about the wider writing world. These are the events you cannot afford to miss if you are to make the most of the conference.
With these in place, you can now pick from the remaining events according to personal preference. Which are you keen to attend, and which could you afford to miss if you need to catch up on some sleep, writing time, or informal networking?
This will give you a general plan for making the most of your time, but do not forget that to truly make the most of a writing conference, you will need a bit of flexibility too. You never know when someone will drop out of a one-to-one appointment with an editor and you will have an opportunity to pitch your new book, or when you will find yourself sitting next to a much-admired author and able to ask them some of the questions you have always wondered about.
Even if you are not planning to pitch, it is worth preparing a quick summary of your story, and a few interesting questions to ask other writers and industry professionals. Read the speakers’ biographies in advance so you have an idea of their areas of expertise for discussion, and if the organization arranging the conference has a website, check its news page so that you are aware of what topics are current.
With these tips in mind, you should find it easier to relax and enjoy the experience. Above all, the best way to make the most of a writing conference is to allow it to inspire and re-energize your writing. If you get this right, the time and money you spend on attending one conference will continue to serve you throughout the remainder of your writing year.