Thursday, January 13, 2011

Planning for a Conference - Some New Thoughts

It's time to think about conferences. Who am I kidding? It's always time to think about conferences. They start in January, peak in the spring and again in the fall, and end in November. I'm a believer in everyone trying to attend one conference a year. Once you learn to keep your ear open to where they are, you find they happen everywhere - every state - many countries. I can drive 200 miles from my house and find a dozen conferences this year.

Everyone tells you how to act at a conference, prepare for a conference. I preach about it at least once a year in a blog post or editorial. But I've thought of a few new ideas you can tuck in your hat the next time you get serious about attending an event. New ways to get excited about your next conference.

1. Create a hashtag on Twitter for those attending a writing conference.
You might have to tweek it a bit to round them up, especially if you want only those attending a specific conference, conferences in a certain state, or conferences in your genre, but such networking can result in a roommate or a life-long writing friend. Coordinating with fellow attendees (or fellow speakers) ahead of time can make a conference less intimidating since you'll have people to meet when you arrive. (**You can also start a Facebook group as well.)

2. Plan your wardrobe for conversation.
Yep. think about what you'll wear. One of the best icebreakers in the world is about wardrobe. "What an unusual sweater." "Love that novelty pen with the feather." "Your purse is made from a book cover?" I'm not saying go dressed like a character (although some people adore doing that). Just consider a classy, unique, or antique item that people will notice. Trust me. People will start the conversation for you. Don't know about you, but that's a big relief for me. Professional dress always makes a difference to the professionals you want to know, trust me.

3. Create your own name tag.
You can order one at Kinkos, Staples, or Office Max. Get them in enamel, plastic or metal. This site has a customization setup. I have two kinds of tags I wear - one with pinned backs, others with magnets. This also makes introductions for you. Very efficient when you want to make conversation.

4. Decide why you're there.
What do I mean? You're going to an event to learn how to write better or discover how to sell your manuscript, right? Your purpose needs to be more focused. Are you interested in queries? The pros and cons of self-e-publishing? Breaking into trade magazines? Writing a synopsis. Small press versus large press? Make a list of your concerns. Narrow it down to three, so that when you arrive, you know who to see, what to say, and why you're there. Otherwise you remain scattered, just trying to take it all in. You might get home and realize that you never got an answer to your original dilemma.

5. How will you keep track?
Do you have a favorite notebook? A laptop? An iPad? Camera? Does your notebook have pockets for business cards and bookmarks? Will your clothes, purse or other carrier allow you to easily carry and access these items? Carry more than one favorite pen -have backups. At the end of the day (even during breaks or at lunch), jot down your thoughts, names of people you need to remember, email addresses, dates of other conferences, everything you want to remember later. If you wait until you get home, you'll forget a third of it.

6. Decide how many people to meet and greet.
If you can, research who will be there. Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington, NC posts the names of attendees and authors on its website, to include links to websites and blogs. Not all conferences do that, so at least research all the speakers and coordinators of the event. There's no better flattery in the world than for someone to walk up to you and say, "I wanted to meet you." But at least decide whether you'll greet one person per session, or six people per day, or three during breaks and lunch. Just extend a hand. If you have the wardrobe and name tag figured out, you even might not have to do that to start the chat going.

7. Decide who you are.
If you had to create one sentence about yourself for an introduction, what would you say? "I'm Hope Clark, editor of a website called, and a mystery suspense author." "I'm Janet Smith, a short story writer seeking a publisher." "I'm Roscoe Pruitt, scifi writer hunting an agent." "I'm Mark Hunter, and I like writing for magazines." If you're published you have more options. You don't have to say you don't really write, or you've never been published. Don't lead with a negative. Come up with a positive statement - proactive. You'll feel better and won't feel like you have to make excuses. Just remember that everybody goes to a conference to grow.
Here are few conference lists to get you started. Happy conferencing in 2011!

Mystery Conferences
Crime Fiction Conferences
Christian Writers Conferences
Romance Writers Conferences
Writing Conferences - NewPages
Writing Conferences - Shawguides


Sioux Roslawski said...

I had not even thought about "luring" in people with a clever purse or nametag. I thought my wrinkles and under-the-eyes bags would be enough (ha). Silly me!

Thanks for giving us some serious choices to consider as we prepare for a conference.

Sylvia Ney said...

Thank you so much for the list of conferences - Big help!

Jenn Crowell said...

I second the tip on the nametag -- would have never thought of that myself!

Barb Hodges said...

Hope, thank you very much. These tips will be so helpful.

Melanie, Live from Vienna said...

Nice summary. I also bring business cards to hand out generously and when I receive someone else's card, I write something on the back about a conversation we had so I can follow up in a meaningful way.

Carol J. Alexander said...

Hope, Thanks so much. I'm actually going to a conference next week--Roanoke Regional Writers Conference--and it will be my first since college (30 years?). These tips are great. But the first one has me in a flummox. I really need to find a Twitter tutorial. I did do a search on there but came up with just one post (by the conference chairman).
Melanie...what a great idea. That way I won't forget who everyone is after I walk away!
I'm getting psyched!