Ok, so you’ve signed up for that conference for children’s writers, and you’re psyched! One more week—are you ready? You’ve got paper/ pencil/ e-tablet, the conference schedule, directions to the conference facility, someone to watch the kids…. But are you really ready?? Here are five things to do ahead of time to get the most out of your conference experience.
#1—Read! If you haven’t done this already, now is the time to start!
• Read the conference website once again to make sure that you haven’t missed anything. Check the time. Are you in the same time zone? What time is check-in? Make sure to arrive a little before the conference starts to have time to pick up your packet, get something to drink, talk to friends, and find a good seat.
• Read the speaker bios on the conference website, but also read about them online. Check their blogs, tweets, facebook page. You can often find past interviews with the speakers online, too. In the case of an editor or agent, find out what books they’ve represented, what books they like and what they’re looking for.
• Read the speakers’ books—books that they’ve written, edited, represented, or books that they like or recommend. Check them out from your local library or look for them at your local bookstore.
#2—Prepare what to say if you’re asked about yourself as a writer, what you write or what you’re working on.
• Do you write picture books, non-fiction, middle grade novels or novels for teens? What about magazines? Are you a new writer, or have you been working at it for awhile? Decide what to share about your writing self with others you meet.
• What is your current project? Do you have something ready to send out? If so, prepare your ‘elevator pitch,’ in case an editor or agent should ask about it. You have about 60 seconds, or the time it takes to ride an elevator to the next floor, to leave a good first impression of your work, and leave them asking for more!
#3—Be ready to network! You may have an outgoing personality, or perhaps you’re more on the quiet side. But this is the place to meet others like yourself, with the same struggles and goals.
• Talk to others to get the most out of your conference experience. Talk to the person sitting next to you. Talk to people who you don’t know at lunch. You’ll be surprised what you take away from meeting other writers and illustrators. And you may just make some friends for life.
• Wear your nametag throughout the conference. I like to see name tags because I’m not always good at remembering names, and it’s nice to be able to call someone by name later if I forget.
• One of my personal experiences: I met my critique members at an SCBWI conference. We were all looking for a group of ‘serious’ children’s writers, and found that we lived within a 2-hour time span from each other. We agreed to meet in the middle, at a library, and have been meeting every other month since then for ten years. And even though I recently moved out of state, I continue to meet with them through Skype.
• Another personal experience: More than once I sat next to an editor who gave me their business card and invited me to submit my work.
• Yet another personal experience: By talking to others during breaks I met published authors who were not speakers and picked up writing tips from them.
• And finally: I met other struggling writers and learned how they organize their day to find writing time.
#4—Make a list of questions. Think about what you want to learn from the speakers, from your critique, and from the conference in general. Speakers need time to eat, go to the bathroom, re-group and just plain breathe! So be sure to ask your questions during the times allowed, such as at the end of your sessions, during a Q&A panel discussion, or during your critique time.
• First, ask yourself: What are my goals for the conference? What do I want to ‘take home’ with me when the conference is over? Are you looking for writing tips, feed-back on your manuscript, someplace to submit your work, or something else? Then, consider what you need to do beforehand to get what you’re looking for.
• Do you have specific questions that you’d like to have addressed in one of the sessions that you’ll be attending? If so write them down. There is usually time for questions at the end of the talk, or if there’s time, you can ask the speaker immediately following their talk.
• If there is a speaker panel assembled for Q&A, this is the perfect time to ask general questions and get feedback or opinions from all of the speakers.
• If you’re getting a manuscript critique, make a list of questions to ask at your face-to-face time with the person doing your critique. Is there something that you’re not sure about in organizing your manuscript? Do you have questions about places in your writing? Are you wondering about the marketability?
#5—Organize ahead of time! Don’t wait until the last minute to think about what to bring with you. Start getting things ready now!
• Get your note-taking tools together! Bring a pad of paper or two, a portfolio or something to write on (you won’t always be at a desk or table), extra pens or pencils (in case one breaks or runs out of ink, or you lose one), or an electronic device to take notes on. Bring a highlighter to use with handouts, and to highlight your personal schedule on the program that you’ll receive. DO NOT record the speakers presentation without permission, and DO NOT take pictures of power point slide presentations. These are the property of the speaker.
• Bring a shoulder bag or tote bag with lots of room! One with several pockets is ideal, with room for writing tools, books, handouts, wallet, keys and business cards. Leave your purse at home! You’ll want to have hands-free to be able to check out the freebies and handouts, browse books at book sales or displays, pick up your lunch, etc.
• Bring some money along for purchasing books—books by authors and books on craft and marketing. Authors are always happy to autograph their books, and there is usually time set aside for autographing.
• Plan to dress casually. Bring a sweater or jacket in case the room temperature is too cool. On the other side, you might want to layer your clothes in case it’s too warm.
• If you signed up for a critique, bring a copy of your manuscript along, just in case you need to refer to it.
• Bring business cards with your name, website, email and contact information on it to share with others you meet. You can print these inexpensively from your computer at home.
• If you are a published author, bring along business cards, promotional postcards or brochures to have in case someone asks for them. At many conferences there is a table where these can be left out for attendees to pick up. It’s an opportunity for editors, agents, teachers, librarians and readers to find out more about you and your books.
I hope these tips help you to enjoy your next conference even more! I’ll be attending the Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference for children’s writers & Illustrators, Seeds of Success, on September 6-7th. I’m getting organized little by little! I’ve been reading about the speakers who will be there and I’m looking forward to reading their books, which I just brought home from the library.
I hope to see some of you at Seeds of Success next week-end!