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February 23, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

Relationships and Other Odds and Ends

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This is the sixth and last post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. In this post, we’ll look at the importance of forming friendships with other conferees, the proper way to respond to editors, and what to do with the tote bag of hand-outs you’ll take home with you.

The Importance of Friendships

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know this “business” can be lonely. While you’re slaving away at your computer, your family and your non-writing “normal” friends, who love you dearly, don’t understand you, wondering why you’re spending all your time writing something that will “probably never be published.” (And even if it is published, it might take years.) Only another writer understands the burning desire deep down in your heart to get that story or poem out before you burst, whether it’s ever published or not.

Thus, it’s important for you as a writer to have those kindred spirits as friends to dump on occasionally, to talk you through writer’s block, to cheer with you when your manuscript is accepted, and to cry with you when you get your umpteenth rejection letter. If you have no critique group in your area that meets regularly, then the next best thing is to form Conferees.on.Porchfriendships at writers conferences and keep in touch with your writer buddies throughout the year.

I have numerous writer friends, who live across the country, but we keep in touch via the marvel of the Internet or by phone. Many of these special friendships were formed over my attending twenty years of conferences, and I thank the Lord for these writers’ encouragement and camaraderie when I’ve needed it the most.

So remember when you attend the conferences, look for opportunities to meet other conferees. Sit at different tables during meals, talk to folks on your breaks, and get names, phone numbers, and email addresses of those you get to know. You’ll be very glad you did.

Responding to Editors

I have one word to say concerning your follow-up after meeting with editors at writers conferences: RESPOND.

If an editor, or agent, reviews your work at a writers conference and asks you to contact him/her in a few weeks after the conference, then do so. A number of editors and agents have told me that only about 25% of the conferees they meet at conferences respond to that request, which is hard to understand. Those who don’t respond might be kissing a contract goodbye. In the two years I’ve been filling the shoes of an acquisitions editor for a small press, I’ve had similar results with some folks I’ve met at conferences. They’ve never contacted me after the conference…ever! It’s a mystery that defies explanation.

Thus, my advice to you if you meet an editor or agent who likes your work and wants you to get back to them a week or so after the conference, then make that a top priority when you get home. It might be a golden opportunity for you to land that contract you’ve been writing for all these years.

What To Do with a Stack of Hand-outs (and Books Purchased)

Most faculty members will have hand-outs for the conferees who attend their workshops. If you go to even a one-day conference, you might sit in on four to six workshops during the day. Going to a multi-day conference will, obviously, fill your tote bag with all kinds of valuable information that can help you master your craft. Then there’s always the book table, which lures you to buy invaluable how-to books and tomes of the best-selling faculty members. But what to do with dozens of papers and a two-foot stack of new books?

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a plan for all these papers and books, they might land in a messy pile in the corner of your computer station, stuffed in a drawer, or left in the tote bag Frank.Stuffed.Duck.in.Lobbyyou’ve carried home. This, in my opinion, is a misappropriation of funds and vital knowledge!

If you’ve possibly paid hundreds of dollars to attend a conference, then strive to get the very best out of it, while you’re there and afterward. Buy a three-ring binder and file your hand-outs in the binder, making sure you’ve labeled all the hand-outs with the faculty member’s name who taught the session. It’s your choice whether to put the papers in alphabetical order or in chronological order. Store all your book purchases in an obvious place and READ THEM! Thus, all that helpful information will be at your fingertips and can only help you to improve your craft.

So, what’s the bottom line concerning attending writers conferences? Go to as many as possible, make new friends, meet with agents and editors, and take detailed notes that will be at your fingertips when you get home. Of such are best-selling authors made.

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