How to get the most out of a writer’s conference

How do you make sure you get what you paid for when you attend a writer’s conference?

I spoke at several writer’s conferences this spring, but I approached each event as an attendee, too. I decided that if I was going to take the time to fly across the country or spend a day on the train to be a conference speaker, I was also going to make sure I got as much as I could out of each trip.

Making sure each conference was a good experience as both a speaker and a participant required strategic thinking and advance planning. Here are a eight steps for getting the most from a writer’s conference that will make sure every conference you attend offers value, too.

1. Make sure you’re selecting a conference that’s a good fit for you.

Don’t register for a conference that requires long-distance travel and related expenses until the sessions and speakers are posted. You don’t want to arrive, look over the agenda, and think, “There’s nothing here I need to learn.”

If you write fiction, for example, you want to make sure that the agenda isn’t dominated by nonfiction topics and speakers. Or, if you’re going to a conference hoping to snag an agent, make sure that the organizers offer that option — not all writer’s conferences do.

2. Plug in to any and all pre-conference networking.

This will help you begin to develop online connections and relationships that you can solidify on-site and in-person. This is even more important if you’re going to the conference solo instead of with a writer buddy because it will mean there will be friendly faces there waiting to greet you.

Knowing who else plans to attend, whether it’s through the conference Facebook group, listserv, or registrant list provided in advance by organizers helps you decide who you might want to network with, also.

3. Create one or two goals about what you want to get from the conference. 

Write them down and make a plan for how you’ll achieve them. Leaving it to chance won’t work — and you might leave town disappointed instead of rejuvenated and inspired.

4. Don’t even begin to think that this is a pleasure trip.

When I spoke at an author’s conference in Denver in May, I spent the evening before the conference started with my sister and had dinner with a local friend one night. The rest of the time I was glued to a seat in as many sessions as possible, taking notes or meeting interesting people. That’s because I was fixed on my two goals: learning and connecting. I couldn’t do that offsite, sightseeing or exploring the city.

Lots of people plan vacations around a conference. The only way to make that work is to arrive early. If you vacation immediately after the event, you’ll forget what you learned by the time you get home or you’ll be so backlogged that you won’t have time to act on the  notes you took.

5. Leave your introverted self at home.

This can be difficult for me. I’m an introvert who has learned to be an extrovert, so while I know how to step forward, introduce myself, and start a conversation, there are times during that lull between lunch and the next session when I’d like to just sink into a comfy chair with a latte and people watch.

But then I’d be wasting my registration fee. (See point 4.)

6. Pack a conference tool kit.

At a minimum, bring one or two notebooks, a couple of your favorite note-taking pens (I like a fine point Sharpie, myself), and business cards. Many conference goers taking notes on laptops or tablets need extension cords when their batteries run low and power outlets are hard to find.

7. Review notes and handouts at the end of each day.

As you reviews those notes back in your room after dinner, highlight three key points from each of the sessions you attended, and label them according to importance. Then, when you return to your notes to take action when you’re back home, you’ll have a solid starting point.

8. Act on what you’ve learned and connections you’ve made.

It’s not enough to learn or connect. You have to act on all of it. Send “nice to meet you, let’s stay in touch” e-mails to people you met. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Implement a few of the tips you picked up immediately. Schedule time to learn more about something that intrigued you at the conference. The worst thing you can do is to return to your computer and do nothing with the knowledge you acquired or the friends you made at the conference.

Here’s a list of writing conferences where you can put what you’ve learned to use: http://www.newpages.com/writers-resources/writing-conferences-events . Perhaps there’s one on the list that’s perfect for you, your career, and your location.

What’s your favorite writer’s conference, and why?

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  1. Thanks Sandra. Great tips!

    I have attended several conferences and there seem to be two different types. There are the “seminar” types – one is more the traditional conference, where there are sessions and you can pick and choose. There may be agents you can pitch to.

    The second type is more a working/learning workshop situation, where you spend most of your time in a group or individually interacting with an instructor and looking at your work.

    There’s value to both. Writers should understand which type they are going to, so they aren’t disappointed.

    Jean Wilson Murray

    1. Good point, Jean — thanks! When you’re looking at options, it’s important to know if you want to sit and take notes, or whether you want to work and participate. I agree with you that while they’re very different, they both have value. I suppose one is more of a conference and the other is more of a workshop, right?


    1. Hi Mikalya,

      I wish I could, but there are so many! It depends on what you want to learn, who you want to learn it from, how you want to learn it (panel presentations? hands on workshops?), how far you’re willing to travel, etc. There are some good options in the link in the blog post, though!


  2. As always, lots of helpful information given about a subject every writer is interested in.
    Thanks especially for the detailed list of conferences available from the home state to international destinations-if only we could attend them all!

    1. You’re welcome, Wilma. I’m glad it was helpful. And I love sharing a link to someone else’s great content!


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