Many (if not most) professional authors understand the value of attending writers' conferences. In addition to offering valuable writing tips and marketing classes, conferences provide an unparalleled opportunity to network and connect with other authors and industry professionals.
But are you getting the most from your conference experience?
Here are some tips for turning a fabulous, educational weekend into a practical boost for your writing career:
1. Identify your conference goals and make a "conference plan" before you go. Whether you're attending to improve your writing skills, develop a network of business contacts, find an agent, or simply re-connect with writing friends, you'll achieve the most success if you go in with a plan.
A conference plan doesn't have to be complicated (or even in writing, unless you like making lists). Think through your reasons for attending the conference. Why are you going? What do you hope to achieve? When you leave at the end of the weekend, what will you feel happy about accomplishing (or disappointed not to achieve)? Those are your conference goals.
Try to establish at least three goals for each conference: a personal goal (such as "meet and remember one new person each day"), a professional goal ("learn to pitch my book effectively in a single sentence"), and a "reach goal" - which could be anything from "finding an agent" to "learn how to use Twitter properly for my writing career." The key is making sure you have a range of goals, at least some of which are within your exclusive power to achieve.
2. Get involved! Teach, Volunteer, or Serve on a Conference Committee. It can be difficult to get panels or workshop teaching spots before you achieve publication, but try to find the places where your special skills or experiences can benefit the conference. If teaching isn't your thing, consider volunteering or joining the organizing committee. Making a personal investment in the conference's success can help you have a successful experience too.
3. Identify and attend conferences that focus on your genre. General conferences are great, and definitely worth attending, but many conferences also offer specialized experiences. Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention), RWA National (for romance writers), and the Historical Novel Society Conference are merely three examples of national-level conferences that promote in specific types of writing. Local and regional conferences also offer topic-specific choices. Some are writers' conferences, while others cater primarily to readers. Find and attend the ones that work best for you.
4. Select a "home conference" to attend every year. It's nice to experience different types and sizes of conference, both to discover your personal preferences and to reach the broadest possible audience. However, it's also important to establish a presence at a conference where people can get to know you well. Having one conference you "always" attend can help develop your personal and professional networks, and offer a "safe harbor" where you always feel welcome and at home.
5. Have fun, and let it show. People are drawn to happy, confident people. Readers like authors whose attitude is friendly, open, and fun. Conferences may seem overwhelming (especially when you go in with a plan and have things you want to achieve) but don't forget--for many of us, a conference represents a chance to meet up with old friends, make new ones, and take a vacation from reality. For three, glorious days, you can be a writer---and only a writer-- around other people who love books and writing as much as you do. Take the time to enjoy it!
And while you're looking for that conference home, may I recommend our own Colorado Gold? It's happening September 11-13, 2015, at the Denver Westin, and registration opens May 1. It's been my "conference home" since 2010, and I look forward to it all year. I hope to see you there in September!
Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.