10 Tips for your first writers conference

Earlier, between Groundhogs day and the first day of spring, I attended Let’s Just Write, Chicago Writers Association’s first Conference.  Kudos go to Samantha Hoffman and Randy Richardson for a wonderful job.  I like to go to one or two conferences each year.  I learn so much. Plus, it’s great to re-connect in person with authors and bloggers that I see in person so rarely.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote in my review:

It’s hard to believe this is the very first conference for Chicago Writers Association.   The presenters were all well-informed, polished, and had useful, practical information. To tell the truth, I was happy to find that much of the material was affirming, rather than new for me.  That felt good. I also appreciated the quality of the printed schedule provided and the t-shirts.  Bravo.  I printed the schedule before I came, but the printed one was so, so much nicer…

“The Tao of the Classic Short Story”and “The Busy Writer’s Secret Weapon” were my favs.  Christine Rice reminded us that short stories and novels have a lot in common and we can build our creds by entering contests.  I used Kelly Wimmer Harm’s sohummmm mantra this morning.  I did sleep in more than I promised myself I would, but putting a task before me and seeing it through, getting up and doing something new, turned out to be a really good way to start my day.  I also enjoyed “How to Make Money as a Writer…Really,”  I’m with David Fisher, just say yes.  I am making money by writing for a small local paper, a blog post here and there, and managing a couple of websites.  On the other hand, I almost think that’s enough, it’s okay to rest a little, too.
[tweetthis]I will never, ever forget my very first writers conference.[/tweetthis]  My best friend blogger, Kimberly Sullivan, invited me to go to Write to Publish.  I had no knowledge of Write to Publish, but I totally trusted Kim and it was close enough to drive to.  This conference turned out to be just the right fit for me: small, with lots of friendly people.
  • I submitted a chapter of my book and get it critiqued.  I will never, ever forget the shakiness I felt looking for my chapter in the pile on the table.  OMGosh, I got some very positive feedback and some suggestions on publishers that fit the flavor of my novel. [tweetthis]First I cried, then I felt scared.  This is it, I’m a real writer.[/tweetthis]
  • I pitched to publishers and editors.  The first two filled my with confidence when I showed them my chapters and made my pitch.  One asked me to send him a query and three chapters. The third editor dismissed me with, “Your book is too literary for my audience.” I remember thinking  how glad I was that I met with the first two before her.  I learned that it’s not personal.  Not every book fits with every publisher.  It just might not be a good fit.
  • I learned a simple way to keep my characters and conflict/action straight.
  • I learned the importance of an editor and got encouragement about accepting rejection.
  • I learned a little bit about platform. (Each conference teaches me a little more about this slippery subject.)
  • I learned that the right writers group is hard to find and not for everyone.
  • I met a lot of authors that were yet-to-be-published and are still in touch, now that we’ve got some bona fides.

If you are considering a writers conference and you’re a newby, here’s a few tips, from me to you:

  1. Pick something local if you can, but don’t be afraid to stay for the social events. Just like school, a lot of learning goes on between the classes.
  2. Pick something you can afford, whatever that is. Apply for scholarships or volunteer, if that’s an option.
  3. Pick something smallish or go with a writer friend.
  4. Dive in and get a critique of your work. Be ready to hear a difference of opinion, even for the same sample. One of the people who critiqued my work agreed to write an endorsement.  She also became a cherished friend. Ronne Hartfield, author of Another Way Home will speak at my book club this month.
  5. Take notes, revisit them a month later, then six months later.
  6. Practice what you learned.
  7. Practice a pitch and help calm the nerves of others waiting in line. Be ready to be rejected and try again.
  8. Share what you learned on social media.
  9. Make friends and stay connected. My best blogger friend, Kim now works for Love, Inc. She wrote one of my endorsements.
  10. Repeat 1 through 9.  You won’t be sorry.

Last year, my new friend, Ann Garvin, author of I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around, encouraged me to be a speaker. She said I know more than most about social networking.  The very idea scared the begeezers out of me.

Today….I’m ready.