Conferences-Part Two

Okay, so now you’ve picked your conference, and you’ve made the arrangements for travel, hotel, vacation time, and otherwise covered your home life…are you ready to go to the conference yet?

NO!

1) Is there a deadline for submissions for critiques or workshops?

If there is, make sure you hit it. Don’t make a habit of being late on deadlines. You will make the conference organizer’s head explode. Conference organizers are generally unpaid volunteers in charge of making sure that everything gets to everyone in time to have everything ready for the conference to start. Be courteous to them, and don’t make their job harder.

If you’re late enough times, you will get a bad reputation. It’s not one you want. Part of going to conferences is building professional contacts and a professional reputation. Remember as well that it has been the conference organizer who is coordinating with the publishing professionals coming to the conference. Be very protective of your reputation. Hit your deadlines.

2) Pack your conference bag.

When I’m headed to a conference, I have a shoulder bag that I carry. If the conference actually gives me a bag, I have a tendency to go dump it in the hotel room with whatever conference materials I’m not wild about carting around all day and I end up with the bag I’m used to carrying.

I use the same bag for work conferences as well.

In that bag, I will carry the following:

  • Manila file folders containing snippets of projects I’m working on/submitting
  • A legal pad or notebook for taking notes
  • My netbook (I love that it fits in the bag so easily!)
  • A couple of pens
  • Business cards
  • The conference schedule
  • Breath mints/gum/cough drops
  • A bottle of water

That’s about it. I don’t carry a ton of stuff. I do NOT carry an entire novel manuscript, but I might have the first chapter or so to show people if they ask. If I have a short story I’m subbing around, I might have a copy of the entire story; depending on how long it is (most of my shorts are around 5K words, which are only 17 pages).

In my pockets, I’ll have my cell phone, my flash drive, my keys and a small wallet. There’s really no reason to have more, and I have no desire to carry around a purse and a shoulder bag. I’m not a Sherpa. There’s no reason to carry around more than necessary.

3) Read up on the conference before you pack.

That’s a typo, right? It should be read up on the conference before you GO? Nope. You read it correctly.

I went to a conference where I had not realized the extent of the costumes that would be happening. I’m not big into cosplay, but I did feel a little like a sore thumb because I hadn’t even thought to do something minor to fit in. Even some minor glitter makeup would have been enough.

I’ve been to a conference that I didn’t realize how cold the conference rooms get, and didn’t have a thick enough sweatshirt to stay warm.

I’ve been to a workshop where I really wished I’d made pitch appointments that I hadn’t realized were available. And then didn’t feel prepared to just step in and pitch.

You see what I mean?

Search around on the web, even if it’s not clear on the conference website. Some writer’s resource sites have links on past conferences/conventions/workshops. Check out Absolute Write. Also sometimes you can find blog posts from previous attendees just by Googling the name of the conference.

4) Packing your suitcase.

You know, we’re all adults. I assume that people will know how to pack their own suitcase. Here are some things I have found that you probably do NOT want to forget.

  • Preferred headache/pain reliever (i.e., Advil, Tylenol, aspirin)
  • A travel packet of Pepto-Bismol chewable tablets or small roll of Tums or similar
  • Any allergy medication or required prescription medication.
  • Sweatshirt/jacket, even in the summer

I’ve found that people will knock back a few more drinks than normal at a conference. They don’t eat as healthy as they would at home. They’re not sleeping as much, and are putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day awake and running at full tilt. Some are in an area that they are not used to, and allergies can erupt. (That would be me.)

If you’ve found that travel will throw off your internal machine, be prepared. And please, do not forget your prescription meds. You need to be at the top of your game to go to a conference. If you’re anything like me, you’ll wear yourself out while you’re there.

5) Eat really healthy for a couple of days before you leave and be prepared to do so when you get back.

If you’re at a conference, you’ll eat most of your meals at the con or in food courts and restaurants. (See suggestion for Pepto-Bismol in #4).

Some conferences will provide meals, and sometimes they’re even healthy. That’s the exception, not the rule. I heard someone at the last conference I attended remark that going to a conference is like being back in college for a long weekend. It’s true, but I think even college students eat better over the long haul than writers do over a conference weekend.

Next time…AT THE CONFERENCE…

God of Cake

Okay, this has NOTHING to do with anything I normally blog about, other than it made me laugh after a 15 hour day of meetings and witness interviews and a writer’s group critique session.

Enjoy. I absolutely did. Especially after having spent a few hours last Friday with my nephew “helping” me bake snickerdoodle cookies.

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-of-cake.html

Wondering now if the almost-three-year-old nephew was in a cookie dough and sugar coma by the time he got home. If so, I really owe my mom and sister a HUGE apology. And a statement…it could have been worse. It could have been cake, icing and marshmallows.  And no, I haven’t taught him to remove a window screen.

Exactly what I needed after a day of crazy stupidness.

Conferences-Part One

PICKING THE CONFERENCE

I’ve been to several writers conferences over the past few years, and have learned several things as I have done so. I’ll be writing a multi-part blog here on advice with regard to conferences from the standpoint of attending the conference.

I have been on a couple of panels at conferences. I won’t be talking about that in this series of blogs.

First of all, figure out what you want to accomplish in going to a conference.

There are lots and lots of choices out there. There are conferences with classes about craft, seminars on genre, or authors talking about their own work. There are conferences with editor and agent pitches. There are conferences that are really workshops, with critique sessions and craft work and revisions. There are conferences that talk about the publishing industry.

Where are you at in your writing career?

If you’re just starting out, you might want to attend a workshop on craft, work on the basics, and see if you need to learn more.

If you’ve been to craft workshops and have some finished material, you might seek out a workshop with critiques, especially if they will be done, or at least directed by, a published author or agent or editor.

Do you have a finished product? Have you gotten critique notes from others? Have you considered those notes and revised and reworked and rewritten your novel until it is the best you can make it? Then maybe you should look for a conference with information about the industry, about publishing and submitting, about writing synopsis and query letters. You want one where you can move to the next stage, and start determining how to submit your work.

Where do I look?

Well, there’s lots of places to start your search. Check out your local library. Ask your local writer’s groups if their members like any particular one. Some writer’s groups actually host their own conferences or workshops. I also check http://www.shawguides.com/ and look under the heading “Writers Conferences and Workshops”. There you can search by state, by topic, or by month to narrow it down.

You can also check agent blogs and websites; they sometimes list which conferences they’ll be attending in the coming year.

What is your budget?

You absolutely do NOT want to max out your credit cards, or spend money you cannot afford to spend to go to a conference.

Yes, the expense of going to a conference, along with mileage, airfare, meals, hotel costs, and the conference is potentially tax deductible, but you would definitely want to talk with an attorney or CPA before deciding whether or not to claim the expense on that year’s taxes. Spending money you do not have to get a tax deduction is ridiculous.

Remember that your cost is not just the conference fee. And it’s not always just meals, gas, plane fare, and a hotel. There may be a bookstore at the conference. If you buy a ton of books, and can’t get them all on the plane, you’ll have to ship them home. There may be a chance to buy an agent or an editor or an author a drink and pick their brain about writing. There may be a cool exhibit hall. Don’t get in over your head.

How long will it take (not just the conference, but sufficient time to travel to and from the conference site)?

This sounds like a no-brainer, but please do not forget that you have to get there and back.

Make sure you can take that much time off work at your day job, arrange for a house-sitter, cat-sitter, dog-sitter, mail-picker-upper, etc.

If you have a six hour drive to get to a conference, remember that you will get nothing out of the conference if you try to drive it overnight before the conference starts the next morning. Budget for the extra day off and the hotel room and meals to drive the day before so you won’t nod off and snore in the back of the room, because otherwise, you’re wasting your time and your money. You won’t get anything out of the conference if you’re too tired to pay attention.

Always keep in mind your day job schedule, your family obligations and realistic goals. I work with FANTASTIC people, who help me schedule my trials without crashing vacation/travel plans. My family helps out when I’m swamped, or when I’m trying to go somewhere. I try not to overburden them if I can help it.

Okay, so have you picked your conferences yet? Got any you’re keeping an eye on?

NEXT TIME: PLANNING FOR THE CONFERENCE…