I blog, and guest blog, and talk, and well, I guess I just never shut up, about being prepared to attend a conference. Some of the absolute best connections I’ve made have been at conferences, along with new friends, and I just can’t bring myself to stop talking about all the things that make it worth it to spend the time.
Here, in a nutshell, is my list of must-packs…whether the con is in your backyard or across the country. Print the list and refer to it while you pack.
- Notepad and pens/pencils/other writing implement. And have extra, because the minute you have notes to take or inspiration hits, your pen will malfunction. I take my netbook, but I generally don’t use it for taking notes at a conference; I use it to work in between panels if I have a good idea.
- Allergy meds and prescription meds. You are not suddenly sixteen again with the immune system of solid iron. Be a grown up about this. ALSO, take some form of headache medication (Advil, Tylenol, or similar), stomach settling medication (Pepto-Bismol or Tums), and it doesn’t hurt to take some cold medicine (Sudafed or Benedryl, or similar). The minute you think you don’t need it is when you’ll end up sitting next to Typhoid Mary. You don’t need a lot; a couple of travel packs of each are enough, normally, to get you through to where you might have a chance to get for yourself if you need more. Doesn’t hurt to take a couple of Band-Aids.
- Refillable water bottle, because water at a conference or hotel is obscenely expensive, and you can’t live on coffee and Diet Coke, no matter hard I try. If needs be, you can pack your toothbrush and toothpaste inside, in a Ziploc baggie, to save space.
- Mints, Listerine breath strips, or other breath-freshening item is a must. If you get a chance to pitch your stuff, you will get nervous, and you will get dry mouth, which will give you bad breath. Cough drops will work too, as well as hard candy, but I don’t really like the idea of smelling like menthol, because it gives the impression that I’m sick. My go-to is Altoids (which I chew up immediately) or Listerine breath strips.Chomping on gum, or the clacking of a hard candy on your teeth can give a non-professional appearance.
- Paper copy of first chapter, synopsis, and a current draft of your query letter. These are my cheat sheets if I get an unexpected chance to pitch my work. And you might find someone willing to look it over and give you notes. (Sometimes I take two copies…one to use for pitches and one to get notes on).
- Enough clothing/underwear/socks to have a new outfit every day. Yes, you are a writer, and you are a professional (whether you’re getting paid pro rates or not). There are stories about weird writer quirks, but there’s a scene in Bull Durham about the rookie having fungus on his shower shoes, and how if he makes it to the big leagues, it makes him “colorful”. In the minors, he’s just a slob. Please don’t be that slob, even if you do rate the big leagues.
- Take at least one extra shirt, one extra pair of pants, and a sweatshirt. This is in case of spills that require more than a sink rinse and overnight dry. And conference rooms will ALWAYS be colder than you expected.
- Two pairs of comfortable shoes. I’m really not kidding about this one. I went to a conference and thought I was wearing a comfortable pair, but had not anticipated the amount of walking. I was glad I had another option.
- Double check to make sure you have all the hygiene items you need. And I’m not just talking about the ladies. You are not the Wild Man from Borneo. If you need hair gel and hairspray, make sure you have it. And yes, everyone will appreciate it if you wear deodorant. You wouldn’t think I would have to say this, but sadly, I do. And please remember that you should brush your teeth.
- Is there a dressed-up event at the con? If so, don’t forget appropriate attire/shoes/jewelry for this. Most don’t involve something like this, but some do.
- Business cards, bookmarks, promo items, etc. Whether published or not, a business card is not a bad thing. The agents and editors probably don’t want it, but the group you were networking with at the bar the last night might want to contact you on Facebook later. If you’re published, bring the kinds of things you can put in someone’s hands at a con. I carry bookmarks, small giveaways, and some kind of candy giveaway. DON’T do this if you’re not published; it smacks of trying too hard, and you’re spinning your wheels promoting something that someone can’t buy yet.
- Cash. I don’t mean a lot, but I do mean enough that you can hail a taxi, buy a book, or tip the valet at the hotel.
- Driver’s License or State ID card. Many conferences that you pre-register for make you prove that you are you before they let you have the badge you paid for. This is a good thing. Also bring a credit card, for the just-in-case type of emergency. I don’t like to carry a whole purse, but I’ll carry a small wallet, or just slip these things in a pocket for easy access. For me, that is. 😉
- Phone and/or other electronics chargers. And if you have a lot of these, take your own surge protector.
These are the absolute minimum. It’s sad that I have to say this, but I do. Hey, I’m not a fashion plate by any means, but I want an editor or agent actually paying attention to my pitch or my pages rather than wrinkling their nose at bad breath, body odor, or seeing me with stains all over myself. I’m a clutz.