Thursday, April 17, 2014

Going to a Writer’s Conference: Tips for Survival and Success – Part One, Before the Con

You may be a new writer, you may have some publications under your belt, but at any level I’d highly suggest going to a Writer’s Conference. I know that for many people going to a conference (or a “con”) can be intimidating, especially if you are painfully shy. I’d like to try to make it easier for you by giving you some tips that will help you survive a con, and hopefully lead to further success in your writing career. This entry became longer than I had anticipated, so I will break it up into before, during and after the con posts.

Before you do anything, choose which con is right for you. How do you do that? Research a little bit. There are cons for specific genres, and you can find a short list with descriptions provided by Suzanne Church (who is also a part of the Stop-Watch Gang):

You can also find out about different cons through writing organizations and message boards. You can find a pretty good list of organizations here:

Before the Con:

While you’re online, search for pictures taken at the con in the past to get a feel for how things look and people who attend. (Are they in costume? Business casual?) Get on message boards and ask questions. This way, people get to know your name and can offer more details like the best place to get lunch, a list of things you absolutely can’t miss, and how to get there on the cheap. You might also find someone willing to share the drive, or a hotel room.

Once you’ve saved up your money and planned the trip, there are a few things you should do before you show up.

Make a small website/blog, and some business cards. I’ve heard people say, “But I haven’t published anything yet!” All the more reason. Post blog entries about what you’re currently working on, or other things that interest you. Get on Facebook and Twitter and make yourself accessible. Your card should have your full name clearly printed, plus your website/blog and email. An address or phone number isn’t really necessary. Just give something to people to remember you by when they get home. (And I’ll revisit this later.) If you have a published book, make bookmarks to hand out. They can be folded to business card size and put in a pocket.

Read up on people. I will admit that since I had my kids I have not done this as much as I should. Look at who the guests of honour are, and what they’ve accomplished. Check out the list of other attendees and see what they’ve written, and who their publishers are. If you are not the type that finds it easy to strike up a conversation with people, perhaps have some questions in mind that you could ask.

Find a buddy! It is much easier to navigate a con, and keep your sense of humour, if you have someone to go with. So while you’re talking to people online and asking questions, mention that it’ll be your first time attending. You might find a writer who is willing to take you under their wing. Someone who knows faces and is already shaking hands with the people you need to know, has valuable coat-tails. You may find another newbie who’s just as nervous as you are. At the very least, having a buddy will help with those awkward moments when you don’t know what to do, you can talk to each other and feel a little less like a deer in headlights.

If you have already published a book or short stories, contact the people running the con and ask if you can be part of the programming. Usually there are panels (a group of people talking about a specific topic), readings (you read from your work), and some cons offer a signing where all of the writers make themselves available to sign their work for people.

When you know you’re going, post it! Let everyone know where you’ll be and when. Also, make printouts of your picture, book cover, reading time and location (if applicable) so that people will come and hear you read. You might want to make sure you have a good photo to work with. Selfies don’t count.

Are you launching a book? Talk to your publisher about a book launching party, they might help you with either extra copies of your book to sell, signage, or maybe even pick up a little bit of the cost. If you are throwing a party, contact the people running the conference as you probably have to book a room in advance. You will need to supply some food, drinks both alcoholic and not, and music at the very least. Will you have door prizes? Host a trivia game? Just don’t make people work too hard, and allow them to network.

If you have more tips or tricks to add for things to do BEFORE the con, please comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

Stay tuned... I’ll be back next week to talk more about what to do when you step in the door, the most exciting part!

Have a great long weekend everyone,

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