Hello and thank you for joining me today! This episode, the DIY MFA Writing Conference Survival Guide, is all about writing conferences! I absolutely love conferences and all the benefits you can gain from attending them. In fact, if I were to point to one thing that has helped boost my career as a writer, it would be attending conferences from when I was just a newbie all the way to today.
Whether you’re just starting out as a writer or you’re an old pro, attending a writing conference can be more than a little intimidating and overwhelming, especially if you’re something of an introvert, like me. In this episode I’ll share with you the #1 thing you need to do at a conference in order to propel your writing career to epic heights. I’ll also share my top tips for getting the most out of a conference before, during and after the event. You’ll also learn my simple 4-step formula for how to talk to and connect with anyone, from fellow attendees to bigwig agents and publishers. Finally, I’ll let you in on the biggest mistake that writers make when attending a conference, and show you how to avoid this major pitfall.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
First and foremost, at any conference you attend (and really in all areas of your life) you need to be present. This is the #1 thing you can do at a conference to get the most out of your experience. You have to show up so that good things can happen. This means more than just physically being at an event. Push yourself to be out there, whether that’s meeting other attendees, agents, and speakers, or posting about your experience at the event on your blog or on social media.
“The more you show up, the more people will remember you.” @DIYMFA
If you can’t attend events because of budget or distance, get involved locally. Attend writing groups and connect with people. And if you can’t find any local events, get online. There are a number of great virtual writing events hosted each year. Find out how you can participate.
While you’re at the conference, it’s important to BE PRESENT as well. Don’t waste time thinking about what is coming next or worrying about what happened earlier. Be in the moment.
Pro tip: Take notes. Even if you already know the information being presented, note-taking is a great way to BE PRESENT and keep your mind focused on what’s going on right now.
Finally, be genuine in all of your interactions. Don’t network for the sake of networking. Take your time, connect with fewer people, and connect more deeply. That’s the best way to make a lasting impression and to make real contact.
How to be successful before, during, and after a conference
- Do your homework. Research the speakers and the conference schedule and plan out who you want to see and what other talks you want to attend.
- Follow the speakers and agents who will be attending the event on Twitter. Be connected to the buzz around the conference and keep up with current topics surrounding the event.
- Be prepared. If you’re going to pitch to agents at an event, make sure you’re ready. Memorize your pitch and know it well. You want to put your best foot forward. Also, know who you’re pitching to. Never pitch to your #1 agent first. Warm up on your #4 and #5 agent picks so that you get the jitters out and a little bit of practice before you pitch to your #1 choice.
- Don’t be “that guy.” You know the one. The one who asks questions that benefit only himself, the one who takes up all the speaker’s time and doesn’t leave room for anyone else. It’s easy to NOT be that guy. Just remember your common sense and your manners.
- Ask POWER questions. A good question is broad enough to help others while still addressing the specific problem you have.
- Don’t just network, CONNECT. Networking is all about you and what you can get out of a relationship. Connecting is about the other person, too. Here’s a 4-step technique you can use to build genuine connections in just a few minutes.
- Pay them a specific and genuine compliment.
- Ask an insightful question (this shows that you’ve been paying attention).
- Make a small ask. (Usually I ask for a business card or for the opportunity to follow up with them later.)
- Say thank you and get the heck out of there. This entire interaction should take less than 3 minutes!
- Follow up! Don’t wait too long to follow up, but don’t follow up too soon and expect a response, either. The sweet spot is usually about 1-2 weeks after an event. The only exception to this rule is, if you’ve participated in a pitch slam and received a request for more pages, a full manuscript, etc., don’t send your material until you’re absolutely ready.
The biggest mistake writers make when attending a writing conference is that they focus way too much on getting published. Focus on improving your craft and making genuine connections. Publishing is a natural side-effect of great writing and great connections.
So far, I’m scheduled to speak at these three conferences in 2015. If you attend one of these events, make sure to come and say “hi” so we can connect!
I’m thrilled to be speaking at The Write Stuff, presented by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group. This is my first time at this specific event, but just from looking at the speakers line-up it looks to be FANTASTIC! Registration closes MARCH 9 so if you’re interested in this event, sign up now.
Bess–the DIY MFA web editor–and I are co-presenting at CAPA-U, an event hosted by the Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association. This conference also looks amazing,. I’m honored to be included among these great speakers and can’t wait to attend this event for the first time.
Finally, I’ll be giving several talks at one of my favorite conferences of the year: the Writers Digest Conference in New York City. Also, the awesome folks over at Writer’s Digest have put together a special coupon code for DIY MFA attendees. Use the code DIYMFA15 when you sign up to get $25 off the registration.
Using this code will also let me know how many DIY MFA-ers will be attending the event, so that I can plan a special meet-up for our community. (Please note, if you use this code DIY MFA will get a small commission at no cost to you. This will help defray the cost of whatever special bonus I plan for our group.) Early bird pricing ends March 9, so don’t wait!
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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.