Chip MacGregor

August 6, 2012

How can I get the most out of a writing conference?


As you begin preparing for this year’s summer conferences, I’d like to suggest you keep ten words in mind…

1. READ. Don’t just show up and wonder who the speakers are. Read the blog of the keynote speakers. Read the books of the workshop teachers. That way, when you get to hear them, you’ll already have a context for their information.

2. RESEARCH. If you’ve signed up to meet with an agent or editor, check out their bio, see what they’ve acquired, and get a feel for the sort of books they like. By doing that, you’ll be much more apt to talk with someone who is a fit for you and your work.

3. ORGANIZE. Before you show up at the conference, look at the schedule and figure out what sessions you’ll be going to, which ones you’ll miss (so that you can share notes later), and when you can take a break to see friends.

4. PRACTICE. When you sit down across from me in order to tell me about your book, it shouldn’t be an off-the-cuff conversation. Practice what you want to say, how you want to describe your work, and what your hook is so that you’ll grab me.

5. GOALS. Ask yourself what your goals are for this year’s conference. Don’t just go with bland hopes. Plan to attend with some specific, measurable goals in mind. Write them down beforehand, so that you can evaluate yourself and your experience after you’re back home.

6. PROJECT. Come to the conference with a book you’re writing firmly in your mind. That way, when you’re listening to a speaker, you can apply the information to the project you’re writing. Even if you later decide to write something else, the fact that you’ve put the techniques into practice will help you improve.

7. NOTE. Don’t just sit there in workshops and nod at the things you agree with. Take notes. Write down action items. Keep track of the ideas you like, along with thoughts for using them on your next project. If you make a note, you are six times more likely to follow up with the information you’ve heard.

8. NETWORK. Every experienced conferee will tell you that the opportunity to connect with other writers is one of the best aspects of the conference. So don’t sit in your room by yourself — join in! Eat with others. Introduce yourself. Smile a lot. Chat up people in line. Tell people about your writing, then listen to what they are working on. Talk with others at the bar or in the lobby. Publishing is a small industry, and this conference happens to be jammed with people who work in it.

9. LEARN. To learn is to change, so expect the conference to change you. Walk into every session expecting to learn something new. You don’t know everything, so go expecting to gain new knowledge and skills. With that attitude, you won’t walk out the hotel doors the same writer who walked in.

10. SEND. You’re going to buy a bunch of books. (You may not think so, but you will.) So don’t punish yourself by dragging home a couple 50-lb suitcases and a 45-lb carry-on. Instead, purchase your books, stick them into a USPS flat rate box, and ship them home. Easier on your back. Easier when packing. And they’ll be a fresh motivator a few days after you’re home from the conference and caught up on your sleep. (“Oh, look! A bunch of books written by my new friends! I loved hearing this author talk at the conference…”)

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  • Tami Wilkin Lister says:

    Still great advice! I look forward to meeting you.

  • Great list, Chip. I will be sharing this when we’re preparing attendees for the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal in May 2013!

  • R Taylor says:

    If the agents I signed up for already had their slots filled, what is the best way to approach them during the conference? I can only imagine that they will have people lined up to pitch their books in casual situations. Is it okay to stand there and wait my turn?

  • Jackie Layton says:

    I’ll be going to my first writing conference next month, and I”m pretty excited. Thanks for these tips!

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    These are great tips. I’ve stumbled on to most of them the hard way and it’s helpful to see them organized in a concise list. 

    One thing I would add is to have business cards to hand out to people as I network.

  • Julie Surface Johnson says:

    Thanks for the timely advice, Chip. See you next week at OCW Summer Conference.

  • Carol Moncado says:

    Definitely great advice! Last year I had grand plans to use my laptop or netbook to take notes but ended up taking them the old fashioned way. Much easier. I’m very glad someone had told me not to worry too much about missing some classes, to be open to what happened rather than stressing myself out because I *had* to try to do everything. It’s just not possible – and as a result I had several wonderful meetings with friends and even an editor I wouldn’t have had if I’d failed to listen to where God wanted me to be at that time. That’s not to downplay any of the classes etc. of course, but just to note the realities that trying to do everything Just. Won’t. Work.

    Thank you!

    • Connie Leonard says:

      The first couple of conferences I attended, I tried to do everything from early morning to Late Night Chats. I was so tired by the end, I couldn’t think straight. But I did take good notes. This is my first ACFW in a couple of years, and I want to relax and enjoy it. I also found that some of the casual meetings were more beneficial than the scheduled appointments, perhaps because they were more relaxed and informal.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Great tips. I have a tendency to be a hermit–or to want to be anyway. But at ACFW last year, I did just what you advise–I struck up conversations with strangers, stayed out of my room, and introduced myself at meals. It was a blast. I met so many wonderful people. I think I learned as much from the writers I met as I did from the speakers. 

  • Netbug says:

    Great advice! Thank you! 😀

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