Chip MacGregor

May 27, 2016

Ask the Agent: How do I get the most out of a writers’ conference?


I had someone write in to say they were attending three writing conferences this summer, and asked me, “What advice would you have for me to get the most out of the conferences?”

I love writing conferences, since it gives you a chance to network with other writers, see what’s going on in the industry, meet editors and agents, and get away from the routine for a few days. As you begin preparing for this year’s writing conferences, I’d like to suggest you keep 10 words in mind . . .

1. READ. Don’t just show up and act surprised at who the speakers are. Read the blog of the keynoter. Read the books of the teachers who are doing workshops. 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 attend, 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 vague hopes. Plan to attend with some specific, measurable goals in mind. Write them down beforehand so 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 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 a writing 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 in the coffee shop or in the lobby. Publishing is a small industry, and this conference will have a bunch of 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. INVEST. You’re going to buy a bunch of books. (You may not think so, but you will.) So make that part of your budget now. They’ll serve as 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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  • Angela K Couch says:

    Great advice! Bookmarked for easy access. I know it’s also in your book, but this makes it easier to access. 🙂

  • Kristin says:

    It’s been a long time since I’ve been to conference. This was a good reminder of all the skills I need to brush up on and get prepared. Thanks!

  • Kim Hall says:

    Great tips for conference goers! I love the emphasis on practice. Those first time conversations can make or break our project getting off the ground.

    I would highly recommend that folks join Toastmasters. It’s a very inexpensive way to get lots of practice thinking on your feet. Plus, it helps you become more comfortable both in one on one conversation, as well as in speaking, whether in small meetings or to large groups.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    For my first writers conference, I just showed up.

    My plan was simply to observe and figure out how they worked. Then I could plan to do the next year’s conference right.

  • Judith Robl says:

    My first conference was Glorieta in 2001. I was so green I didn’t even know what questions to ask, much less how to set a goal for the conference. This list is a great one whether it’s a first conference or a two hundred and tenth. Wish I’d had it twelve years ago. And the budget for books is an absolute necessity!

    But don’t go overboard with the books, either. Buy authors you want to know better, books about craft, and books in your genre. Most of all they need to be books you WILL read when you get home.

    If you have flown to a conference, you can generally UPS or FEDEX your books back to your house. Check it out with the hotel where you are staying.

  • I have not had the opportunity to attend a conference…yet…but I am definitely archiving this information so I will have it as a wonderful checklist when I finally am able to attend one. Thanks, Chip, for the great post as always and I have retweeted…
    Donna L Martin

  • Ron Estrada says:

    Thanks Chip. I’m driving down from Michigan on Friday, even though I’m only registered for Saturday, just so I can mingle. That’s my favorite part, meeting all these folks I’ve only spoken to online. It’s sneaking up on me, though. Thanks for the warning!

  • Meghan Carver says:

    I live in the Indianapolis area, Chip, so I’m expecting to drive home from ACFW with a trunk load of books. Okay, I’m hoping. I particularly appreciate the advice to project what I’m learning to my WIP. I was so befuddled during my first conference, uncertain even what I was pursuing with my writing, that I took copious notes but had little idea what I would do with them. Since then, I’ve narrowed my focus and returned to those notes for review. Thanks for another great post!

    • Anne Love says:

      Thanks for the reminder to budget for books Chip! Meghan, Indy is only a three hour drive, and I’ve got a van to fill!

    • Meghan Carver says:

      Hmm, Anne. Now I’m thinking maybe I should drive the family minivan?

    • Jaime Wright says:

      save room for my books ’cause don’t forget i’m hitchin’ a ride! 😉

    • Carol Moncado says:

      This is generally a fabulous idea( and wonderful tips here in general!!) but this year there is no conference bookstore :(. As I understand it, there simply isn’t room given the number of expected attendees.

      However, there is a virtual bookstore through CBD. There’s usually freebies too, so you likely won’t go home empty handed.

      More detail can be found here:

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