The Writing Life: Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 1)

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**jump for joy

I love writing conferences. Listening to experts, trying new techniques and ideas in workshops, mingling with authors (and sometimes illustrators and editors)… Just thinking about a writing conference makes me want to jump for joy!

Who am I kidding?

margaritaI love conferences of almost any kind. There is something about a gathering of like-minded people who are dedicated to learning more about their craft that gets me excited. Heck, I even managed to have a good time at an electrical engineering conference a few years ago (although that may have been due in large part to the hotel pool and the complimentary margaritas).

I think part of the reason I love conferences so much is that I love learning. And lucky for you, I love to take notes while I do. I’m the nerdy friend you want to have in class so you can borrow my notes while you ditch to play Ultimate Frisbee on the green. I was actually a paid taking notesnote taker as an undergrad, but today I’m offering my services to you free of charge!

I’ve compiled my notes from conferences I’ve attended over the past year and put together my top seven takeaways. These are tips and tidbits I’ve gathered from experts, fellow attendees, and my own experiences. Some relate directly to improving craft, others involve different aspects of the writing life, and at least one includes practical advice about conference logistics, such as where to sit and food choices.

Rather than overwhelm you with a long, detailed list of my seven takeaways, I thought I would break up the list into separate posts that will come out over the next several weeks. So stay tuned for items 2-7!

Without further ado…

Number One – Networking is Key

networkingWhile it may be possible to make it in writing without doing any networking, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. At every conference, successful authors talked about other writers, editors, and agents they met at conferences, through local writing groups, or online. These connections proved invaluable every time and helped the presenters or panelists land jobs, get their manuscript published, and market their work. After all, it’s not just about what you write – it’s who you know.

This tip echoes my recent post on making writing connections. And networking at conferences can be the essential first step in forging lasting, deep connections.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every person you meet will prove invaluable to your writing career. But you never know who that person will be or when and where you may meet him or her.

barSo go to conferences prepared to chat (talk to presenters, fellow attendees, and conference organizers), exchange business cards (if you don’t have them, get them made or print them up yourself), and attend the pre- or post-conference festivities (I know, I know – you’re tired after being around people all day … time for the big kid pants – go anyway!).

Follow up
these initial encounters with an email, phone call, Tweet, or phonevisit to your new friend’s blog. Offer to write a guest post, review a book or collection, or simply pay it forward by promoting their work or services. At a conference last month, a group of three Young Adult authors explained that their books became popular because of peer marketing – authors banding together to promote each other’s work on blogs, social media, and at live events.

“Sounds amazing! How do I do that?”

Network, network, network.

handshakeConferences are the time to break out of your introverted writer’s shell and mingle! (This includes step one – signing up for a conference!Almost everyone else there is also an introverted writer – so shake your groove thing and make the first step toward connecting. After all, the person you’re worried about approaching is probably as shy/nervous/embarrassed as you.

social mediaTip: If you don’t have a writing platform, get one! (For help, follow this link to the Writer’s Digest October Platform Challenge and complete it retroactively.) Even if you haven’t published a thing, having a platform when you network helps boost your confidence as you mingle because you have somewhere to direct all of your wonderful new acquaintances. AND… you can post about attending upcoming events and make plans with followers and friends to meet up at live events!

Have you networked at a conference? How did it go? I’d love to hear experiences, good or bad – after all, there are bound to be some funny stories (I have a few doozies!).  OR if you have questions, drop me a line in the comments box and I’ll do my best to answer!


19 Comments Add yours

  1. DMGbyrnes says:

    I’ve been hoping you would post this since you mentioned going to the Boston writer’s conference (I believe?), mainly because I’ve never been to one before. Aside from monetary setbacks, I have extreme anxiety with crowds, and well, all that networking, haha. There’s a conference here in Atlanta I am still kind of hoping to save for to attend since it sounds pretty great and I know the place it’s being held, which is easier on me.

    You make excellent points, and it’s always good to be reminded of them. I am really looking forward to the rest of this series and you can be sure that I will bug you with questions as they pop into my head 😉 Thanks so much for being a note taker like me! I have definitely learned the importance and strength that connections can bring to your writing community as a whole and your experience as a writer. Here’s to braving the scary conference waters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      Conferences can be costly! I’m a hawk and searched out less expensive options although some that I attended did NOT fall into that category. I also have a takeaway about price in an upcoming post. 😉

      I do hope you get to attend – and network while you’re there! 😉 Once you start to do it, it gets easier and easier. I used to be very nervous when talking to new people, but then one day I started pretending that I was playing the role of the outgoing, chatty extrovert. Sounds silly, but it seriously helped me get over my nerves because in my head I was “just acting.” Now I’d guess if you met me, you might think I’m not shy, that I’m extroverted, that I enjoy crowds (all not true). Newer friends are always shocked when I say I’m introverted because they perceive me as outgoing and not shy — it’s all smoke in mirrors and a whopping imagination. 🙂 And honestly, I have started to enjoy the mingling process more … Fake it ’til you make it, I guess. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. DMGbyrnes says:

        Aye, that they can. Unfortunately, even a hundred or so is too rich for my blood at the moment, but hoping to change that. I look forward to that, post, and all the rest, haha.

        Indeed, I’ve learned that, at least to some degree, I can “fake it”, however I’m still like a frightened rabbit. It’d be comical, I’m sure, if it was kinda sad, haha. Introverts can be tricksy like that 😉 emulating extroverts. Occasionally I tap into the pool of extroversion within every introvert, but they’re usually rare moments indeed. However, onwards and upwards, and here’s to amazing people to meet along the way!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. S. C. McCole says:

      I know exactly what that feels like DMG. I have a hard time with idle chat. At parties, I have to have a few cocktails to warm up the mouth for my turn at bat. I also have perfected the “Irish Goodbye” because I can’t stand those awkward moments. Luckily, I married a social butterfly – she is my opposite – God bless her! Hoping to bring her along to all events make me look good!

      I’m in Atlanta as well. If you wanted to attend a conference and I’m not travelling, we could meet and say hi – always better to know at least one person at an en event.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. DMGbyrnes says:

        Indeed, if I drank anymore, I would probably do the same. I’ve just been resorting to staying in the Lair, where it’s safe and I know everyone, haha. It’s wonderful you found someone that encourages that side of you.

        If I get the means to make it, I would *love* to meet up with a friendly face. Always easier being out around people with a “go-to” since it’s frowned upon to wear headphones when trying to mingle..

        Best of luck with your conferences!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. S. C. McCole says:

    Been waiting for this series! Very excited!
    Kat the Konference Kween! 👸🏼

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kat says:

      I hope I can live up to the title! 😉


  3. charityrau says:

    Great post. I have been wanting to attend a conference, but haven’t yet. It will be on my list of goals for the new year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      Great New Year’s goal!


  4. Trena says:

    Great article. I’m like SC and hate the whole mingle thing. Next year will be the conference goal and will have to fake it, at least until i get back to my room to hide in a closet to recover :D. Looking forward to the next tip.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James Stack says:

    Looking forward to the other six – this one was terrific. Thanks for getting this done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      Thanks, James!


  6. S.K. Lamont says:

    Thanks Kat for sharing this! I’m looking forward to the whole conference scene, if only they were free 😉 I don’t really love putting myself out there at first but generally enjoy it when I do! Looking forward to the rest of your conference tips! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nancy Clark says:

    Thanks, Kat, for the reminders about the importance of mingling at conferences. I started out life as a wallflower but blossomed into a rambling rose once I started teaching and having other “public” jobs. Now I find myself nourished by other people and start to wilt when I’m not around them enough. My favorite conference to go to is the Christian Writers Conference held at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, every two years in April. I’ve been there several times and can’t wait for the next one in 2016! It’s helped motivate me to continue working on my biography and has given me some sound advice about how to proceed. Hope you can try one out soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      I’m glad to hear the conference helped motivate you – I have had the same experience after conferences. There is something invigorating about being around so many like-minded people! Thanks for the comment!


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