I first attended the DFW Writer’s Conference (DFWCon) in 2015. I was crazy pregnant with my girls, but not so pregnant that I couldn’t do all the standing required of a conference attendee without my legs swelling to the size of tree trunks and my feet cutting into my shoes. (That time would come!)

I was a good little Girl Scout at that conference. I’d done my homework–revised my manuscript as best I could, printed the whole thing off (ha!) to haul around in a bag I bought especially for the event, and highlighted the heck out of the conference schedule, which I printed and held in my sweaty palms like it was a long-lost revelation from God. I was going to come out of that conference with an agent, come hell or high water.

Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Instead? After I went home, I decided to toss my manuscript in its entirety.

So was it all a bust?

Harrrrrd NO.

DFWCon was so much FUN. I got to sit in on panels and listen to agents riff about the biz. I sat across the table from some of them with my query, specifically so they could go over it with a red pen and tell me what needed fixing (awesome! No, it really was). I met other fabulous writers. I got tough, but invaluable feedback on my first chapter, feedback I drew upon when I wrote the next manuscript.

And the very best part: simply being in the presence of so many writers.

Our work is lonely. We hide behind our computers day in and day out, our most real interactions with the characters of our creation. It’s easy to forget just how WONDERFUL the writing community is. The DFW writing community, as with all other writing communities I’ve belonged to, is a funky tribe of kind weirdos who have one another’s backs. A good writer’s conference is worth the price of admission if for no other reason than to be immersed in that stew of awesomeness until the warm gumbo smell settles into your pores.

I’m going back this year and I can’t wait. If you’ve got a writer’s conference of your own on the horizon, here are my best tips for getting the most out of it.

Review the Schedule Ahead of Time

A writers’ conference ain’t cheap, and you’ll want to get the most out of yours. Chances are, there’s at least one (or two or three or four) classes on the schedule that address a specific question you’ve been pondering, whether it’s a writing/story question or a publishing/business question.

It’s especially important to know what’s available if you’re interested in a limited-seating class or workshop. These are wonderful opportunities–little incubators in which you can engage with writers/agents/etc., ask questions to someone on the inside or one of your fellow writers and get an individualized kick-in-the-pants that’s just not as possible in a large-group setting. Pick your classes, pick back-up classes. Maximize your time.

Make Business Cards

You’ll meet a slew of kindred spirits at a conference and you’ll want to keep in touch. It’s a drag to pull out your pen and notebook each time you meet a fellow writer. Plus, ain’t nobody got time for that–your schedule will be jam-packed with classes and seminars. You don’t want anything slowing ya’ down.

Go online and design some slick business cards. If nothing else, you’ll feel more professional and prepared. (Another thing: everybody else will have cards, too, so you won’t feel like you showed up to school without your homework).

Pack Wisely

Make sure you’ve got the following in your tote bag:

  • Business cards
  • Pens
  • Notebook (for jotting down all the many “Aha!” moments you’re sure to have)
  • Cash–lots of authors will be there, with lots of books. You’ll want to buy some.
  • Snacks and a water bottle
  • Any material you need for a workshop or class (perhaps your query letter, synopsis, first ten pages, etc.)

What you DON’T need in your tote bag:

  • Your FULL manuscript. Save yourself the Kinko’s money and save the world some trees.

Practice Your Pitch Beforehand

The pitch. At the end of the day, this is what everyone comes to a writer’s conference for: the chance to meet one-on-one with an agent and pitch your brilliant baby manuscript. The thought of doing this gets some people catatonic with dread. This could be YOU.

Or, you could treat your pitch session as what it is: a chance to chat with an industry professional–who’s actually just a person, like you!–about your book. Ask questions. Use some of the great resources on the good ole’ Internet to help you craft your pitch, practice pitching to your nearest and dearest, go to a workshop specifically designed for pitch practice–do all of that beforehand, but still go in with the thought that you’re there to meet a friendly person who will get you one step closer to publication, one way or another, next week or in ten years.

Practice, practice, practice. But also, lighten up and have some fun. (Which also happens to be the writing process in a nutshell.)

Have Fun

This is my main objective for the 2017 conference. In fact, I hadn’t even planned on going to DFWCon–but then I went to WORDFest (a mini, freebie Con that is MARVELOUS) and had so much fun, I decided I couldn’t stay away. I’ve paid the registration fee, studied the class schedule, picked my top agent. I can’t wait.

I have no grand illusions of coming out of this conference with a book deal (but I bet I’ll get one step closer to that eventual goal). What is guaranteed is that I’ll learn a TON, meet a lot of great people, and absorb some of their marvelous weirdness. Writers are my people, after all. There are no other weirdos I’d rather hang with.

(Bonus: I’m not pregnant this time, so–BOOZE!)

Been to a writer’s conference? Did you love it? What are your best tips?

 

 

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