Going to a Conference? Tip #1 PARTICIPATE!

The season of going to a conference is upon us, and many of you are attending a conference for the first time. Hooray for you!

Going to a conference can sometimes be intimidating. I went to my first conference by myself. It was a small conference in a small town, and all the other writers seemed to know each other, greeting one another by name as they trickled into the little hotel. I felt so alone.

But I shouldn't have. The other writers were friendly--they asked me my name, where I was from, and then this question: "What are you working on?" I didn't know how to answer! What if they stole my idea? I hugged my laptop bag closer and bluffed my way with words that provided no information; after all, my material was proprietary!

Well, I've been to quite a few conferences since then, and I'd like to share some tips with you this week so you can get the most out of your conference experience.

Tip #1 is the biggest and most important tip of all: PARTICIPATE!

 At my first SCBWI conference, the middle-grade track was divided into three or four groups, each with an editor or agent heading the table. An editor headed up my table, and she wanted to help us with our query letters. If anyone wanted to read theirs aloud, she said, the group could provide feedback. My blood raced through my veins at 500 mph. As the first couple of people read their queries and the editor critiqued them, I could hardly concentrate on what they were saying. This was my first query letter and NO ONE had seen it. Ever. No feedback or critique group--I was flying solo. What if my letter broke all the rules, didn't make sense, or worse--what if it was boring?

But I knew I couldn't leave the table without putting my letter up for inspection.

My hands shook so badly when I read my letter, I had to lay the paper on the table so people couldn't hear it rattling. My throat had suddenly dried up. My voice cracked and wavered. When I finished, the editor thought for a moment. Then she pulled a phrase from my second paragraph and said that phrase arrested her attention. The group agreed. She suggested I rework my query to get that phrase in the very first sentence of the letter.

I loved her suggestion and implemented it. That query was for the first book I ever wrote, which eventually became my third book published by Bloomsbury/Walker--ME & JACK. Now the point here isn't asketh questions and be ye published, but rather become a better writer by taking risks to get the information you need. That's one of the reasons you're attending a conference--to learn! So if you can read from your piece, do so! If you can provide a comment or critique, open your mouth! When you can ask questions, ask them! You'll walk away from the conference with so much more if you brave it and speak up! Good luck, conference goers!


Author Amok said...

Hi, Danette. Thanks for this post. It's been a while since I attended a summer conference, but this might be the year! I imagine the same advice works for writing retreats -- speak up, reach out and get to know the other attendees.

Charles Gramlich said...

Been a while since I've been to one. I need to review!

Danette Haworth said...

AA, yes, you're so right! We have to put ourselves out there if we want to really get something out of the conference.

Charles, after reading DAYS OF BEER, I'd definitely attend a workshop in which you were presenting! That memoir was so comfortable and humorous.

Danette Haworth said...

Comfortable in that I felt like I was having a conversation with a friend--very approachable!

Kim Kasch said...

Words of wisdom ... and all for free :)