My beloved ACFW conference is right around the corner. You might be planning to attend or you may be gearing up for another kind of conference this fall so I thought I’d give you a few tips about writers conferences.
1. The main benefit of a writers conference is not necessarily learning more about writing, although that’s VERY important. But the main thing you will come away with is a sense of community. I remember when I was writing my first book. I didn’t even know another writer, and I felt odd, weird, out of step with other people in some strange, crooked way. No one else I knew had characters speaking in their head. No one else I knew heard read a newspaper article and immediately thought, “what if.” My first Christian writers conference was Glorietta in New Mexico. It was there I met (and roomed) with my friends Kristin Billerbeck and Carol Cox. Of course my parents thought I was crazy to be rooming with two women I’d never met. I mean, what if they were axe murderers or something? :) But I realized I’d come home really. I was with my people. They all had characters in their heads too. They cared about things like point of view and dialogue. All the things I was fascinated with. I left that conference knowing I wasn’t alone anymore. I had peeps.
So when you go to a conference the main thing you should be looking for is people you connect with. A critique partner, an encourager, someone who understands. Be on the lookout! Don’t hide in your room even if you’re an introvert. Hang out in the lobby and the coffee shop. Writers love coffee! Even after all these years, I am usually hanging out in the lobby hugging necks and squealing as people arrive. It’s something I look forward to every year!
2. It’s a great place to learn more about the industry. The publishing industry has undergone massive changes in the past three years. A good writing organization and yearly conference helps you stay on top of the news. Traditional publishing is still launching debut authors, but the indie route is also a viable place for a polished, well-written novel. Learn more about everything. Be a sponge. Keep learning.
3. Notice I said polished, well-written in the point above. There are always GREAT workshops and tracks at the ACFW conference and other good conferences. Learn all you can, then go home and put it into practice. That’s one of the great things about writing—there is always something more to learn. I LOVE that! You never arrive as an author. You can always work on improving. I’m doing a little more plotting on this current book (GASP!) but I’m doing it my way with plotting out my mystery points. It’s been fun so far. Learn what works for you.
4. Have fun. Relax! Don’t be all tense and scared. Let go of the terror holding you back and realize we are all the same. If you’re at ACFW, come find me or any other author you don’t know but have read their books. Ask questions, be friendly and realize we are there because we WANT to meet you. We want to encourage you. Don’t be afraid to talk to the editor or agent at your table or at the coffee shop. But don’t look at them as though they are the answer to your dreams. They are people too, not just an end to a means of getting you published. Care about the people you meet, no matter who they are or what their name badge reads.
5. Keep up the contacts after you go home. Make sure you get a card or email from the people you connect with. Keep up those relationships and build on them through the year. Next year you’ll feel like you’re going to see old friends. And you are!
I hope to see you there!