A few of us here at the Spectacle will be attending the LA SCBWI conference at the end of the month and wanted to share some tips with you on how to make the most of a writing conference. This is also posted at my website.
1. Start a “conference notebook” and use the same notebook each time so that you don’t end up with scattered information in different locations. I date each entry, so it’s easy to go back and check information. Also leave some room in the margin for notes to yourself that you can consult at a glance.
2. Don’t bring a manuscript expecting to show it to an editor — editors usually fly in and don’t want to carry more than a few business cards back home. They will often invite attendees to submit after the conference. But it doesn’t hurt to bring some of your work to share with writing friends. Impromptu critique sessions in hotel rooms after conferences can be lots of fun.
3. SCBWI conferences are casual. Most people wear comfortable clothes — nothing fancy. Keep the high heels and business suits at home (unless that’s your idea of comfy clothes.)
4. Read the books of the speakers before you go. This makes it easier to relate to the talks and gain a better understanding of their experiences. If editors are speaking, check out some of the books they publish. Not only is this a nice courtesy, but you may discover new authors you enjoy.
5. Go to have fun. The most satisfaction I get out of a conference is talking to other authors who share my hopes, worries, and dreams.
6. Take a camera to get pictures of all the new friends you’ll make.
7. Bring bookmarks, copies of books for the brag table. If you don’t have bookmarks, business cards work great and give you something to exchange with new friends.
8. Hotel beds are often hard — I bring a small pillow with me.
9. After receiving a business card or bookmark, make a note on it to remind you about the person you just met. When I get home after a conference and have a bunch of cards, it’s easier to remember clearer with helpful notes to remind me of new friends.
10. Pack some bottled water–it leaves room in your suitcase for all the (autographed) books you’ll take home later.
11. It’s often a good idea to bring snacks, like muffins, crackers or granola bars for those times when can’t get a meal. Hotel rooms often have a bar full of food goodies, but they are usually NOT complimentary and a small bag of chips can cost $5. Check the cost before you munch. Also, Gelson’s grocery store is a great place to get snacks and an easy breakfast food for the mornings if there isn’t anything quick/cheap at the hotel.
12. Use a prepaid phone card to avoid extra hotel phone expenses — and verify any additional room charges ahead of check-out time such as meals, toiletries, coffee, and phone charges. Often the room phone may add extra charges, so use a lobby phone or bring along a cell phone (check roaming charges first). Save yourself the nasty shock of a $50 charge for five minutes of conversation.
13. Bring an extra zippered bag to pack new purchases for the flight home.
14. Make up a purse-sized photo book ahead of time with assorted pictures to share of our pets, kids, books, etc. You know your puppy is cute and your friends may enjoy seeing the picture, too.
15. Save meal, travel, and other expense receipts for tax records. Professional education such as conferences, travel and books are tax deductible for working writers. What a great job!
16. Keep expectations reasonable. Don’t expect to snag a huge publishing contract or a top agent. What you can expect is to learn what editors and agent want and how to target your submissions to the right person. You’ll also gain new ideas about writing, rewriting, characterization, etc. Listen, take notes, and soak in the knowledge offered. Then when you get home, polish your work and send it off.
17. Pick compatible roommates for fun conversations AFTER the workshops are over and to help cut room expenses.
18. If you don’t have anyone to hang out with, go down to the lobby and talk! I’ve met lots of new friends that way. And meeting other writers is the most fun of attending a SCBWI conference.
19. Think about your characters and current writing project when listening to advice. Instead of taking the information in a general way, mentally applying the information to specific characters/plots can be helpful.
20. When it’s all over plan at least one day for a “crash day” at home because you’ll be tired and need to slowly recover. You’ve had a GREAT time…not relax! Then get back to writing.
Hope to see some of you in LA!