How Do I Pack for a Writer's Conference?
by W. Terry Whalin
As I pack for a conference, what do I need to make sure and take and what can I generally leave behind?
Each year, I look forward to attending several conferences. It depends on the conference but sometimes I attend as an editor and other times I come as a regular participant. From years of experience, I've learned it's not only what you pack that counts but the planning and preparation that goes into your packing.
One of our problems is the rush of our society. We know we need to attend a writer's conference for our own encouragement and to form some new relationships with editors. We save our money and make a commitment to attend the conference, yet we fail to put this planning energy into our packing and preparation plans. Then we don't get the maximum benefit from our attendance. Notice that I include myself in this category. I'm currently planning a trip to New York City in a few months to attend the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference. I've carefully gone through the schedule and planned which workshops I plan to attend (a good first step) but I have not taken the time to research specific editors and plan some pitches to them. I hope to make some time to follow my own seasoned advice.
Question: What is one thing you wish you'd brought along?
My response to this question has changed over the years. Early on I needed a simple business card to bring to the conference. Ideally when you attend these conferences you bring a business card--then you exchange with the editor or another writer. If you don't have a card, then there is nothing to exchange--and it's harder to get those valuable business cards and contact information from the editor. Those cards with their simple contact information can be the beginnings of a terrific relationship. If I get a second after receiving the business card, I recommend jotting down something on the back that reminds me of that particular person--because I collect many cards at one conference.
As I attended various writers' conferences, I wished I had brought along specific query letters or proposals for a particular editor. It takes time to write these queries and research publications but when I make this effort, it pays off in keen interest from the editor and a potential assignment or book project (additional writing but assigned writing).
As an editor attending conferences, I can tell when a writer has done their homework and knows some background of your publishing house. It makes you listen to their pitch with a greater intensity. If you can swing it (particularly possible in the magazine query area), it's good to multiple query and pitch your idea to several different magazines and see which editor is really interested in it--and make sure you say on your query that it's a simultaneous query.
See more detailed information about writing a basic magazine article at: http://www.right-writing.com/basics.html
Question: What is one thing you wish you hadn't brought along?
In this area, my answer is easy--books. Part of my trouble traveling is to select the book or books that I'm going to read on the way to and from the conference. Do I take a writing how-to book so I'm learning to be a better writer (I regularly read and purchase these books)? Or do I take a fun novel or do I take a nonfiction book that I want to read?
Often in the bookstore of a conference, I will purchase a book or two--and some times if the author is present, have him autograph the book. It's my consistent problem no matter what sort of traveling that I'm doing? Because often when I read the back cover and first chapter of the book, it's hard for me to tell the pace of the story. Maybe I'll finish it quickly and then what? For example, last November I went to Nashville and read the entire The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (over 400 pages) on the way there and back. The pages flew past in this book.
Your conference challenges of what to leave behind may be totally different than mine.
Another question that people ask about packing and a writer's conferences is: Should I take my laptop or leave it at home?
There is a lot to consider about taking or not taking a computer to a conference.
How much will you use it? Will you make the time to use it enough to make it worth the effort? Will you be able to dial out at the conference for example and get your email or will you use it to scratch down article ideas or what?
At times, I've found hauling my laptop to a conference as a complete waste of time. There hasn't been any outside phone line to dial out and read my email or anything else that I receive online. Some times these conference centers are in remote locations and there are no telephones in the room. It's an intentional part of the setting to get you away from the phone and television but it makes it difficult to keep up on anything online.
I've hauled a laptop around to different conferences mostly when I needed to connect to my office via email to keep up on a particular project. Several years ago at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference, I was on a book deadline--so every spare moment I could find I was back in my room cranking out more pages for my book, Teach Yourself the Bible in 24 Hours. In this particular case, my book deadline took priority over my leisure time at the conference and made that particular conference less enjoyable to me.
You have to think carefully about how much you will use your laptop and if using it will take away from other things you could take advantage of or enjoy during the conference time. I find some of the most productive moments of a conference often occur while I am sitting around talking with people.
Whether you take your laptop to a writer's conference or not is an individual choice. It is one of those choices with no clear cut right or wrong answer.
To learn more about the importance of attending a writer's conference then follow this link:
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as an editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and one of his bestselling books is Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). See more about Terry at:www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. For more than 12 years Terry has been an ECPA Gold Medallion judge in the fiction category. He has written extensively about Christian fiction and reviewed numerous fiction books in publications such as CBA Marketplace and BookPage. He is an Acquisitions Editor at Morgan James Publishing, a NY based publisher, and creator of www.right-writing.com. Sign up for Terry's free newsletter, Right Writing News.
© 2012 W. Terry Whalin