Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Conference Survival Guide: Strategizing

School’s out, the days are longer, and kids are running rampant everywhere. A sure indication that it’s summer, and summer means Conference Season.

The majority of, but not all, writers’ conferences are held during the summer months. Certainly the national ones are. So here at SVP, with summer comes the need for an Introvert’s Conference Survival Strategy and Tips. Because as someone once said, writer’s conferences are hundreds of writers getting together and pretending they’re extroverts.

All that pretending and socializing depletes our energy meters way fast. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves running on empty by the end of the first day of a four day conference.

But the thing is, conferences are wonderful opportunities to learn from the masters in our field, hear what publishers and editors are looking for, and they can be a prime chance to “interview” agents before we sign on the dotted line and hand over our business to them.

Not to mention how wonderfully satisfying it can be to be in an entire hotel of people who speak a writer’s language; who don’t think you’re crazy when you talk about hearing voices in your head, or who know what the acronyms SCBWI, POV, BIC actually mean. It can be a time to meet other writers, possibly forming new friendships or having wonderfully crunchy discussions over writing craft. So even for the most reluctant introvert, they are not to be missed.

They should, however, be strategized. And part of the strategizing begins before you ever set foot at the conference. First you need to choose which one you plan to attend. Every summer I am torn between going to the Annual SCBWI Conference or the RWA National Conference. I know I cannot do both. They are usually too close together, maybe two weeks apart, and it takes me at least a week to recover from the first one.

Somewhere in there, either before or after you decide which one to attend, you have to decide what your goal is for this year’s conference experience. Are you wanting to immerse yourself in craft? Try to get a feel for different editorial styles and preferences? Find a new online support or critique group? Begin an agent search? Once you know what you’re hoping to get out of the conference, it should be easier to decide which to attend.

The next step is to prioritize your Must See speakers and workshops for the conference. Even though I have been going to conferences for eleven years and have been published for the last four of those, it’s the craft part of the conference that gets my juices running. That is the part of the conference that is the most inspirational to me and that has the greatest takeaway value. That doesn’t mean a person can’t do all of it, but it does mean that it’s very, very smart to prioritize your goals.

I usually accomplish this by pouring over the conference schedules of speakers and workshops. Circle the workshops that you simply MUST see, the workshops and speakers who made you excited about the conference in the first place.

My next pre-conference tip will probably be somewhat controversial. If the conference offers pitching sessions or mss critiques, seriously consider NOT participating in them. Especially the pitching session. The few times I had a pitching or critique session scheduled, I was so nervous it completely consumed the focus of my conference experience. I spent the first half worrying about it and the last half disappointed that I hadn’t been offered a contract on the spot. (A secret dream of nearly all of those who are new to that experience.) So I have chosen to excuse myself from that part of the conference because it just winds me up way too tight and saps my already limited energy.

See if you can find another introvert for a roommate. To me, that is even more important than if the roommate snores. I can always put in earplugs, but it’s hard to turn off someone else’s social energy on demand. A fellow introvert will understand.

So once you know which conference to attend, who you’ll be attending it with, and what you’re hoping to gain from it, it’s time to look for ways to survive it. Next Thursday, I’ll discuss those Survival Tips for the actual conference itself. Be sure and check back then!

(Original post by Robin June 2007)


Naomi Hirahara said...

Great tips! I think the one about introverts skipping pitching sessions is good advice indeed. There are other ways to get an agent.

Yat-Yee said...

"I spent the first half worrying about it and the last half disappointed that I hadn’t been offered a contract on the spot." You've described my pitch experience at my first conference!

One thing I chickened out on was the free mingling in the bar. I understand that's how a lot of relationships are formed, but I just couldn't work up enough courage to do that.

Maybe next time.

lisaalber said...

Here's an article about going to writers conferences from a poet who, let's just say, starts out dreading them on every level. It's pretty funny; she could have been writing about me.