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Ten Ways to Get the Most from a Writers’ Conference

I recently attended the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in Denver, so the benefits are fresh in my mind. In addition to the educational and networking opportunities at these conferences, there are often manuscript critique workshops and appointments to pitch your work to agents and editors. Here are my ten suggestions to get the most from any writers’ conference you attend.

1. Become a member of the organization sponsoring the conference. If that organization has a Yahoo! Group, join it as well. It’s the best way to make contacts before the event and find the volunteer jobs I mention in #3.

2. If you have an area of expertise useful to authors, send a workshop or panel proposal for the conference committee’s consideration. At Colorado Gold, some of the well-attended sessions were presented by unpublished writers or others with knowledge of e-books, e-readers, digital publishing options, police arrest tactics, blogging and social media, and publicity.

3. Volunteer to work before and/or during the conference. Volunteers assemble registration materials, work at the registration tables, moderate panels and presentations (which includes introduction, timekeeping, Q&A moderating, and room cleanup), gather donations for the hospitality room, and other duties.

4. If there’s a critique workshop included with the conference you choose, and if you have a manuscript ready for critique, sign up for the workshop, even if it costs a little extra. This is especially worthwhile if the workshop sessions are moderated by agents and editors, as are the Friday afternoon sessions at the Colorado Gold Conference.

5. If pitch appointments are available, and you have a completed manuscript, sign up. If it’s your first time, don’t be afraid. There will probably be a Pitch 101 session at the conference. If not, ask another attendee to help you prepare. Do not pitch your book to editors or agents at inappropriate times, but don't be afraid to chat with them during social events.

6. Study the program before you go to the conference so you have a good idea which workshops and panels will be most useful to you. At Colorado Gold, sessions were ranked beginning craft, advanced craft, special interest, etc. to help attendees decide.

7. Arrive at the conference with a smile. Pay attention to people. If you see someone wandering or sitting alone, start a conversation. Listen. Exchange business cards. Make a point of talking to at least one new person at every session you attend.

8. Find out where your conference hospitality room is and make an appearance there each day, even if you don’t stay too long. While some rooms will be non-alcoholic and open all day, others will be small and noisy late evening events with a bar. Either way, editors and agents may be present. Be on your best behavior.

9. Colorado Gold provides a book of handouts with the conference registration materials, which is helpful for note taking. Be prepared to take additional notes during a workshop or panel.

10. When you get home, follow up on the contacts you made. Read your contacts’ blogs and leave a comment, or e-mail them. If an editor or agent invites you to submit a partial, follow through.

The next conference I’ll be attending is Northern Colorado Writers’ Conference, to be held March 25-26, 2011 in Fort Collins, Colorado. This conference is for all writers, not just those who write fiction.

Remember what I said in #2 about presentation proposals for those who have special expertise in a writing-related topic? Here’s your chance to follow through. The director of the NCW conference has put out a call for presenters. I hope to see you in Northern Colorado in March.


Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting authors in several genres, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

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  1. If any readers live close to Denver, I just heard of another one-day Douglas County Library writers' conference at Castle Rock High School this Saturday (Oct. 2).

  2. Interesting, informative post, Patricia! I make a point of attending at least two or three writers' conferences or book festivals every year, and have learned a lot in the workshops I've attended. I've also found the conferences very stimulating and great for networking!
    Just wondered about your suggestion to volunteer -- I can see how that would be good for the conference organizers, but can't really see how it would benefit me, especially if I'll be missing workshops and events while I'm volunteering. Any thoughts on that?

  3. Thanks for sharing! I hit my first conference next month - Florida Writers Association. I'm excited to attend all the workshops and meet all the other writers. I'll keep your tips in mind. :)

  4. This post is far more than a list of suggestions. It touches on our need, as solitary writers, to connect with three-dimensional, living, breathing people around us—those other than the characters who populate the pages of our books. Attending conferences, getting involved, interacting with people—these things ground us and renew us, both of which help us become better writers. Great post!

  5. Jodie, since I have attended and volunteered at a number of conferences, I'll answer your question. Most of the volunteers are given opportunities to attend some of the workshops and often get to schmooze with the editors and agents at private cocktail parties. At least that is the way it worked at the Craft of Writing Conference in Dallas.

  6. Jodie -- first of all, sorry to be so late responding, but we spent the day driving from Washington, KS back to Northern Colorado...

    As for volunteering, I've found it's a great networking tool. Not only do you get to know the conference organizers and other volunteers better, but you get to meet presenters, agents, and editors. And anytime you volunteer to moderate or be timekeeper during one of the sessions, you still get the full benefit of attending.

  7. I'm off to the Emerald City Conference - and I agree, there's no better way to immerse yourself in the business than by mingling with other industry folks.

    I'll be moderating 2 panels and giving a workshop at this one. When they're closer to home, I try to do more.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  8. Great tips Pat and I agree with everyone of them. One more I'd like to add is stay for the whole conference if possible. A lot of work goes into planning a conference so why not stay and get the most out of it.


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