Monday, May 23, 2016

Writer's Conference Basics, Part II - Attendees

If you didn't see it last week, here is Part I of the Writer's Conference Basics series, in which I did an overview of conferences and conventions. In that post, you will find:

  • Conference or Convention? Definitions of the two.
  • Attendee, Volunteer, Staff, or Faculty? Definitions of the attendee types.
  • Cost. This includes additional costs you might run into.
  • How Do They Work? This includes registration, check-in, and workshops/panels/programming.
Today we're talking about conferences from an attendee's point-of-view.




Benefits of being an attendee are:
  • Gaining knowledge in your field
  • Meeting/networking with other authors, editors, and agents. In the case of conventions versus conferences, there may be more fan-related folks to rub elbows with, such as actors, graphic artists, illustrators, etc. Or at a conference such as SCBWI's, where illustrators are part of the group.
  • Creative inspiration
  • Possibly getting feedback on your work, if offered at that conference
  • Possibly getting to pitch your work to an agent or editor (or more than one)
Okay, so you're an attendee. You've registered in advance, checked-in, gotten your registration materials, and looked through the schedule to figure out what workshops you want to go to (or you're playing it by ear). What next?

Downtime -  If there's a session where there are no workshops you're interested in, don't despair! Downtime is important. Especially at an event that's more than one day. Take a session to sit by yourself or to find other folks to talk to. This is a good time for networking and meeting other authors. Visit the bar. Writers spend a lot of time at the bar.

This is also an excellent time to get some writing in. If I travel without friends for a con or conference, I like to spend time alone in my hotel room writing. It's a nice break when you're accustomed to a house full of people and responsibilities. There's no cleaning to do, no laundry, no making lunches. Me time.



Or nap.

My first conference, I felt I had to attend something every single session. I know better now. It's okay to take time for a breather here or there. It will help you get through the rest of the event.

Appointments - Make sure you know when and where your appointments are if you have any. If you can, scope out where you need to be for the appointment in advance, so you don't end up being delayed in getting to it. These things are packed, so if you miss your appointment, there's no rescheduling.

Also make note of what you need to bring to the appointment. If it's a critique, how many copies of your piece must you bring, and how much of it (1st page, 1st three pages...)? Do you need to bring your query letter? What else? Always bring something to take notes with. And if you're pitching, bring water. It gives you something to do to take a moment if you need to think, and it keeps your voice going.

Clothing - If there is no information on the website about a dress code or dress for specific meals, consider the type of event you're going to. If it's a writer's conference, rather than a fan convention, business casual is a good direction to aim. If it's a fan con, you can still do business casual, but casual is also perfectly acceptable, and you might actually be overdressed in business casual. Costumes are also fine at a convention. I wouldn't recommend wearing costumes to a conference unless you want to be the only one (or they're having a costume event.)



If there is a banquet or awards ceremony, you can usually dress it up. Especially if the two are paired. Unless it says black tie is required, you can usually dress in any way between formal and casual, and there will be other people dressed the same. Personally, I like to dress up for a night.

One thing to bear in mind is whether you will be pitching or querying. If you will, I suggest professional dress. It's like a job interview, so dress for it.

And remember, you're going to be alternating between sitting on your butt in probably uncomfortable chairs, squeezed between other people (meaning you can't adjust your sitting as much as you might otherwise), and walking around to different rooms, possibly even different floors/levels of the hotel/convention center. So dress comfortably, and wear comfortable shoes. After my first conference, I gave up on heels, except at banquet. Even if I'm dressed business casual, I'm in my hiking sneakers, because they're comfortable, though I do bring a pair of dress shoes if I'm querying/pitching.

Plus, wear layers. The way most of these venues work, you're going to have a different temperature in every room. And it's a case of the three bears. One person likes it hot, one likes it cold, and one likes it juuuuust right. Inevitably, someone will be happy with the temperature in a given room, and someone else will be miserable. So make sure you have more clothing to put on, and an acceptable amount of clothing to take off without going full nudist.

Meals - If meals are included in your registration, check for any meal tickets in your registration materials. At PPW, we put them in the badge holders, and there are specific tickets for specific meals. Find out where you eat and when. If you miss the meal, you don't get it, much like the appointments. If there are table hosts, where you have the opportunity to sit with a faculty member, get there early! Chances are, there will be major lines. People like food. Fooooood.



There will often be somewhere to get snacks. If it's being held in a hotel, they will have a coffee shop, a gift shop, a restaurant, or some combination of these things. If you're at a convention, they will usually have a Con Suite, in which various snacks are provided throughout the day, supplied by room hosts that change out every few hours.

Don't depend on this, though. Take your own snacks, especially if you have blood sugar or related issues. Do note, however, whether there are rules against snacks in the meeting spaces, which should be noted in the program. I say this because hotels will fine the organization running the conference/convention if they have rules against it. For a nonprofit, additional fees like this can be crippling. At Pikes Peak Writers Conference, we can't allow outside snacks in the meeting space, but people are allowed to enjoy them right out in the lobby or in their rooms, so it's just a matter of walking a few steps to save us from getting fined.

Volunteers/Scholarship Recipients - If you've offered to volunteer at the event, or you've won a scholarship and it requires you to volunteer, show up for the volunteer times and jobs you've been given. Not doing so may mean having to pay it back (if you received a scholarship), and will ensure you're never asked to help or take an active part in the running of the event again. The staff depend upon volunteers showing up for what they volunteered for. So do your fellow attendees. You may not be getting paid for this, but it matters.

Hydrate - We say this a lot at Colorado events, because people from out of state don't realize just how dry it is here and can get incredibly sick (emergency room sick) if they don't hydrate. However, I think it's important to hydrate at ANY event you're at. If you can, bring a refillable water bottle. A lot of events have water stations set up throughout the venue, but the cups and glasses they put out don't hold much water, so fill up a bottle and take it in with you. In my experience, this does not violate the no snacking rule. Assuming you aren't spraying water all over the place, no one's going to yell at you for having a water bottle. Unless it smells like tequila.

Read the Workshop Descriptions - I'm not saying they're going to be well written, but they hopefully usually will. Don't decide whether you want to go to a workshop based on the title alone. I named my short story workshop To Make a Long Story Short. My description listed exactly what it was about (writing, editing, and submitting short stories), but folks who came in based on the title alone thought it was an editing workshop. Now, if the description is bad, that's on whoever wrote it. But if you go into a workshop you didn't want to attend, because you didn't read the actual workshop description, that's on you.

Branch Out - My first two conferences, I took earbuds and a book. In between classes, I found an out of the way nook, put my music on, and stuffed my face in a book. This cut out networking for me. Everyone I met and talked to, I met in the food line or, in one case, waiting for a workshop to start. But think of how many people I could have met if I'd walked around and been open and friendly instead of introverting so hard. I've since made many amazing connections, despite being a shy introvert who hates small talk. Stretch past your insecurities and discomfort as much as you can. No one expects you to be perfect. Even if you give yourself ten minutes to do that before going into introvert hibernation in a corner of the lobby, you'll have pushed yourself.

Also falling under branching out, attend some workshops that are out of the ordinary for you. If you're a mystery writer, attend a romance, science fiction, or horror workshop. If you're in the middle of edits, attend a workshop on the next steps or on the craft of writing. Do one thing you wouldn't normally do. It might be worth it. I've now heard from several people that they attended my short story workshop as the "something different" we recommended. They were solely novelists. They're now also playing around with the short form. You never know what you'll discover or what you'll like.

Focus - If you're overwhelmed, and you're not sure what to attend, find a focus. What I mean by this is, choose a goal for what you want to leave the conference knowing or having accomplished. Then pick workshops that meet that. For instance, if this is your first conference, and you consider yourself a beginner, maybe mostly attend workshops on the writer's life and craft. Your focus should probably be on those things. The next year, maybe you'll attend mostly editing and query/submission-type workshops. After that, maybe it's all about marketing. Look at what will benefit you NOW, and go from there. It's a way you can narrow down your choices.

Now I'll leave you with a couple thoughts from the other attendee categories. I'll do this at the end of each post.

What staff and volunteers want attendees to know:

First and foremost, we're volunteers. No one is getting paid. We do this for the love of helping our fellow writers/authors.  Staff put months and months and months into building this event for you, spending their own time and money to make it successful, often while also having day jobs, their writing careers, and families. So if you have a complaint or an issue, take a moment to consider that we're just people like you, there to learn and further our writing careers, and maybe tone it down a little. You can address an issue and remain respectful. We want to help. Just let us try to do so before you get upset. Certainly, whatever has gone wrong was not intentional.

If you run into a volunteer or staff member who is disrespectful or not helpful, please find another one and let them know, on top of whatever your original issue was. It is horrifying to us when a member of our team behaves inappropriately. Like us, they're volunteers. We try our best to put people where they are best suited and to screen for people who will not be friendly to attendees, but there may occasionally be someone who slips through. There's also the issue of us not being able to do anything about it if no one tells us. If something is reported after the fact, we can't fix it, but we would have been able to if someone had told us when it occurred. And we would have worked our butts off to make it better for you. So please do find someone--preferably above the person who caused issues, such as the director--and let them know what happened. We don't want your experience ruined because of a bad apple. The same is true of faculty and other attendees. Let us know.

And if you saw a staff member excel at what they were doing, or there is someone who was particularly helpful, please tell someone! It's nice to hear the good, too.

If there are surveys, please fill them out. Don't walk away upset because something wasn't to your taste. Instead, make suggestions! We spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out what our attendees will enjoy. The more feedback from past attendees we have, the better an idea we have of what will be well received. We want to make people happy and deliver a product they desire. So please give us that chance!

Finally, there are a lot of working parts to a conference. A ball may be dropped in one place. Sometimes things will occur that we have no power over (for instance, a blizzard or a faculty member backing out at the last minute). Please be patient with us. We're doing the best we can.



What faculty want attendees to know:

We're as much a fish out of water as you at any of these events. We are coming in from the outside, and expected to be in certain places at specific times. Our trip out may not have been pleasant. Something bad may have happened on the way, or in our every day lives. We won't always be at the top of our game. Sometimes we're sick, but we can't cancel. If a faculty member is cranky with you, remember that they're human, and there may have been a reason for it. Although one hopes this won't occur.

We are not always given a lot of information in advance (in fact, we're frequently not), and may be having to adjust or play things by ear. Maybe we thought we'd have a projector, but we don't. Maybe we thought there'd be sound, but there isn't. Maybe we have to speak into a microphone on a table because the sessions are recorded, so end up having to sit down to deliver our workshop (or stand holding a mic like a rockstar, which is not easy to do if you have a lot of notes to consult.) Some of us are introverts and/or shy, too, and this may be something we have worked to overcome in order to be up there. We may be last minute fill-ins, or they may have switched our topic for whatever reason. We have no idea how many people to expect in a workshop we're giving until people are sitting down in front of us.

Some of the complaints I saw on the surveys I mentioned in the previous post were things like: "the speaker sat at a desk, and I couldn't see her;" "there was no PowerPoint;" "the speaker did not appear to be prepared for the large crowd they got." That sort of thing. Some of these were out of people's control. Also, what one person complains about, another person praises. The person who didn't like that a speaker didn't have a PowerPoint? Their arch-nemesis complained that too many speakers had PowerPoints...there is no way to make everyone happy with everything. We certainly do our best to try, though.

Not all faculty are paid or even comped. Don't assume we're making bank off presenting to you. We may have just presented an hour long workshop for free. Even if it wasn't for free, it probably wasn't much. We may have gotten a small stipend, but had to pay to get ourselves to the event.

If the faculty member is an agent or editor, don't pitch to them in the bathroom, don't confront them if they've previously rejected you, and don't interrupt them when they're speaking to someone else in order to pitch to them. Do respectfully ask if they'd be willing to listen to your pitch, as long as it's a reasonable time and place. If they are running to present a workshop, that is neither the time, nor the place. Sitting next to them at dinner, especially after you've made pleasant conversation with them, might be the place (and the time, as long as they aren't eating.) Use your common sense, and remember, above all else, that we are human, too.

Signings can be horribly humiliating things if you aren't the Stephen King of the conference. If you liked what we presented, come talk to us! You don't have to buy the book, but please come say hi and tell us you liked the workshop. Ask us questions. Obviously, if you aren't buying a book, do try to stand off to the side so someone else can make a purchase or get a signature. If we had to consign books, we're out that money until someone buys them. There are no returns, in most cases. Those of us who are low on the totem pole are going to be sitting there watching the lines stretch out the door for the keynotes/guests of honor, and hoping for one sale. So maybe consider buying the book, too, if you liked the speaker.

#

Okay, that's it for this one. These are turning out to be longer posts than I might hope for, but maybe the amount of information will make up for that. Before I end this post, I'm going to put the links I usually do on Wednesdays. I'd like a little wiggle room over the summer (and maybe even after that), so I'm not going to scrap posting links, but I am going to move them to the end of my Monday posts instead, and just post once per week, except in weeks I have a horror book review, like this upcoming Friday. Once this series is completed, I'll be back to shorter posts. But because I'm combining two posts, I will post fewer links unless I have too many to share to mitigate them that way.

As always, please bear in mind that I'm not endorsing these, merely passing along interesting links. Always do your own due diligence before submitting to a market or contest.

Accepting Submissions:

The Threepenny Review is open for submissions through the end of June. They do not read between July and December. Length varies by type of submission, as does pay, but pay is between $200 and $400. Deadline June 30.

Chicken Soup for the Soul has a couple calls ending soon. The topics are blended families, curvy & confident, and stories about teachers & teaching. Pays $100 to $200. Should be in first person, and be a personal story or poem. 1200 words or less. Deadline for these calls is June 30.

Dark Alley Press is putting together the Ink Stains Anthology. Dark literary fiction. 3000-20,000 words. Pays between $5 and $20, depending upon length.

Litbreak takes short stories, poetry, essays, reviews, and various other things. Word count varies by type of submission. Pays between $25 and $50.

Contests:

Bacopa Literary Review is holding a contest. First prize is $200. There is a winner and a runner-up in each: poetry, literary fiction, creative nonfiction. Up to 8000 words. Deadline June 30.

Can you think of any attendee tips I left out? If you've been staff or faculty, is there anything else you want attendees to know? Do you have any questions you'd like answered in the posts for staff and faculty? Anything you'd want either of those categories to know?

May you find your Muse.

Man in Chair, by OCAL, clker.com
Cartoon Cat Sleeping, by OCAL, clker.com
Man in Suit, by OCAL, clker.com
Pancake and Syrup Coffee Bacon Hashbrown, by OCAL, clker.com
Glass of Water, by OCAL, clker.com
Business Man, by OCAL, clker.com

33 comments:

  1. Hi Shannon - well that is thorough ... brilliant with all the tips and ideas ... enjoy anyone who is attending a conference .. cheers Hilary

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  2. I love going to any place that readers and writers gather, but it can get pricey fast.

    Excellent tips- especially the one about getting your nose out of a book and talking to people.

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  3. I love going to any place that readers and writers gather, but it can get pricey fast.

    Excellent tips- especially the one about getting your nose out of a book and talking to people.

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  4. Great wrap up on what to do at a conference to get the most out of it you can. I love the down time and just sitting around talking to other writers.

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    1. The down time is wonderful. I think that part is as valuable as the rest of it.

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  5. Networking seems hugely important at those events. I've only gone for playwriting but networking has definitely led to other opportunities.

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    1. I'm curious how much a playwriting conference differs from a regular writing conference. Networking is definitely valuable!

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  6. Hydrate! Very, very important.
    Such a comprehensive list. Whoa...

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    1. Hydrate everywhere! I think I get bad about it when not in Colorado, because suddenly I'm not so thirsty and my skin's not so dry.

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  7. You've really given this some thought! It's the most complete list of dos and don'ts I've seen on conferences.

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    1. I've done it enough times that I have the attendee part down,anyway!

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  8. I've only been to one conference, but would like to attend another - or six - someday. I learned a lot at the last one, and have a better idea about how they work now. Thanks for the tips.

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  9. I love that you made introverting a verb! Thanks for all the information.

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    1. I invent verbs all the time! I'm verbose. Wait, that's a real word already. ;)

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  10. Great advice, all of it! I go to the San Francisco Writer's Conference annually. I used to go as an attendee, and now I go as a speaker:)

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    1. Isn't that a fun transition to make? You attend to grow, and then you grow into faculty. Perfect!

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  11. Great list. I found that if I gleaned only a few pieces of advice from the presenters, then it was success. If I had calls back to talk with the representatives, that was a major success. Collecting cards of companies was great, to force me to compose and mail letters of appreciation, it was super and reinforcing.

    Awesome all around.

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    1. What types of companies were you collecting cards from, and then what were the letters of appreciation for? I'm curious if this is something I should be doing.

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  12. Good sound advice. I made a lot of mistakes at my first conference and your suggestions will keep others from doing the same. Wonderful!
    thanks for the links!

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    1. I bet we all made mistakes at our first conference. We're there to learn how to attend, too, I guess!

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  13. Wow, never would have thought about some of those. Also never knew Colorado was that dry, I drink 4L a day though, so good there.

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    1. You'd do fine then. :p I used to struggle to drink enough water, but I have it down now unless I go on a trip. Then I get dehydrated. There's a line in Breakfast Club about Clare dehydrating, and I figure it actually applies to me.

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  14. Brilliant Shannon! I have wanted to do this small, locally.

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    1. I think that's the best way, if it's a possibility. The first writing event I attended was actually a smaller one day free "conference" run by our local library. I still go every year.

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  15. Thanks for all the great info! I always find writer's conferences inspiring. And that "me writing" time in the hotel room with no one wanting anything from me and no chores waiting to be done — priceless.

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    1. Yes, definitely priceless! One of my favorite parts.

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  16. This is great information. I've never gone to a conference or fan con, but next year I'll be attending my first as an author (there's workshops and an author signing), so I'm absorbing all of this. Thank you!

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    1. Yay, congratulations! I hope it goes well, and that it's a great experience for you.

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  17. Awesome advice/info. I've been to conferences and workshops, but never thought to stay in my room and write! What a great idea!

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    1. It's so nice to have that unadulterated writing time, and it helps unwind from being around all those people so much.

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