Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Which doesn’t exactly sound polite. And I am very polite. But I’m also a writer determined to maximize my return of investment. And that takes weeks of preparation before I ever walk (nervously) through the doors of opportunity.
Here’s what I do. (Maybe it’ll help you.)
Check the schedule and target the sessions that offer you the advice and information you need for where you are in your writer’s journey. If you’re a sparkly new writer, you’ll want to find classes for the beginner. But if you have a couple of finished manuscripts, you'll want to hear what agents and editors have to say. Most conferences offer plenty of sessions, for all levels of writers.
Research the speakers. Read the books they’ve authored, or at least familiarize yourself with what they’ve published. For agents, know what they’re looking for, and for editors, check the books they’ve edited. Because you may find yourself at lunch (mostly because you planned it that way) sitting next to the editor from a huge publishing house. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could say, “Oh, I loved (fill-in-the-blank-with-a-book-she-edited)!” And a delightful conversation ensues.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to be that writer, the one who’s sucking up. But you’re not sucking up; you’re working. Speakers want to help you. They’re happy to share their expertise. They come to conferences, expecting to meet and talk with lots and lots of writers. They’re looking for their next writer star.
Of course, if you know too much about a speaker, you’re saying, “I’m that crazy writer who’ll pick up your used napkin after you leave.” You do not want to be that writer.
You do want to be that writer who says, “Wow. That conference was worth every penny!” So put in the work before the conference and you may find yourself quoting Henry Hartman who said, “Success happens when opportunity meets preparation.”
(I prepare Cathy-on-a-Stick for conferences as well. But she never really behaves herself.)