Writing Conference Do's and Don'ts

Sunday, October 06, 2013

This past year, I made it a goal to take another step forward in my writing career and sign up for a few conferences. I eased into it by attending a one-day conference for freelance writers back in April and last weekend, I braced myself for the larger SCBWI Carolinas Conference. Luckily, I had some friends who have attended this particular conference over the past few years, so they helped me find my way around and provide moral support. Because of conference policy, I can’t blog about specific sessions I attended at the conference or share any handouts, but I would like to offer some conference do's and don’ts I picked up as a result of my experience.

1. Do make sure you stay hydrated and pack a few extra snacks in your bag. I know this sounds like advice we all should know, but I overlooked it when I packed for my first day. I was more focused on making sure I had copies of my manuscript for the critique I had signed up for, along with business cards, a notepad and pens that I completely forgot any sort of snacks or even a bottle of water. My first session was a four-hour industry intensive that definitely took a toll on my blood sugar and left me parched, and I made a note to myself not to make that mistake again.

2. Do introduce yourself to new people. This can be very hard for me as I consider myself a pretty introverted person, but I was pleasantly surprised at how genuine and approachable the other writers I met were. The conference nametags really came in handy for that reason and helped me break the ice with several people. I made some great connections over the weekend and picked up a few books I can’t wait to read, too!

3.  Don’t let critique sessions dampen your enthusiasm. This conference had both manuscript critiques (one-on-one critiques with a conference faculty member) and late night “red-eye” critiques, where you were grouped with other writers of the same genre and asked to critique one another’s work. I signed up for only one manuscript critique session and as a result of the session, walked away doubting my entire book. While I knew it probably needed some work, I took comments too personally and almost let that experience ruin my whole weekend. I’ve heard similar stories come out of the critique groups too—it’s unfortunate, but it does happen.

4. Don’t forget to silence your phones. I was amazed at how many times phones went off during keynote speeches and conference sessions, and even more amazed by the people who would actually answer them instead of simply turning the phones off and missing a call. (I obsessively turn off my phone before every session but that's another story entirely).

Overall, I had a great time and can’t wait to go back! I got so many great ideas, was introduced to some incredible agents and editors, and learned some invaluable information from all the sessions I attended. I can’t wait to dive back into my manuscripts now.

Do you have any conference dos and don’ts you’ve picked up over the years?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who blogs at Renee's Pages.


Sioux Roslawski said...


I always bring something to put water in, and although I probably don't NEED snacks to sustain me (I think I could live on my lard for several weeks), it is always a good idea, especially since you don't always know how late you'll be and how busy you'll get.

The phone thing--I don't get, either.

Thanks for the post reminding us of how thick-skinned we might need to be. That tidbit is always needed...

Unknown said...

I especially liked your comment about critique remarks. I attended a class where I felt not only professionally attacked but personally. I guess because our work is so personal. Again I don't understand why people feel that to make a critique you have to make the person feel awful for it to be effective. I guess it makes them feel better. I would appreciate honest feedback but I don't believe it has to be only negative. Thank you for you article.

Margo Dill said...

What I tell a lot of my students about critiques is three things: 1. the people doing the critique think they have to find wrong things to tell you, so you feel like you got your money's worth

2. it is ONE person's opinion. If you hear the same thing from 3 or 4 people, then maybe you need to revise. Otherwise, write what is in your heart.

3. check the reputation of the agent/editor online before/after the conference. There are a ton of great, nice, encouraging, smart editors and agents out there. Unfortunately, there are a few that are full of themselves and I'm not sure why these people go to conferences to work with writers?

As for dos and don'ts: follow up with contacts you made at the conference on social media or their blogs and stay connected!

Don't let the enthusiasm you had from the conference die.

LuAnn Schindler said...

It's tough being an editor, too, and having to dash someone's hopes. When I worked for an online publishing company that had multiple magazines under its umbrella, we took part at a conference and it was tough dishing out critiques. The majority of stories were good, but needed work. Some, however, were poorly written. As an editor, you point out the positives, but you also have an obligation to be honest with the writer. It's tough to say that as an editor and hear it as a writer. I've been on both sides.

The phone thing drives me crazy, too. Makes you wonder what's happened to courtesy. :)

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