New Ideas for Creating Your Own Success
I’ve been to hundreds of writer conferences. OK, maybe dozens. No, wait, lemme, think…seeing as I attend several a year and started in 2003…*does the math*… honestly it totals over 50.
That’s a LOT of writer conferences. And I just got back from another one yesterday.
This one was a little different than the others. I noticed it was more modern. More tech-savvy. And much more up to ME to make things happen.
Don’t get me wrong, they were GREAT making sure first-timers and old-timers (wait–I mean experienced conference goers!) were well taken care of. But as technology places so much at our fingertips, it means so much of it is, well, at our fingertips. As in, it’s up to us to go find and get it. That’s not how it used to be. We used to show up and be handed a folder with everything we ever needed to know, from speaker bios to local restaurant menus. Now we’re basically handed a badge and left to wander like a kindergartener dropped off on their first day.
I’ve participated in events in every way from keynote to emcee to volunteer that helps clean up, and even organized and held them for several hundred people. I’ve written blogs on how to prepare for them and what to expect, including how to dress, and what to pack. (I admit it, I love conferences!) I thrill in meeting people, learning, and getting the latest scoop on the industry from the people who know it best.
In my prior corporate life, I probably attended another 50 events. I’ve seen that no matter the topic, location, or industry, conferences are generally the same.
But times have changed recently.
In early 2020 we were suddenly forced to halt in-person events. When they started again, new technology replaced some of our standard ways of doing things, without us realizing it. It wasn’t like we voted on it. Time just marched on.
- Budget cuts are everywhere.
- Many handouts are now available online only. That means you have to print them out and bring ’em with you, so plan ahead. (It also means you definitely need to plan out your schedule in advance so you have the right handouts. Or, bring your laptop to call them up during the session. Have them downloaded so you don’t have to rely on shoddy wi-fi.)
- Similarly, don’t assume you’ll be handed a printed schedule of the event. They may only offer an online version, so look into it and print one out ahead of time as needed.
- In fact, bring a folder as it’s not safe to assume you’ll be getting one of them, either!
- Use technology to your advantage in other ways.
- Have a critique or 1:1 you don’t want to be late for? Set a silent alarm on your phone and you won’t have to keep checking your watch/phone.
- Unless you learn better by handwriting notes, save time by snapping pix of the presenter’s slides instead of writing down what they say. See if your phone software will translate it straight to text.
- Check to see what’s being video’ed. Many conferences are “hybrid” meaning they are both online and in person. If you want to attend two sessions at the same time, go to the one that isn’t being recorded. Watch the other one that night or when you get home.
- Make the Freebie table work for YOU. Plan to pack and drop off your bookmarks/flyers promoting your book/website/critique services/etc. (Make sure it looks appealing and is professionally edited or you’ll be doing yourself a grand disservice.)
- Social media: You gotta be present, man.
- No need to livestream by any means. But pick your fave social media outlet and talk about the event before you go, using the hashtag the event coordinators will share.
- Follow the hashtag to interact with people before you go, so you have a leg up on in-person interactions. Virtually meet new people ahead of time so you have built-in conference buddies.
- Post with the hashtag (including quotes and photos) after the event as you bask in the glow of what you learned and accomplished.
- Don’t forget to offer thanks to the organizers too.
- If you can’t afford books at the conference bookstore, it’s OK! In lieu of that, do your fave speaker/presenter a solid by reserving their book at your library, giving it and the author/illustrator a shout-out on social media, and if you want to go the extra mile, give their book a review at Goodreads or Amazon (ONLY IF YOU’VE READ IT!). Word of mouth means a LOT to authors and illustrators!
- Speaking of books…many conferences have onsite or pop-up bookstores that now let ANY attendee sell a book, not just faculty. Ask!
Same as Before:
- Bringing business cards: people still use them! BUT, bring REDESIGNED cards with NEW types of info. Have them ordered and ready well ahead of time.
- Don’t include your home address on your card, no one needs that.
- Phone number is optional and IMHO unnecessary since they can email you for it. (No offense, but why would this stranger that you just befriended need to call you? You can always write it.)
- I recommend two-sided. Add book covers or endorsements on the back.
- I have a QR Code that takes you right to my website; some have it go right to their newsletter sign-up or book order page.
- Be sure to include your fave social media handles so people can find and follow you.
- Planning ahead: Decide WHY you are attending, and stick to it. Are you there to learn? If so–to learn what? Are you there to meet like writers–if so for what purpose, is it to find a crit partner or to build your social media following? Are you there to get your critique–if so, add another purpose b/c that’s just one tiny part of your day(s) there.
- Taking notes. You’re not going to remember stuff–not even the great things you swear you don’t need to write down. Especially names and book titles. Trust me.
- Being friendly: I hate the word networking as (to me) it implies you’re trying to make a sale, so I think of it as being friendly. Smile even just a little and nod a hello to everyone you see. Introduce yourself to anyone next to you with a conference badge. Asking “what are you working on?” is the perfect way to start a conversation–people love to talk about themselves AND it establishes a common ground–they are free to ask you the same question!
- Packing a light sweater (there’s always one sub-zero room).
- Having your “elevator pitch” ready. When someone asks you what you’re working on, be ready with a concise yet spunky two-to-three-sentence summary. Not “a picture book about grandmas” but “a rhyming picture book about how a grandmother might not realize the lasting, loving impact she’s had on her family.” (See the difference? Which book do you want to hear more about?)
What other change have you seen? Let me know!
And happy conferencing, whether in person or online. People need people, so keep gathering.