Conference season has arrived! And that means a fair amount of nail biting for new and returning attendees alike. Meeting authors you admire, pitching your work to agents, and trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible can be stressful.
But if you stash tips and tricks in your pocket, your first writing conference can be an enriching experience. No matter what stage you’re in—whether you’re drafting a novel, have finished one, or are engrossed in marketing—you’re passionate about impacting others through fiction. You mustn’t let fear hold you back from building relationships and learning techniques that will push you toward your goals.
Mindset #1: Embrace Openness
Instead of huddling in a corner, reach out to other attendees, and don’t freak out if the unexpected happens. But, most importantly, be willing to accept whatever God drops in your lap.
Conferences rarely play out exactly as we imagine. I had to scrap my plans for the final day of one conference I went to, and at another I missed multiple sessions. But I still enjoyed and benefited from the event! As long as you’re flexible and realize that change isn’t the end of the world, you’ll stay calm.
If you need to skip a class, use that slot for journaling your memories and new ideas. Or, if you’re late and would feel conspicuous walking in, grab an available friend and get food instead. Don’t make or break the conference based on one class, getting someone’s signature, or hanging out with a certain friend. When a situation goes awry, God may surprise you with an unforeseen opportunity!
Mindset #2: Pace Yourself
If you’re stressed, you’re allowed to swallow a chill pill. And even if you’re full of energy, focus on relaxing during the moments when you’re less busy. You don’t need to run yourself ragged for the conference to be a success. Hang out in your hotel room for a couple hours or invite a friend to get coffee.
Knowing where you need to be at designated times can also help reduce anxiety. Familiarize yourself with the conference schedule and the hotel layout. Either carry the pamphlet and maps with you or save the information to your phone. Jot down any other details you need to remember, such as agent and critique appointments or lunch dates with faculty members. Don’t be like me and forget about these until the last second!
Whatever challenges you encounter, don’t hesitate to take care of yourself. On the first night of one conference I attended, I was supposed to eat dinner with friends I longed to see. But opening day overwhelmed me, as it always does, and I had to bow out to prevent exhaustion. I met with these friends later on, though, and with much more enthusiasm.
Mindset #3: Look for Opportunities to Connect
Why did you register for the conference when you could listen to all the classes on your computer after it’s over? Because you’re eager not only to grow but to connect with others in the industry.
For an extrovert, this part will be easy, but as an introvert, you’ll need to push yourself. Befriend people before the conference so you can socialize with them while you’re there. Introduce yourself to a stranger at least once per day. Or tag along with a group that shares common interests with you. You won’t regret finding someone to cheer you on or offer advice, but you might lose out if you don’t try.
Everyone is scared of stepping outside their comfort zones. But you can’t avoid awkwardness entirely. Just ask me about the time I made a fool of myself in front of Lindsay Franklin. Remember that even famous editors and authors struggle with nerves. And if you’re approached by someone who’s hoping to meet new people, act warm. At my first conference, I had a great conversation with a girl who turned out to be an online friend I didn’t recognize. So, welcome the interactions that come your way—you never know who you’ll bump into!
Many authors emphasize the value of attending a conference because of the insights and relationships you’ll gain. Not to mention the fun you’ll have! Whether an upcoming conference is your first, fifth, or fiftieth, you’ll be amazed at how it affects your life. Maybe you’ll receive the encouragement you need to persevere, inspiration for a new story, or tactics for better marketing your work. But you won’t get those results if you don’t dive in.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 1, 2019. Updated July 7, 2022.
Savannah Grace is a Nebraska-born-and-raised author who loves writing—and reading—a good speculative story, because there’s no better place to escape than a book. When she’s not lost in (or creating!) other worlds, she can be found making a mess with watercolors, laughing way too loudly, or eating as much Korean food as she can get her hands on. She’s the submissions manager for Illuminate YA and an associate editor for Havok Publishing.
Savannah has had multiple short fiction pieces published in various places and loves helping writers hone their craft. You can find her blogging at savannahgracewrites.blogspot.com, posting sporadically on her YouTube channel (Savannah Grace), or finally finding a use for all her book pictures over on Instagram (@savannahgraceauthor). She’d love to chat with you!