Daily Archives: April 5, 2011

My Unofficial Guide to Conferences

I learned many important things at the SCBWI Iowa conference.  My top ten “ah hah” moments will be posted at From the Write Angle tomorrow.  But today, I’d like to share a few whimsical, but no less important tips on physically attending a conference.

  1. Get a Haircut. 
  2. Get Confidence
  3. Get Connected

THE HAIRCUT

One week before your conference, visit with your hairdresser.  I know, it sounds froofy and silly, but I assure you it’s not.  Once upon a time, I attended a conference.  My hair was short and sassy and I was a mess.  It was my second writer’s conference and I had yet to learn the second tip I’m going to give you. 

Needless to say, one of the speakers commented on my hair–in the ladies’ room, no less.  Fast forward two years.  I once again attended this same conference.  The same author was there helping out.  As she passed around handouts, she gave me a big grin.  “I remember you.  You have the cutest hair.”  And then we chatted.

 This time around, I was time crunched.  There was no way I could get to the salon with Real Life eating away at my days.  But I panicked.  Not because I’m froofy and silly, but because I’m completely lazy and my hair was getting too long to style in my alloted time.  If I can’t go from jammies to shower to out the door in 20 minutes I get grumpy. 

Fast forward to the conference.  I received several comments on my hair.  Not a back pat, I assure you, but rather an ice breaker. 

The moral: make sure you feel comfortable in your own hair skin.  If you don’t feel okay about how you look, you will be self-conscious.  The same can be said for the clothes you wear.  Take your favorite dressy-casual outfit along instead of pulling out the pants suit you only wear for holidays.  In this way, you will spend your time with other attendees, not silently cursing your hair or tugging at the collar of your newly dusted off jacket. 

THE CONFIDENCE

Nothing is worse than walking into a room full of strangers who all seem to know each other.  I know, I just did it on Friday.  With over 100 writers and/or illustrators registered for a conference 7 hours away from my home, I knew I was flying solo.  Walking in with my little blue folder was like walking into the lunchroom on my first day in a new school 27 years ago. 

But, I’d learned something between my second conference and my fifth conference.  I’d learned that you have to step outside yourself and into your confidence.  A quick check around the room showed that many tables were filled with groups of people.  I’m not confident enough to bust in on that.  But I have learned to find the semi-quiet table, the one where the attendees look as unfamiliar to each other as I feel to the entire room. 

Low and behold, there was such a table near the door with one elderly lady and a single man.  He had his head turned away from the door engaged in conversation with his companion.  I pulled up a chair and grabbed the next lost soul as she walked in.  She didn’t need to tell me this was her first conference.  I could tell by the way she clutched her folder to her chest and the terror in her eyes as she tried to figure out what to do next.

Turns out the gentleman was my agent and two other gals I invited to sit at our table were my twitter followers.  One of whom was also a client of Agent Awesome.  That night I didn’t have to eat alone, and by the end of the conference, I took home names, photos and memories of new friends. 

This may be hard to do, as many writers are introverted by nature.  However, when you get right down to it, we are all the same.  We are all writers with the same goals.  This creates instant conversation with anyone in the room, elevator, hallway or bar. 

THE CONNECTIONS

The writing life is all about connections.  It’s about the real-life friends we meet at conferences and the ones we bond with online.  It’s about shaking hands and holding conversations with our potential audiences, potential agents and potential editors.  Everywhere we go and everything we do, we are forming relationships that can impact our careers as writers.

The twitter story above is true.  Our respective homes are about nine hours apart.  We each traveled to another state and yet there we were, sharing the same table at a conference and a relaxing dinner on the first night out.

What if I had been a complete twitter ass over the past year?  What if I had acted immature and whiney online?  What if they had?

I think this experience really hits home the premise that we need to act and manage ourselves professionally at all times.  It doesn’t mean we can’t be quirky or assertive.  Nor does it mean we can’t have opinions or be ourselves.  It simply means that we need to be respectful of whom we might meet along the way. 

It is, indeed, a small world!

What conference tips do you have?  Spill the scary, the funny or the just plain must do’s and don’ts so we may learn together.