Attending a Writer’s Conference Can Be Awkward

Last Year's East Texas Christian Writer's Conference
Last Year’s East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference

I have attended various writersconferences for over thirty years. Today and tomorrow I am attending the East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. It is the fourth time I’ve attended this conference.

Awkward describes attending a conference for the first time. This is especially true if you have never been to that particular conference or any writer‘s conference for that matter.

You need to accept that the conference is work and sacrifice. The sacrifice comes from the time and money you invest in the conference.

You made the choice using vacation time on yourself instead of spending it with a spouse and loved ones. Money is spent on the conference registration fees, travel, meals, lodging, and supplies like a new pen and notebook.

You learn that selecting the right conference for you and running the gauntlet of getting your partner to agree to your attendance, getting the time off work, registering for the meeting, obtaining lodging, and selecting the conferences to attend is work. It is work packing for the trip and then more work unpacking when it is over.

When you go to a new location and know no one it can be stressful and lonely. It can be scary as you meet new people including writers you are a fan of.

It involves choices. Which sessions do I attend? Should I skip a session I paid for to meet and mingle? The sessions are fun.

You look at not only what sessions and panels are there, but you look at the guest list. You focus on who is coming. Make a list of authors, publishers, and editors attending the conference. Ask which of these do I admire? Are there attendees that you would like to meet and make an impression upon?

Then you look at what agents you are interested in as well as what publishers you are interested in. Once you know the publisher you‘re interested in find out which editors work for them and who is going to be at the conference. This takes a little bit of research.

Look at the acknowledgements of your favorite book and usually you‘ll find out who edited the book. You then look at the guest list for the convention and find out who is present. You might have an editor or agent present you want to meet.

You need to find out what the agents, publishers, and editors are doing. Do not talk to them in the escalator, in the bathroom or when they are meeting with their top author for a meal. A good time to meet them is after a panel or after a session they taught. You need to have some follow-up questions for them. Tell them which of their works or authors you enjoy. Ask them what is coming up next. DO NOT mention your own work at this point. You can do that in other settings. For example, in some cases you can make appointments through the convention to pitch a completed manuscript to them.

I know a lot of writers are shy or introverted. That will rarely sell your book or manuscript. I am an outgoing introvert. I am not shy, but have a strong tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in my own mental life instead of focusing on obtaining gratification from what is outside the self. You have to get over the shy. Writing isn’t a loner craft. It takes the community of the editor, publisher, and even publicists as well as the writer.

The most important part of the conference involves meeting new people and make a good impression. You are there to learn and to network. The networking is critical. You can encourage one another. You need to focus on always being nice, always being friendly, and always being courteous.

Attending a conference is a wonderful experience. I am doing it today and tomorrow.

Author: Jimmie Aaron Kepler, Ed.D.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a full-time writer. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, to a career military father and stay at home mother. He lived in six states and attended eight different schools before graduating high school. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in History with minors in English and Military Science from The University of Texas at Arlington, Master of Arts and Master of Religious Education degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the Doctor of Education degree. Before writing full-time, he worked as a US Army officer for 10-years, religious educator for 18-years, and as an IT software application engineer for over 20-years. He is a widower. He lives in North Texas with his cat Lacey.