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Six Steps to Prepare for a Writer’s Conference

Part one of a three-part series on how to maximize your conference experience

There are less than four weeks till the Willamette Writers Conference, August 5 - 7. It’s time to put my conference todo list together. This will be my sixth year at the conference and I find the more prepared I am going in, the more I take away from the experience. My six preparation steps are geared towards the Willamette Writers Conference, but most of these tips can be applied to any writer’s conference you attend.

Step One: Write down your objectives

Why are you going to this writer’s conference and what do you want to take from the experience? There are so many activities and choices at the conference; it’s important to determine your objectives upfront, so you’ll target the activities that serve you and not be distracted by those that don’t.

At this year’s conference my goals are to:
• Find writers who are working in a similar genre who can become critique partners
• Meet and pitch new agents and editors who will hopefully be interested in receiving a query letter and pages on my two novels
• Learn about the latest trends in traditional and self-publishing
• Discover new ways for fiction authors to market their work
• Promote my developmental editing and marketing services for fiction writers
• Find guest bloggers for a new online business I’m starting

You may be interested in:
• Finding writers to form or join a critique group
• Meeting and socializing with writers in your community
• Learning more about your genre of writing
• Gaining valuable tips on the agent submission process
• Increasing your understanding of craft
• Meeting authors and purchasing signed copies of their books
• Shopping for holiday gifts at the Silent Auction (this is one of my goals too)

The conference is only three days and it goes by fast. So prioritize your goals and prepare to meet them.

Step Two: Do your research

Review the conference brochure
Take another look through the brochure to be sure you take advantage of all the conference has to offer. Or review the conference website. I talked about two of my favorites in a previous post.

Check the website for updates
Speakers, agents, editors, and workshops change, so visit the Willamette Writers Conference website for the latest information.

Choose your workshops
With almost a hundred workshops and multiple sessions happening at once, it’s not always easy to decide which workshop is for you. Don’t waste time at the conference reading over the descriptions. Do this now. You may also want to read the speakers’ bios and look at their websites. I like to select my top two workshop choices for each timeslot. That way if one workshop is too crowded or isn’t what I expected, I can head to the other one. Workshops and presenter bios are listed in the conference brochure and are also on the website.

Another reason for planning your workshops ahead of time is that some instructors will select participants’ work to read: opening pages, query, pitch, or synopsis. This year I see two workshops requesting the first few pages, and one requesting your pitch emailed ahead of time. “Conference Basics” may let you pitch if time allows. It never hurts to be prepared. Have your materials professionally formatted (double-spaced) and print out two copies so you can be looking at it while the instructor is commenting.

Research agents and editors
No doubt you’ve done some reading up on the agents and editors you plan to pitch. You've selected ones who represent and/or are looking for your genre of writing. I urge you to dig a little deeper. Review their website; look at the authors they represent; see if the agent/editor has a blog. Sometimes a quick Google search can yield a wealth of information on the person. The more you know going in, the more prepared you’ll be to talk intelligently with the agent or editor, ask the right questions, and look like the professional you are.

Write out your questions
Agents and editors at group and one-on-one pitches will usually make time to address your questions, so have one or two ready to ask. This is your opportunity to get a feel for the agent and sense whether or not the agent and the agency is the right fit for your career.

Next steps will be posted on Monday: “Gather your network gear” and “Grip the ball and get ready to pitch.”

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