As a new writer, thinking about going to a conference can be intimidating.
Last year, I went to my first ever conference (NESCBWI in Springfield, Ma). Since it was my first conference (and I was all alone), I only went for one out of the three days. I thought it would be a good idea to just get my feet wet and see if I even liked going to conferences. I'd decided to shelve my MS, so I didn't sign up for a MS critique or participate in any of the pitch sessions.
I had no idea what to expect and didn't know anyone who was going, so I was really nervous. I consider myself to be a shy person, so the thought of going to a giant conference without knowing a single person was really scary! Plus, at the time, I was super-new to the writing community. (I hadn't even found critique partners yet.) You could say I was more than a little intimidated about going.
But, I'm happy to say, those fears were unwarranted.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn how warm and inviting the writing community can be. I found several friendly people to buddy up with during the day. All it took was a smile and a "Hi! This is my first conference!" and people were glad to help me out or invite me to join their group. Probably the most intimidating part throughout the day was finding a seat during the sit-down lunch. (It felt a little like trying to find a seat in the cafeteria on the first day of school.) I had to go a little out of my comfort zone to approach a table of lovely ladies and ask if I could join them. Like I said, the writers I met at this conference were all super-nice, so they greeted me warmly and asked my name and what I write.
What do you write?
I wasn't prepared for how many times I'd have to answer that question! In my day-to-day life, I don't talk about writing with other people, so talking about it was strange (but great!). People will also ask what your book is about/what your pitch is. I hadn't practiced my pitch, so I was like, "Uh, my book is about this girl who, um…" (I probably should have practiced it once or twice!)
I only got a taste of the conference and everything it offered, but I had a good time and felt like I still got a lot out of it.
My top four tips:
- Practice your pitch beforehand. (Especially if you're shy. You want to be able to explain what your book is about.) I've heard having business cards with your info and pitch on them are a good idea, too.
- Smile and have fun!
- Connect with other writers and ask about their writing. You may find critique partners!
- If you're nervous about attending (or can't spend the $), try signing up for a portion of the conference. If you have a good time, you can always sign up for more the following year!
This weekend, I will be going to my second ever NESCBWI conference. Obviously, it will be a different experience this time around. I know what to expect this time and I know some people who will be attending. Another change this year is I'm doing a manuscript critique with an agent. I've had critiques before but never face-to-face. This is a little (a lot!) scary, but it should be good! But the best part about going this year is that I will finally meet one of my Pitch Wars teammates, Julie Dao, IN REAL LIFE! Yay!
A lot can happen in a year. Since going to that first conference, I've gotten several critique partners, been in two contests (Pitch Wars 2013 and Cupid's Literary Connection's Blind Speed Dating 2014), and started querying my young adult sci-fi, STRANGE ATTRACTORS. I can't wait for NESCBWI 2014 to learn even more and meet more great people!
What are your experiences with conferences? Do you have any tips or advice?