Monday, April 7, 2014

When It's Not Awesome

Post by Jenny

If you’ve attended a writer’s conference in the past few months, I hope it was such a great experience that you came away feeling like you were walking on Air Jordans cushioned with Memory Foam and lined with sustainably-harvested angel feathers. I’ve been there, and it’s pretty amazing. But I’ve also attended more than one conference that somehow became a Disappointing Showcase of Things I Don’t Do Very Well. Network, for example. Build a platform. Ask insightful (or at least intelligible) questions. Talk about my writing enthusiastically and with a minimum of awkward self-deprecation. Et cetera.

If this has happened to you, I offer my sympathies and a bit of advice. First of all, go easy on yourself. We humans set our expectations pretty high, and odds are that not every event is going to hit the mark. Writing is a tough business. Just by attending a conference, you have bravely gone where many others fear to tread, and that deserves a pat on the back.

Secondly, don’t let it keep you from attending another conference. Each one is a unique mix of presenters, attendees, and sessions…not to mention whatever influence the stars and planets and ghost of John Steinbeck may be wielding. And, really, where else are you going to have the chance to chat up your dream agent over lunch?

But the most important thing you must do is to learn from it. Think about what you wish you would have done differently, and write down some notes for next time. Be specific, because when you refer to the list later, you want something more helpful than I will do better, dammit.

I will exchange business cards with twenty people.
Oh, yeah…I will have business cards.
I will practice my elevator pitch (look it up if you don’t know) and happily deliver it to anyone at any moment.
I will seek out the keynote speaker, thank him/her for coming, ask one question and/or offer one compliment.
I will sign up for a pitch/roundtable/critique session.
I will buy the books of at least 2 conference attendees and have them signed.

What conference advice would you add to the list?


Sarah Sullivan said...

Those are excellent bit sized suggestions that seem doable and not overwhelming. I, too, have had both great and not so great experiences at conferences and I appreciate knowing I am not alone. Thank you!

Dean K Miller said...

Take a deep breath and realize 90% of the attendees have been where you are, and/or are there themselves. Ask about their writing, their cat something that let's them talk. You can get more comfortable and confident when you hear they dread query letters or one of their critique group members is too flowery. Share the love, for sure.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Don't feel bad, Jenny. I've been to lots of conferences and still managed to forget my business cards on Day one of the NCW.

My advice is to always follow Ilan Shamir's message (adapted to your post): 1,000 things went right at this conference. After all, you were one of the stars of that hilarious conference video. Well done!

Jenny said...

Thanks, everyone. I didn't specifically mean this year's NCW conference. I just wanted to remind people that we all bring high hopes to conferences, and sometimes they are dashed a tiny bit. Or a lot :-)

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