How to prepare for a writer’s conference

With the ACFW Writer’s Conference coming up this month, I thought it would be fitting to make this week’s list a listing of how to prepare for a writer’s conference.

  • Get prayered up! Before a conference, I devote time in prayer seeking God’s direction and guidance, surrendering my writing and all of the details of the conference to Him, and asking that He help me to be sensitive to His prompting. I also ask for wisdom in choosing what editors, agents, and mentors to speak with and what workshops to attend. I pray that His will to be done at the conference and that He would use my writing to bring glory to His name.
  • Begin preparation early. I’m a procrastinator by nature, so this is a critical one for me. A month prior to each conference I attend, I prepare manuscripts, one-sheets, and proposals. I place them in a tabbed expandable folder, which is also good for organizing handouts I receive in workshops. A week before the conference, I pack everything I will need, including personal items, clothing, business cards, a spiral notebook, a camera, plenty of pens and pencils, and my Bible.
  • Know why you’re going. What is your main motivation for attending a conference? Is your goal to land an editor for your latest manuscript? To speak to an agent? To perfect your writing skills? To learn how to effectively conduct research? To develop the art of branding or marketing? Over the years, I have attended both Christian and secular conferences and have had many of these goals and more. At each conference, I also make it my goal to be an encourager to other writers and figure out ways to bless those around me. 
  • Know where you’re going. The first year I attended a large Christian conference, my friend and I got lost on the way there. Ditto for the return trip to the airport. We literally stepped on the plane as they were closing the door. Have a good map or navigation system and allow extra time for unforeseen circumstances that hinder arriving on time.
  • Keep a sense of humor. At one conference I attended, I had an appointment with an editor in another building. I ran a couple blocks through heavy rain. When I arrived for my appointment, I looked scary! Keep your sense of humor in times like these.
  • Be realistic. The first couple times I attended conferences, I carried WAY too much stuff. After one such conference, I needed chiropractic care after hauling around the heaviest briefcase known to mankind. Take only what you need, i.e., not 10 copies of each of your five manuscripts like I did in those early years.
  • Plan to network. I can’t tell you how many awesome people I have met at conferences. One of my favorite parts is during the breaks where you meet other writers. Exchange business cards – don’t leave one without taking one – and learn from those around you. Some of the best friendships with other writers begin at a conference.
  • Expect the unexpected. I wasn’t planning to meet with two specific magazine editors at my very first conference. For one thing, I couldn’t imagine what I could write that would fit well with their publications. God had other plans. I met with both of them on different occasions at the same conference and ended up writing dozens of articles for each magazine. In addition, I made lifelong connections. One of my friends I attended a conference with met an editor in the lunch line who later bought one of her devotionals. Again, expect the unexpected and allow God to lead you!
  • Develop thick skin. This is easier said than done! Have your manuscript or proposal ready, and if you can, sign up for a critique. Allow agents and editors to show you how to hone your craft. Most of the editors and agents I have met over the years at conferences have been kind, tactful, helpful, and considerate. Their goal is to help writers make their writing even better. Allow them to give you fresh perspective.
  • Think of others. What’s the most important preparation for a writer’s conference besides prayer? Thinking of others. Does someone need help pushing their wheelchair to lunch? Is there someone sitting by themselves you can invite to your table during meals? Is there someone to whom you can give encouragement? Does one of the staff at the conference deserve special recognition for going out of her way for you (be sure to thank those who made the conference possible!) Could someone in your critique group use a little bit of compassion? Our reason for being on this earth is to glorify our Lord and to love our neighbor. Show your neighbor at a writer’s conference that Christ truly does live within you and make a difference.

So there you have it – some ways to prepare for the conference. So what are you waiting for? Start preparing because the next conference is just around the corner!

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6 thoughts on “How to prepare for a writer’s conference

  1. Thanks for all this wonderful advice, Penny! I really appreciate it. I pray the conference goes well and is a blessing for you.

    I’m hopeful that 2012 is the year I’m able to go to the ACFW conference. I must say the idea of it – a huge room(s) with all these amazing writers, agents, and publishing people sounds so exciting (and intimidating!:).

    And I can’t wait to meet you. 🙂 You’re such a blessing! Hope you have a good weekend!

  2. Wow, I haven’t done anything yet and we leave in a little over a week. This summer has been so busy with work and my real life, my expectations are to just enjoy & absorb. Oh, yeah, and to land multiple 3 book contracts.

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