The 2014 NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference (NCWN) is this weekend in Charlotte. Even if you are completely prepared, you might feel nervous, especially if it’s your first conference. Don’t worry; we’ve all been there. At my first NCWN conference in 2003 in Wilmington, North Carolina, I worried that everyone would ask how much I had published. (ZERO!) But when I sat down next to future published author Christy English at my first workshop session and felt immediately comfortable. Yay! This was where my tribe inhabited! What’s really neat is that I now have clients who were fellow participants from that 2003 conference. Time is a flat circle, and all that (True Detective reference).
So if you’re packing for your very first writers’ conference what do you bring? What do you say? Relax—I have a few tips for you so you can make the most of your investment, because conferences do cost you in terms of time and dollars. If you arrive prepared and collected, you’ll be sure to leave with new contacts, new friends and a new way of looking at your writing. And maybe even a publishing opportunity!
What to bring:
- Papers, pens, pencils all in an easy-to-carry portfolio or stashed in a tote bag with many pockets. You might also want to wear a jacket that has pockets. You’ll need these pockets for your business cards and the business cards you’ll receive.
- A comfortable bag to stash your papers, notes, books you’ll buy from the faculty and conference door prizes.
- Cash for the cash bar and for the books you’ll buy from your workshop leaders and your fellow participants. Don’t leave without buying at least one book and having that author sign it. Show your appreciation so when you’re published someone will do the same for you.
- Business cards with your name, address (city/state is okay if you don’t your address revealed), phone number, email, blog and/or website. You can have them say “writer” on them and your genre, too. You can have them designed with a simple design or perhaps a quote of your work on the back. I have two-sided business cards that describe all that I do with editing, writing and speaking. I love getting cards with the person’s photo on them so I can immediately remember what they look like.
- Business casual clothes. Dress in layers since some of the conference rooms might be chilly. You won’t have a lot of time to “get fancy” for the evening reception, especially if you meet an important contact at the Happy Hour and don’t want to return to your hotel room to change. So choose your conference outfit accordingly. For the men, wear a blazer, a nice button-down shirt and khakis/jeans. Don’t wear sneakers or flip flops. For the ladies, go with a blazer or sweater, funky costume jewelry others may notice, a scarf, bright, flattering colors, black pants or jeans and comfortable shoes that aren’t sneakers. At writers’ conferences you can spot me in a dress and boots. I spend time on my hair (this is a rare thing) and makeup, too. Comfortable footwear is necessary. You won’t be able to be a short-time extrovert if your feet hurt. For instance, because it was held at the beach, I wore my Converse high-tops while at the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop—a very smart move since I could easily go from the exhibit hall to the beach.
What to Say
If you know you’re socially awkward, the best way to combat that is to LISTEN. Before you butt into any conversation, listen for an opening. Stick to the point. Here are more tips:
- Prepare an intro of who you are and what you write or do. I’d say, “Hi, I’m Alice and I’m an editor-for-hire. I live in Raleigh. My poetry book will be published this spring.”
- Network. Sit with new people (not the folks you carpooled with), exchange cards, ask them about what other workshops they’re taking, ask them how they found out about the conference, and ask them about what they’re working on. I always sit with new people at lunch and then I sit with old friends at dinner while bringing a new friend or two along. Ask questions and listen! Don’t monopolize the conversation and don’t let someone else monopolize either. Excuse yourself after five minutes of speaking to someone at the Happy Hour so you don’t hog that person’s time. I like to say, “I’ll let you get back to meeting more people—I’ll see you around!” And if the conversation is going nowhere, feel safe to say, “I need to speak to my former teacher over there—bye!” After the conference, follow-up with everyone with an email or Facebook message soon after you return.
- Wear your name tag even on the last day. Some people hate wearing nametags, but they are the best networking tool and conversation starter! Don’t take yours off until you’re in the car driving home. They’ll have your name and hometown on them so at least you can say to a fellow conference goer who lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, “Hey, I love Kill Devil Hills. How does where you live influence your writing?”
- Give the speakers space. After the speaker/faculty has finished their presentation, please don’t mob them! Quickly thank them for their time and ask for their business card.
Good luck at your first conference—I know you’ll be great! Writers are mostly very nice people. See you this weekend in Charlotte and don’t forget to say “hello” to me at the Happy Hour on Saturday—I’m the sponsor.
The North Carolina Writers’ Network 2014 Fall Conference opens at 3:00 pm on Friday, November 21 and runs through Sunday, November 23 at the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel in Uptown Charlotte, 555 S. McDowell St., Charlotte, NC 28204. The Fall Conference offers workshops and master classes in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, lectures and panels on publishing and finding an agent, and the opportunity to have your manuscript reviewed by literary agents and editors.
The faculty includes poets Anthony S. Abbott, Morri Creech, and Alan Michael Parker; fiction writers Kim Boykin, Moira Crone, and Aaron Gwyn; and creative nonfiction writers Cynthia Lewis, Rebecca McClanahan, and Amy Rogers. Allan Gurganus will give the Keynote Address. Saturday’s luncheon features Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina’s seventh poet laureate. Cost varies, scholarships are available. Register now at www.ncwriters.org.
On-site registration is now available.
What other questions do you have about feeling prepared at a writers’ conference? It’s your turn to share!