Child Rock Star MS ImageThe 2015 NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference (NCWN) is this weekend in Asheville. 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. By reading this post, I’ll help you rock your first conference—and it will rock. It’s the 30th anniversary of the Network and Keith Flynn and the Holy Men will rock it out after the Saturday night banquet. Bring your dancing shoes.


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 taught by Ellyn Bache, 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.


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, and the books you’ll buy (I’ll say more about this below)


  • Cash for the cash bar and for the books you’ll buy at the bookstore table and in the exhibitors’ hall. 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 want 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. For the ladies, go with a blazer or sweater, funky costume jewelry others may notice, a scarf, bright, flattering colors, black pants or dark jeans and comfortable shoes. In years past I’ve written to not wear sneakers, but that’s all I wear now, so wear whatever you want on your feet, as long as your footwear is clean and free of debris. You won’t be able to be a short-time extrovert if your feet hurt.


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 was just released this fall.”


  • 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, Linked In or Facebook message soon after you return. Also, don’t forget to network with the many, many exhibitors in Asheville. There are publishing companies, individual authors (I’ll be there!) and much, much more.


  • 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. And it’s okay to send a follow-up email the next day or week. Trust me, the faculty love it when you do this!


Good luck at your first conference—I know you’ll be great! Writers are (mostly) very nice people. See you this weekend in Asheville and don’t forget to say “hello” to me at the Happy Hour on Saturday—I’m the sponsor.


The 2015 NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference in Asheville, NC

Location: DoubleTree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore, 115 Hendersonville Rd.
Asheville, NC 28803

Friday, Nov 20 to Sunday, Nov 22

To Register:
The Fall NCWN Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities that include a luncheon, an annual banquet, readings, workshop tracks in several genres, open mic sessions, and an exhibit hall packed with literary organizations, presses, and publishers. Conference faculty includes professional writers from North Carolina and beyond. Lee Smith, author of seventeen works of fiction including Fair and Tender LadiesOral History, and her most recent novel is Guests on Earth, will give the keynote address.


On-site registration is available.


What other questions do you have about feeling prepared at a writers’ conference? It’s now your turn to share!