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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 to 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.

What to bring: 

  • Papers, pens, pencils all in an easy-to-carry portfolio or stashed in a tote bag with a lot of 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. 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 OK 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 also have my two-sided poetry book business cards that promote my book and also have my contact info available with my photo on them. You can choose to include your photo, but it’s not necessary. Usually a clip art of a pen will do.


  • 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, bright, flattering colors, black pants or jeans and comfortable shoes that aren’t sneakers. I wear black pants, boots, a turtleneck, a blazer and my favorite necklace. I spend time on my hair and makeup, too.


What to Say 

  • Prepare an intro of who you are and what you write or do. I’d say, “Hi, I’m Alice and I’m a poet and an editor. I live in Raleigh. My poetry book will be published soon.”


  • Network. Sit with new people, exchange cards, ask them about what other workshops they’re taking, 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. 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! Give them their space, 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 and at my first conference seven years ago I felt so at ease when I didn’t know a whole lot. Since I didn’t know much, I listened and took a lot of notes.

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