Time Management

18 Ways to Get More out of Writers Conferences

I wrote this piece before attending the San Francisco Writers Conference for the second time.  If you’re an aspiring – or successful – writer who’s thinking of attending a similar event, I hope you find these tips useful.

I’m assuming you have already checked out the conference schedule, instructions, and tips from the organizers carefully, and that you booked accommodation early to get a good rate…

writers conferences tips | Pauline Wiles


Before: Planning your time

  1. Read something by the keynoters – you’ll probably get more out of their sessions if you’re familiar with their work. And if they’re outside your usual reading genre, so much the better.
  2. Dip into, or check out the contents pages of, books by promising-looking speakers. This can be a clue as to what they might cover in a live talk.
  3. Pay attention to the description of a session, not just its title. If no description is available, try approaching the speaker via Twitter to find out more.
  4. If handouts are already available on line, use these to plan which sessions will cover things you want to know.
  5. If you’re torn between two sessions, try to find a buddy and split yourselves between rooms, then catch up later.

Things to Bring to Writers Conferences

  1. Snacks: not all writers conferences provide between-meal boosts for those of us who like to graze.
  2. Highlighter pens.
  3. Cheap pens to lend, which you don’t mind not seeing again. Never lend a favourite pen, not even to J.K. Rowling.
  4. Something to tie around your bag, so it looks different from the dozens of others scattered around.  I like to use a nice scarf, since that does double duty in chilly rooms.
  5. Business cards – yes, people really do forget to bring these!
  6. Mints. If you should find yourself in an elevator or sharing a lunch table with someone awe-inspiring, and you can’t immediately come up with a fantastic conversation opener, try offering them a mint. This broke the ice for me last year with a couple of lovely agents.

During the Conference

  1. I like to use those highlighter pens to mark notes with To Do items and “A-ha” Insights. If you’re an over-achiever, you might also want colours for Reference  and Share.
  2. If you take written notes, leave them in a safe place each night in case you lose your bag/binder.
  3. Restroom lines are usually worst at the start of a break. Consider getting your snack, your seat for the next session, then visiting the restroom.
  4. Know your energy levels. Can you interact happily with others from 7am to 10pm? At multi-day writers conferences, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If not, skip sessions and don’t skip sleep.

After the Conference

  1. To get the most out of the time and money you just invested, you must plan time back in the real world to consolidate your notes, digest the “A-ha”s and make your action plan. I suggest you allow two hours for this activity, for every day of the conference.
  2. Don’t forget to follow up with new friends and contacts, and not just the ones who you think may be helpful in future. If you promised to do or send something, make sure you do it. Most conference organizers appreciate a quick thank you, too.
  3. Put time in your calendar three or four months hence to review the material, your actions and insights. Once things have settled in your brain, you’ll be more able to build on your most meaningful conference takeaways.

There’s a whole section on Writers Conferences in my book, Indie With Ease, including my pet peeves for attendee etiquette. Find out more here.

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7 Comment

  1. Reply
    Julie Valerie @Julie_Valerie
    February 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    What a fantastic list!

    My favorite conference each year is the James River Writers Conference held every October in Richmond, VA. Warm, inviting, informative, great for networking.

    I’m bookmarking this list – thanks so much for posting it!

  2. Reply
    Prince Snow Farm
    February 4, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    What fun Pauline! If I wan’t so far away, I would love to go….oh….and maybe work is a teeny tiny problem:)

  3. Reply
    February 7, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Wow, Pauline! I wish I’d had this guide for every conference I’ve attended in my life. I will treasure your notes and your tips; so far I may have only covered a few of them.
    If only San Francisco weren’t that far, I would love to join you, but hopefully you will share what you learn from this conference with us on your next blog?

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      February 8, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Martina, it would indeed be wonderful fun to attend together. But yes, if I’m not overwhelmed by advice and inspiration, I will share take-aways soon.

  4. Reply
    Susan Herman
    February 11, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Great tips, Pauline! Especially for following up a few months after the conference. I got a handful of referrals and editing gigs from attending last year as a volunteer, but I had to initiate the conversations myself–glad I held onto those business cards and made a few notes on the back of them! Stop by and see me at the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) exhibit booth.

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      February 11, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Thanks, Susan, I’ll be sure to look out for you and stop by your booth.

  5. Reply
    My Favourite Books of 2014 | Pauline Wiles
    December 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

    […] possible I’m a little influenced by meeting the charming Ms. Divakaruni at the SF Writers Conference earlier this year. I loved the San Francisco setting of One Amazing Thing, although the group of […]

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