Writer’s Resources #5: Surviving Your First Conference

I haven't been great about blogging this month! I've been so busy trying to finish a manuscript, putting another on submission, doing edits on Unicorn Tracks and attending my first writer's conference that October has gone by in blur! 

Before I attended Sirens, I was really really nervous about going to my first conference. There were a lot of factors contributing towards my nerves. I was worried about my introversion — I'm not exactly shy, but I do sometimes get very tired when I've been around people too much. Even more dauntingly, I'd agreed to share a room with a writer I'd only ever spoken to on twitter before. I worried she'd be horrible or that she'd hate me for some intangible reason. I'd also been told by several people that other authors, readers and publishing professionals were dismissive of writers who chose to publish with smaller houses or self-published, and that I would struggle to fit in and talk about my work. 

I should say that I have a long history of self-rejection. I was an awkward and overweight teen, and the perceived notion that there were things I couldn't do because I was fat really affected me at the time. I had a great singing voice (still do, listen to my rock karaokee RAWR), but I was too shy to ever try out for musicals until I lost the weight. Roles on stage were for skinny and beautiful people. I thought I knew this, so I never tried. I had the same approach to university applications, friend groups and countless other things throughout my teenage and early adult years. 

My first experience was nothing like what I feared. I had a great time, met loads of amazing people, sat on great panels and talked about books non-stop for an entire weekend. Bliss. With the help of my pretty amazing roommate, Katherine Locke, I had a fabulous conference because I refused to be awkward and self-reject. I talked to everyone I met, and I don't think my introversion was too overpowering!

A few tips for surviving: 

1) Don't self-reject! This can take so many forms, but don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with other authors or publishing professionals just because you feel unworthy. These people are human beings. 

2) By the same token, I don't think I would have had nearly as good of a conference experience if I went with an agenda. I'm between manuscripts right now. My first novel will be published this spring and I'm editing another, but I don't have anything ready to pitch. I didn't feel pressure to pitch at the conference as a result, so I think I was much more relaxed and focused on just making friends. I absolutely recomend that approach for your first conference! People are not likely to be dismissive if you want to talk to them about cat videos and buy them a drink, but when they think you want something from them — awkwardness can definitely ensue! I met some really hilarious publsihing professionals, and I'm happy I got to see the goofier side of the industry. 

3) Do have business cards. I handed out quite a few of these. Aren't they pretty??

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 10.14.00

4) Many of the social events and opportunities to meet people and have quality chats will involve food. Bring a spare chamber in your stomach. I got to have dinner with Rae Carson. I wanted to talk to her a lot more than I did, but the shy did kind of win out. That being said, that woman is a fearless hunter of deserts, and I respect that more than I can say. 

This is my lush carrot cake eaten while chatting with Katherine Locke and Justina Ireland.

5) Really engage with the panels. In some of the sessions I attended, the Q&A yeilded some of the most interesting informtation. If you're an aspiring writer, you don't have to do the perscribed "query letter workshop", "publishing 101" agenda … branch out and meet people who are interested in the topics you're passionate about! 

6) Listen to old pros like Sherwood Smith when she tells you where the free business brunch is and how to survive an avalanche of cats … all kidding aside, talking to authors who have been in the business for decades is incredibly rewarding. They have so much experience to share. 

7) Try at least one new author while you're at the conference. In my case, I've discovered several. I just finished Justina Ireland's book, Promise of Shadows and IT WAS AMAZING.