Writers’ conference tips

Lara and Stacy at a great conference (not in Vegas).

Lara and Stacy at a great conference (not in Vegas).

I attended a conference in Vegas a few years ago, and I was appalled at how people were dressed. T-shirts, shorts, flip flops. The chick at the greeting table wore a blouse cut down to her navel. I didn’t need my imagination.

Fifty percent of the people I met didn’t have a card.

Most of the people I met were dressed like beach bums.

Unfortunately, about 50% of the people I met and mingled with were drunk most of the time (okay, it was Vegas, but still!).

A bad impression? You bet!

Where to start?

If a huge conference in Vegas or NYC scares the heck out of you, look for a smaller, local conference. Better to flex your conference muscles when you’re not too overwhelmed.

What do you wear?

I wear a blazer and nice blouses over new jeans. Wear comfortable shoes – my comfortable shoes are dress Oxfords.

What do you have?

Have cards or bookmarks to hand out. If you don’t have a publication, you can still print your name, blog address, Twitter handle, etc., on a card. Collect cards from everybody and follow up with these people when you get home with a simple note.

After you collect a card or bookmark, remember a few specifics about that person (editorial chat, historic book chat, where you met, we laughed over the buffet). Jot these notes on the back of their card.


Also helpful, a one-sheet. Suzanne Hartmann has a great article (with her own example) on her blog. Click here for Suzanne’s example of a one-sheet.

Who do you talk to?

Try to talk to as many people as possible. Even if the first few people you meet are crazy-fun, hop around. Participate in as many activities as you can.

imagesCA1H24ZQWhat do you carry?

I suggest a carry-all for what you collect along the way – books, bookmarks, brochures. Consider a satchel with a shoulder strap in case you need two hands (one for coffee, one for shaking hands).

Since electronic devices are not 100% dependable, carry a small pad and a few pens.


Carry water and a few small snack bars. It may be hours before you get a decent meal.

How should you behave?

Show up on time for sessions. Turn off your cell phone. Pay attention and participate in discussions.

What do you talk about?

Don’t talk only about yourself, your blog, your book, your this and that, but do have a sentence memorized about your book or project, in case you are asked. Don’t be pitching all the time – ask others what they are working on.

Know the presenters

Before the conference, Google the scheduled presenters and write a few small facts about them on note cards. I did this for the Vegas conference and consulted these cards before each session – it was helpful in a few cases when I got to talk one-on-one with a presenter.

At the bar Beer-Bottles-

With most conferences, alcohol gets introduced into the equation. My advice – don’t drink too much. One glass of something then switch to bottled water. You don’t want to leave a bad impression because you made a fool of yourself.

Find the right genre

It would be silly if you wrote only horror and went to a women’s lit writing conference or if you wrote only poetry and attended a mystery writers’ conference. Check out these conference lists and you are bound to find the right conference, in a good area (close to home), and for the right price.

Poets & Writers, conferences and residencies

NewPages.com, writing conferences

Association of Writers and Writing Programs, programs and conferences

Opening photo from Stacy Stenberg Jensen. Stacy is a writer and blogger in Colorado. Her new website goes live in September.

Lara Schiffbauer is a writer and blogger. Her first book, Finding Meara, is available on Amazon.


Have you attended any writers’ conferences? What advice would you add?


Filed under Branding & Platform, Publishing, Social Networking

13 responses to “Writers’ conference tips

  1. Great advice Karen. I have attended a number of Writer’s Conferences here on the west coast of Canada. I agree, make a good impression . You never know who you will meet. I met Meg Tilley at a conference 5 years ago and she encouraged me to keep writing. Not long after I found my publisher. I’ve met Diana Gabaldon, Margaret Atwood, Deborah Ellis and many more influencial writers at conferences. I was always glad I was well prepared and dressed appropriately.

    • karenrsanderson

      Thanks for the comments, Darlene. Yes, you never know who you might meet. And a writer in a blazer is taken more seriously than one in flip flops!

  2. I loved your advice, and I loved the way you opened this post to get us hooked right in the beginning! Yes, those big conferences can turn you off on PEOPLE, much less writers and writing conferences. Smaller conferences are easier to maneuver the meets and greets, too.

    • karenrsanderson

      I wasn’t really going for a good hook, but I guess that’s what I did, huh? 🙂 I’ve been to local conferences (when I lived in NM, in Albuquerque – they were good), and I did the Vegas one. It was a total bust from the beginning. I have no lasting contacts from that conference. But I still have contacts from the NM conferences. Wouldn’t I just love to design my own conference!

  3. Karen, you now make me want to attend a writer’s conference, dressed appropriately of course. I promise also to only drink one glass of wine. Otherwise I wouldn’t remember what happened at the rest of the conference!

    • karenrsanderson

      Conferences can be great or not so great. I’ve had some wonderful experiences as well. And always dress appropriately – otherwise, how is anyone to take me seriously? Thanks for commenting.

  4. Thanks for the advice, Karen. I have been to a local writer’s conference, but never a SCBWI conference. I’m looking forward to it!

    • karenrsanderson

      After my experiences, I think I like local better. But with just one national under my belt, I shouldn’t make up my mind. Thanks for the comment, Jarm.

  5. Pingback: Will you be remembered after the writers’ conference? | Karen R. Sanderson's Blog

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