Attending a writers’ conference is one of the best ways to improve your craft, level up your industry knowledge, and meet other authors in a single stroke. And you don’t just learn—you learn directly from authors and other industry pros who have been in the business for a long time. They’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and they attend these author conferences specifically to share that knowledge with you.
Even authors who have been on their writing journeys for a long time still attend conferences as guests. They’re that valuable. You’ll walk away knowing more than you did when you arrived. As corny as it sounds, writing really is a journey, not a destination. You never stop learning.
Whether you’re pondering your first conference (or your first conference in a while), here are some Do’s and Don’ts leveraged from our combined years of conference experience to help you make the most of it.
Author Conference Do’s
- Look local: You don’t have to go to the number one industry or genre conference in the nation to get a lot of valuable information. In fact, the smaller conferences are often better. It’s easier to network when you’re not surrounded by thousands of people in a massive venue. If travel, cost, or social overwhelm are concerns for you, look near your hometown to see what’s available. Local conferences are typically smaller, less expensive, and more intimate than major national conferences.
- Meet your online author friends: We at Draft2Digital unanimously agree: the best part of author conferences is the people. We love having the opportunity to put real-life faces to the names we’ve only ever seen on the other side of the screen. Many authors even create collaborative work with other writers they only know digitally. Conferences are a great place to make a point of sitting down with other writers in person.
- Attend a virtual conference: If cost is a problem or there simply isn’t an accessible conference near you, check out virtual options. Virtual conferences have grown increasingly popular since COVID, and we think they’re here to stay—which is a great thing! You don’t quite get the networking benefit of an in-person conference, but virtual conferences give you access to all the sessions your heart desires. At an in-person conference, you can’t be in two places at the same time. But with a virtual conference, where all sessions are recorded, you can watch them all!
- Schedule your sessions: If you’re attending a live conference, there’s probably a mix of keynote and breakout sessions on offer. There may well be two sessions happening at the same time, and you might want to go to both! Check to see if one is being recorded, and attend the other one live. Otherwise, find a like-minded author who also wants to do both and split the difference. You can each attend one session, take notes, and catch up over lunch or happy hour afterward to share your learnings.
- Try before you buy: Often, conferences have speaker lists, session topics, and even recordings from past years available on their websites. Look for past highlights to get a feel for what a conference is like before you commit to going.
- Use a personal rule like Yes, No, Maybe: This is our author friend Nick Thacker’s personal rule, but we liked it so much we thought we’d share it as an example. Feel free to make up your own “rules” for conference attendance.
- Yes: Say “yes” to anyone who shows up and asks you to do something with them, like having a meal, going for a drink, or just having a conversation. You never know who you might meet, and meeting other authors is an enormous part of the value of attending. Even if you really want to join a session, consider saying yes to an in-person connection instead. You never know where it might lead.
- No: Say “no” to sessions that don’t resonate with you. If the speaker isn’t good, or if you simply aren’t connecting with the material, don’t feel obligated to sit through a session in its entirety. There are graceful, polite ways to exit quietly and save your time for activities that you’ll find more valuable. You can always stand against the back wall for the first few minutes of any session, just to make sure you want to stay before you commit to taking a seat.
- Maybe: Stay open to things you might want to learn that you didn’t expect. Most of us go into a conference with a clear idea of the information we think we need, and that’s a great thing. But keep an eye out for sessions on other topics that might spark some interest for you, too, and consider attending one or two of those “outliers.” Maybe you need to learn something that you hadn’t expected.
- Make time for networking: Networking gets a bad rap, but it’s not a dirty marketing buzzword. It’s a valuable social activity that benefits authors in general and the industry as a whole. Some great friendships and professional collaborations come out of it, too! Don’t leave a conference without doing at least a bit of socializing, even if you’re a hardcore introvert (as many of us at D2D are). You don’t have to engage in small talk—you can make a habit of leading with meaningful questions and discuss only topics you find interesting. But do connect with other authors when you’re at a conference.
- Practice your elevator pitch: Come prepared with a one-sentence summary of what you’re working on (or what you aspire to write), because people will ask.
- Bring food and water: Bring a water bottle and maybe even a few light snacks, in case the conference doesn’t have food or water available when you need it. There’s nothing more detrimental to learning than being hangry—trust us on this.
- Prepare your clothing: Different conferences have different dress codes. Some are pretty laid back, so flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts are entirely acceptable. Others are a bit dressier, and it’s not uncommon to see people dressed to the nines. Ultimately, our advice is to wear what makes you comfortable—but if you’ll be uncomfortable wearing a Hawaiian shirt in a sea of professional blazers, it’s best to know what to expect beforehand! Ask around or look at pictures from past conferences for guidance.
- Have fun!: Many writers are introverts, so it’s easy to get stressed about conferences and other large industry events. But remember, the whole purpose of attending a conference is to make it serve you and your writerly goals. So relax, make a friend or two, and enjoy the process of learning alongside like-minded individuals.
Author Conference Don’ts
- Break the bank: You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on flights, hotel rooms, and ticket fees to get a great conference experience. There’s no single conference that you “must” attend in order to get great value, so don’t spend more than you’re comfortable with. This goes double if you’re a new author or if this conference is your first. Pick a small, affordable one to start.
- Expect all conferences to be the same: There are pros and cons to any conference you attend. Like people, they all have strengths and weaknesses. Decide what’s most important to you and aim for conferences that check those boxes. No single event can be all things to all people, so do some research beforehand to find one that suits you.
- Don’t stalk anyone: This applies to other authors, speakers, editors, agents, etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t introduce yourself, or even strike up a conversation with a particular person you want to meet. But don’t follow them around relentlessly to make those meetings happen. And, to that end . . .
- Don’t bring copies of your manuscript: Yes, conferences are a great place to meet other industry insiders and get your networking on. But don’t arrive with your manuscript in hand, eager to force it on someone for their notes. If an agent or editor is accepting manuscripts, they’ll let you know how to submit to them.
- Record session content without asking: There’s a reason why it costs money to attend these conferences. People have put their time and energy into creating content for paid attendees, so don’t record or share any of the content or materials unless the speaker or conference organizers give you express permission.
- Forget to make friends: We can’t stress this point enough, so it bears repeating! Don’t leave a conference without meeting at least one other person you plan to keep in touch with afterward, whether you intend to swap work or just exchange messages every once in a while. If you miss out on meeting other writers, you’re missing 90% (or more) of the value.
What are your personal conference Do’s and Don’ts? Let us know in the comments!