You’ve signed up for a children’s writing conference. You know it’s the perfect place to recharge the writing bug, learn from the pros, and make some writing friends. But now you’re panicking because — if you’re a shy-writer-type — the very thought of going to a conference crawling with real-life authors, agents, and editors is enough to make you hyperventilate. Maybe networking or small-talk isn’t your strength, maybe this is your first conference and secretly you’ve already emailed the conference coordinator begging for your money back.
As a shy-writer-type myself, I have some tips to get you through this:
1. You belong here. You may think your writing stinks or feel like everyone around you is sporting multi-book deals and more qualified to write than you are – turn that voice off. Half the people in the room will be thinking the same thing. The writing community is warm and welcoming and supportive. Even the multi-published/award-winning authors feel inadequate at times. They still get rejections. They still have to revise their books a thousand times. They are just like you.
2. Volunteer. Before the conference, find the ‘volunteer here’ link or the email address of the volunteer coordinator on the conference website and sign up for a job. Can you show up the night before and stuff folders? Can you unload books for book sales? By conference time, you’ll have twenty new friends and a dozen more familiar faces.
3. Take advantage of the free activities. If the conference offers peer critiques, a first-timers meet up, or a cocktail party, pick an activity where you’ll feel the least awkward. These will be smaller groups and another good way to make a few friends. And nothing makes a conference less stressful than going with a friend.
4. Memorize a one-liner about what you’re working on. Mine is: ‘I write humorous middle grade for girls.’ Chances are while you’re waiting in that bathroom line or finishing up your bagel for breakfast, someone will ask you about your work. Chances are this will happen several times throughout the conference. Maybe you’ll find someone writing in the same genre. Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or at least someone to sit with at lunch.
5. Don’t hide during breaks. You know what I mean – introverts are great at hiding in bathrooms or bookstores (I did that once) or even in plain sight by not making eye contact with anyone. Put your phone down. Make yourself available for random conversation. People are going to want to hear your one-liner. They’re going to want to vent about their awkward (I didn’t say there wasn’t going to be ANY awkwardness) manuscript consultation or their new pen (like me – I love talking about pens).
6. If you see an author that you absolutely adore, say hi. Authors are so nice. Even the ones that have a thousand books published and a hundred awards. And the secret truth is, most people will be too scared to talk to the big-time author. Tell her you like her book. Ask her if she’s working on anything new. When you become a big-time author, won’t you want people to talk to you?
7. Don’t pressure yourself to mingle with the agents or editors. They will be bombarded with conference attendees, critiques, and speaking responsibilities as it is. They probably won’t remember every conversation they had at the conference. So, if introducing yourself to your dream agent is giving you hives, I give you permission to sit it out. When you send her your query letter, compliment her on her talk or the wisdom she shared on a panel. This will probably make an even better first impression than, ‘remember when I met you in the bathroom and I told you about my vampire zombie romance idea?’ (Also, don’t do that.)
8. This conference will not make or break your career. Do what you can. You don’t have to pitch your book to one of the industry guys. You don’t have to pass out business cards. You can wear something comfortable. You don’t even have to buy a new set of fancy folders (unless you’re me and then you HAVE to). Without even trying, you will learn a ton at the conference. And you will still be able to submit to the editors and agents on the faculty when you get home, even if you didn’t talk to them personally.
9. Eat the afternoon coffee-break cookies. Because for some reason cookies at a conference taste so much better than cookies anywhere else.
10. Get to work when you get home. Revise with all the new tools you’ve learned. Follow up with new friends. Go over your notes. Make a goal to submit to the faculty when your work is ready. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to a conference. Putting the conference name in the subject of your query or in the cover letter of your submission will get you out of the dreaded slush pile. And let’s face it – you earned it!