by Maureen Lang
As exciting as it is to plan and look forward to attending a writer’s conference, the time will fly—particularly once you’re there! Before you know it you’ll be on your way home. Exhausted. Exhilarated. Energized.
The social atmosphere of a conference is wonderful. It’s incredibly fun to make new friends, to put faces with names you’ve only seen on your computer screen so far, or to reconnect with those you rarely see. But it’s also an important place to network. Networking is the business flipside of the socializing that goes on at a conference, and one of the most important benefits of attending.
Because the fact remains: writing is a solitary endeavor, and soon you’ll be alone in front of your computer again. You’ll have connected with other writers, editors and agents, at least on some level, but upon your return it’s up to you—and you alone—to implement what you’ve learned, to follow up on connections, to see through on any leads you might have encountered through the various people you meet.
Here’s a checklist of ten things to think about after you get home:
1) Follow Through On Invitations. If you were able to connect with an agent or editor and pitched a proposal either over a meal, after a workshop or in a scheduled face-to-face appointment, and they invited you to submit something, then by all means do so. This is the biggest payoff for attending a conference, making the financial investment worth it. If an agent or editor invited you to send something to them, they didn’t do it just to be nice. Believe me, they have enough work on their desk without adding unwanted submissions. Invitations mean something, and such an opportunity shouldn’t be squandered.
2) Follow-up But Don’t Rush It. Obviously it’s best to submit your work while you’re a fresh memory—or at least the conference is, for that agent or editor. However, your work gets only one first impression, so make it the best it can be before submitting. Is it ready? If you’ve revised it a number of times already perhaps it is. But if not, if it needs another look, take the time to do that even if the submission doesn’t happen for a few weeks or couple months after the conference. If possible, use a cover sheet that includes your picture so the agent or editor can make an instant connection to you. They might not recall the name alone, but chances are they’ll recall a name with a face.
3) Be Patient About Waiting. Okay, so you put in the time and the money to attend a national conference. You did your homework and made sure to request conferences with only those agents and/or editors who fit the kind of work you want to write. And you scored an invitation to submit. But you were wise; you made sure—one more time—that your submission was the best it could possibly be. And then you used first class mail to get it to them quickly and securely, or you followed through with instructions on an email submission, which is instantaneous. Now you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Unfortunately, yours was not the only submission that sounded like a good fit for them. There were several hundred other eager writers in attendance, a good number of them also having targeted “your” agent or editor. Not only that, while said agent or editor was away from his or her desk, work piled up. So just as they’re playing catch up, a whole new influx starts arriving from the conference just attended. With diligence the agent or editor might eye the new stuff as the date of their next conference or speaking engagement arrives. So give them a break. Wait at least six weeks before gently inquiring the status, or if they gave you an estimate of how long it usually takes for them to get back to you, honor that with an extra cushion of a week or so.
4) Send Thank You Notes. A hand-written note makes a huge, positive impression. (Or even an email, although that’s a second choice.) Let an instructor, speaker or paid critiquer know you enjoyed or benefited from their time and effort. You might also consider sending a thank you note to anyone who helped make your conference experience a positive one: someone in the prayer room, a volunteer who made an impression, a bookstore helper, an author with whom you shared a meal table, a friend who was there for you. It all depends on your time and energy (and how many stamps you have!) but thank you notes are never a mistake.
5) Keep In Contact With Other Writers. Some wonderful friendships are forged at conferences, but they only happen when someone extends the connection by initiating email or some other form of contact afterward. We can learn a lot about this business from fellow writers, not to mention the need to talk about things with those who share our dreams, goals, and challenges. Sometimes we need to celebrate with someone, other times we need a shoulder to cry on, or at least someone to pray with. It’s easier when we have a face with the names, and meeting a fellow writer at a conference can give us that connection.
6) Don’t Ignore Your Take-Home Resources. If you’ve purchased recordings of workshops you couldn’t attend, or want to hear a favorite again, then make the time to listen. Sometimes when we return to our busy lives, conferences become little more than a nice memory. It’s easy to set aside a recording, or some of the instructional worksheets, without following through on listening. Make the time, fit it into your schedule. It’ll rekindle some of the enthusiasm you felt during the conference.
7) Share What You’ve Learned With Others. If you belong to a small, face-to-face writer’s group, or an online critique group, have access to any group of writers who weren’t able to attend the conference, prepare a presentation to share what you learned. Report on what editors and agents taught, if there were marketing tips or stats given on the state of the industry. It’ll help you organize what you learned, and sharing that information with others will help you retain the facts.
8) Wounded? Get back on track. Sometimes expectations run high (perhaps even too high) and disappointment is inevitable. Or perhaps an appointment with an agent or editor didn’t go as planned. Prayer is the starting point in this case, and unless you feel God leading you away from your writing endeavors, it may be time to get slowly back on track by reading books that inspire you to write again. How-to books, or well-written novels that make you want to write again. Spend time with encouraging, familiar friends. Letdowns can occur anywhere and for a variety of reasons, and if that happens, see if God provided a lesson somewhere. Then pray and allow yourself some distance before diving back in to your writing efforts.
9) Consider Involvement In A Future Conference. Now that you know what conferences are like, is there a niche for you? An area to serve, volunteer, even teach? Attending a conference is the first step in training for those who want to get involved in future events.
10) Start Planning For Next Year. It’s not too early, especially now that you know what goes on at conferences. Start thinking about what projects you can work on that will fit the demands of the market you’ve been learning about. Think how prepared you’ll be next year!
Have a great conference experience—before, during, and after the conference itself!