A Writer’s Best Investment

10 Tips on Rocking a Conference

by Samantha Hoffman

One of the best investments a writer can make is a writers conference. Not just because we at CWA have one of the best (we do, though), but because it's a great way to energize your writing, gain a new perspective on your work, connect with other writers, learn from other writers' experiences, have fun, hone your craft...

I could go on. Truly, it's a gift to yourself.

I've been going to conferences for a long time and I've come away with something valuable from each one. One year I went to one in Evanston which, unbeknownst to me, was focused on romance writing. I'd had no idea, it wasn't billed that way. The conference didn't turn out to be one of my favorites, tho it had some good moments (and really good food!), but the part of that conference I most treasure is meeting another un-romance writer - CWA board president Randy Richardson (no, he does not write romance novels). We've been friends ever since. I became involved with CWA, was eventually asked to join the Board of Directors, and now here we are, so many years later, with our very own conference (not focused on romance writing). You never know who you will meet and on what path it will take you.
So, get thee to a writers conference. Ours just happens to be coming up in just about a month: Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference.

And then be prepared. Here are some helpful tips for making the most of it:


  1. Get a recommendation from a writer friend for a really great conference. Make it somewhere scenic or exciting (Chicago!), just in case you need some alone-time. That's allowed, you know - conferences can be exhausting and a bit overwhelming at times, and at least you'll have something interesting to see or do if you need a break. You'll feel refreshed, then, and ready to get back into it.
  2. Before you go, write an "elevator speech" about your novel/memoir/how-to, etc., so when someone asks what you're working on you can tell them in 30 seconds, and they'll say, "Ooh, that sounds so interesting!" and they'll just happen to be a big-wig with one of the Big 5 publishers, and they'll insist you send them your manuscript. Yeah, that probably won't happen, but you never know where your connections will come from.
  3. And, equally as important, maybe even more, ask people to describe their own work because this writing business is symbiotic. 
  4. Take business cards because you're going to meet a lot of interesting people you'll want to stay in touch with. A few of them will become lifelong friends...truly. If you don't already have cards you can create them easily online. Just google "business cards." Vistaprint in an excellent source. Include your email address and website, at the very least, so people can find you. Don't have a website? Google "fast and easy website builder," and create one. There are lots of free sites.
  5. Be prepared to buy books because there will be lots of wonderful authors there, and asking them to sign their book is a great way to start a conversation. If you really enjoy a speaker or panelist or moderator, buying their book is a great way to say thanks.
  6. Dress as though you're someone important. You are, you know. 
  7. Even if you're an introvert (shocking...a writer who's an introvert!) this is the easiest place to meet people because everyone's there for the same reasons. There are some no-brainer questions you can start a conversation with: What do you write? Who do you read? Have you been to other conferences? 
  8. Soak up as much information as you can. Even if you're hearing things you've heard before, you might hear it in a new way, or at a crucial point in your process where it really resonates. No matter what your status as a writer, if you're published or not, if you've written twelve books or one, even if you're a NY Times bestselling author...you will learn something.
  9. Don't bury yourself in your devices. It's tempting, I know, but making connections is one of the best parts of a conference. And there's nothing more motivating than being in the company of other writers, in real life.
  10. Be generous; smile and nod, even if you're bored; introduce your new friend to another new friend; talk about other people, not just about yourself. If it seems scary, relax, most everyone feels the same way.

Enjoy! We hope to see your there!

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