Getting the most from conferences

It seems as if conference season is already upon us. There are innumerable conferences, locally, nationally and internationally, all eager for your business. When I was first setting out I went to a number of different conferences and met some fantastic people, many of whom are now dear friends.

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I have my lanyard I take to all conferences. It’s got different tickets, badges and stickers on

Conferences, especially if you’re a writer, are an invaluable tool. We’re known as a fairly reclusive lot so a conference allows you to leave your characters behind and meet real people. Understandably, it can be fairly daunting so I’ve come up with a few tried and tested methods for you to use:

  • Choose your conference carefully. It’s not cheap buying tickets, booking transport and hotel rooms so make sure that the conference is one which you will find interesting and importantly, beneficial;
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    Meeting Graham Higgins at BristolCon was a highlight in 2013

  • Do your homework. I’m not just talking about deciding on which outfit to wear (although this is important, see below) but look at the conference website: which writers, agents or publishers are going? Check out their webpages or look them up in the ‘Writers and Artists’ Yearbook’. Know who they are and what they do;
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    I was terrified at NineWorlds in 2011

  • Which brings us to something important – start growing your online presence. If you don’t already, get a twitter account and start following people who interest you. If you’ve recently read a book by an author, tweet them and tell them how much you enjoyed it and say you’re looking forward to seeing them at the conference. Obviously with everything on the internet, there’s a fine line between being friendly and demanding. Would you really want people sending unsolicited emails etc? No. Be professional and most importantly be polite – you don’t want to arrive at a conference with a reputation for being ‘that annoying person’ who people avoid;
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    With other Fox Spirit Writers at EdgeLit in 2013

  • Plan your weekend. Most conferences have a vast array of events, talks, screenings, signings and more. Most post their programme beforehand so get a copy and review it, deciding which events you want to go to. It saves you a lot of time once you are actually at the conference. I’ve learned this from experience, don’t forget to book in time for food. My first NineWorlds Conference, I rushed from event to event and didn’t eat for 12 hours. When I met an author I admire and had been looking forward to talking to, I was so exhausted and hungry, I could barely remember my own name and just mumbled something about needing coffee. Very embarrassing!;
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    I helped promote Fox Spirit Books at ExeCon in 2014 with Adele Wearing and Alec McQuay

  • If you’ve written a book or are looking to get into publishing, then you need to start branding yourself and your work early on. Sadly publishers don’t have the finances at the moment to promote new or even established authors as much as they might like so you’ve got to do a lot of the hard work for them. I became known as the girl with the dresses because I chose to wear an array of summer frocks at a couple of writing conferences I attended (as an aside, it was more of a practical move than a fashion choice due to an unseasonably warm September). I quickly realised how beneficial this is: when contacting people after the conference I could remind them of who I was by saying ‘I was the girl in the green dress’ and at future conferences I’ll keep up this tradition. I spoke with comic book writer Tony Lee and he said that he was often recognised by people because they knew his distinctive waistcoat, shirt and tie combination, not what he actually looks like. Branding is very important so choose your outfit carefully;
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    I was too shy to speak to James Herbert at FantasyCon in 2012

  • In-keeping with this, maintain your decorum. You do not want your ‘brand’ to be ‘drunk girl flashes knickers as she falls off table onto lap of famous author’;
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    Riddle Me This! Would you dare to wear cosplay to a conference? NineWorlds 2013

  • You’ll meet a lot of people at the conference and you’ll be given a lot of business cards. Everyone has their own way of storing them (one friend puts them in special envelopes to remind herself which day she was given them, another sorts them by person) but one thing I found invaluable is to write a few things on the back of each card such as at which event you met the person, perhaps the anecdote you told them, anything to jog their memory when you contact them in a months time;
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    Excuse the dodgy haircut (note to self, don’t go for a new style days before going away). Launch of Tales of Nun and Dragon and FantasyCon 2012

  • Which brings us to your card. At my first conference I was surprised at the number of unpublished writers with their own business card, the title ‘Author’ splashed across the front. However, seeing the number of cards flying around the hotel bar I realised that for my next conference I need to have my own cards;
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    Doing a bit of book promo at Nine Worlds 2015

  • It’s fabulous to go to a conference with a friend and it’s great to have that comfort of knowing someone but remember you’re there for you. Get out of your hotel room and go and meet people. You never know what might happen, either you’ll meet a new friend or better yet, you might meet an agent or publisher who accepts your work;
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    I was lucky to attend the Exeter Novel Prize 2014, which was presented by MP Ben Bradshaw (even though I hadn’t submitted) and got to meet agents and writers

  • If you’ve got them, don’t forget to check out the facilities for children. I’ve been impressed with the efforts Nine Worlds has gone to to ensure youngsters are entertained, but not all conferences are so inclusive. This also goes for if you have additional needs (I remember one venue didn’t have accessible rooms for people in wheelchairs). Know where baby change facilities/accessible toilets are. Should you need additional assistance, let the guys working at the conference know so they can help (again, Nine Worlds does this well, with coloured badges). It’s one area where pre-planning can save time and stress;
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    Don’t forget to eat!

  • If someone agrees to look at your work, make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter and as always in a polite and not over-friendly manner. Yes, you shared a few drinks but do you really want to start a professional relationship with ‘we got trashed’?;
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    Causing chaos at ExeCon in 2014

  • Finally, and most importantly, have fun!

So there you have it. Conferences are great places to meet people with similar interests to you and you never know, they might be the start of exciting new chapter. Enjoy!

Any additional hints or tips? Let me know in the comments below

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