Here are a few things I learned:
1. Order your business cards early. I slacked on this and ordered mine a few days before so I had to pay rush shipping to get them on time. Business cards are a great way for networking. Trading cards take only a split second versus trying to find a piece of paper, scratching down your info, and handing it over. In an environment where your headed to your next breakout session, you may only have a few minutes to connect. So get them! The sooner, the better!
- Where should you get them? Well my quick google search indicated that MOO had the best review with VistaPrint coming in second. Personally, I like MOO better because they have some really cool templates you can use, and the quality is pretty darn nice.
Okay, maybe I'm coming off like a pessimist, because it does happen! But don't go into it expecting it because you might sorely disappointed when it doesn't.
3. Try to make friends, and don't be put off if you don't connect. A conference is a great place to make friends, find beta readers, and critique partners. I think the majority of us 'book people,' are naturally introverted so putting yourself out there is kind of tough, but just do it. You never know who you'll meet. I had some difficulty making new friends, but a lot of people from my YA workshop class last year attended the conference as well, so it was nice to catch up with them all.
4. Bring a notebook and pen, sweater, and tote bag.
- Conferences are usually held in hotels in large reception areas. You have no control over the a/c or heater, so a sweater or light jacket will come in handy. I found myself FREEZING at times. Dress comfortably, but business casual. It's all about first impressions, right? I tend to be more of a dressier person so I may have stuck out a bit. But I kind of like to distinguish myself from the crowd so I was comfortable with that.
- Bring a notebook to take notes. You never know when inspiration strikes. It's also a great way to reinforce what you learned throughout the day. Also, you get tons of book recommendations at these sort of things, so jot those down!
- Bring a tote bag. Or something that can fit a folder. You'll get a folder with helpful info when you check in. I ended up having a small bag that fit my notebook, but not my folder so I had to carry that around. It would have been just nice to slip into a larger bag so that I could free up my hands going from one room to the other. Note that this doesn't mean bring like a carry on bag. You'll be weaving through crowds so you don't want something large that will be a pain to take around, or worse, accidentally hit someone, spilling coffee over them.
- You can get reviews from blogs, forums, and people you know. It's nice to get their impressions of it so that you can get an idea of what kind of conference it is.
- What do you want out of it? To get inspired? Workshops on craft? Or a chance to pitch your book to an agent or editor?
- SCBWI was more of a get inspired, learn through breakout sessions and intensives. I know there are some other conferences that had pitching opportunities or are more broad or niche in their genres.
- Check out the conferences website, the scheduled program, and the faculty list to help you narrow down your choice.
My intent was to make friends, get inspired, and if I talked to an agent, that'd be pretty darn cool. I was still suffering from my lingering sinus infection so it was hard for me to get my enthusiasm up considering I could hardly eat the day prior. But I put myself out there and tried to bring out my social butterfly.
What surprised me most was the amount of picture book writers and illustrators there was. It outnumbered YA for sure. Maybe I could have tried harder, but I didn't find too many people in my genre or near my age. I noticed the demographic was more older (30's to 40's) Caucasian women. There was of course, a few males, and younger people (early 20's that were still in college).
I always feel like I'm at an awkward age: mid twenties, business professional. But it dawned on me that perhaps people my age (who are starting out on their own and perhaps paying back school loans) may not want to shell out for conferences compared to more established people who had funds or young scholars (who are already paying tuition in school, so this could be seen as a class or another learning opportunity).
I'm sure it's not like that at every regional conference though. A lot of factors go into it. I, however, knew a few friendly faces, so I still had fun catching up with them.
The agent, editor, writer panels were really interesting to see. The keynote speakers were very inspiring. And break out sessions were a cool learning experience. I can't give a detailed summary or reiterate the lessons since it's an intelligence property issue--the information belongs to them and should not be redistributed. What I can say is that you will get inspired, and you will learn something new. So that's a pretty neat pay off of conferences.
The takeaway my friends and I got from this conference is the 'persistence and perseverance' idea of success. Those that reach the dream--getting agented, publication, etc--are those that never gave up. It may have taken decades and they had moments of wanting to quit, but it was those that pushed through it that made the dream possible. Of course, there's also the exception of those who's first book became 'the one' that landed them success, but they aren't the majority. The majority are the ones who persevere.
So what does it mean to persevere? Well my definition would be those that continue to write. To quote Robert Penn Warren, "Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write." And as for success? Well I think Winston Churchill said it best, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
So continue on my brave writer friends. Your time. My time. It will come. But in the meantime we must write, and continue to do so. Simple words, yet hard to follow through on in our busy day-to-day lives.