The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference in the oldest writing conference in the country, celebrating its 70th year this past weekend.
While I’ve been aware of it for years, this year I pushed myself to step outside of my comfort zone and take the trip. I’ve never been to any writing conference before, because, well, it’s kinda scary. Which is exactly why I determined it was past time I found out what it’s all about.
So here is what I learned and some things to consider if you are thinking about taking the jump and going to your first writing conference.
1. Pace yourself
The PWC is three days long. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That is a lot, even for a seasoned pro. I wanted to do it all so Friday I was booked from 9:30 am – 8:00 pm.
That was too much. Too much information. Too much nerves. Too much sitting in chairs without back support. Too much time around too many people.
By the time I went to the agent and editors buffet, nearly every writer I spoke to was saying the same thing. “I am burnt out.”
And so was I. In the future I will be a little more discerning about the classes I sign up for and the length of my day.
2. Talk to new people
There’s a stereotype about writers being introverts. I would never say it’s true across the board, but it definitely is there for a reason. A lot of writers wandered around, looking a little lost Friday morning, including myself. As soon as someone at a table spoke up, everyone gratefully introduced themselves.
At lunch, I realized I had no idea where to get food and wasn’t sure about which direction to walk to find the nearest restaurants. I grit my teeth and walked up to a group of people and asked them and ended up getting invited to lunch with a lovely writing group.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, was so friendly and willing to make friends. Any time i started to feel shy or awkward, I’d see someone else sitting alone, and end up making a friend. Frequently we bonded over how shy and awkward we felt.
3. Get Business Cards!
This didn’t even occur to me and I really regret it now. All these awesome people I met and none of us thought to share our contact info. Even if you don’t have a book or blog or website, print up some cheap cards with your social media accounts and give them out to the people you meet.
4. Look into everything the conference offers
I arrived late and frazzled after getting stuck in traffic coming into the city. Everyone was in for the opening speaker so I mulled around, trying to get my bearings and happened to see the sign up table for agent and editor pitch sessions.
I had assumed they cost extra and they would be filled up before I got there. But I asked. Apparently very few people had signed up and they were free. So I got an unexpected five minute pitch session with a really awesome agent. (and also rambled like a nervous idiot a bit). It was uncomfortable, but really really helpful, and I might have missed it completely if I hadn’t checked.
5. Remember that Writers are awesome
The writers and editors leading the conferences, the agents, the attendees, were all super cool. By the end of first day, I was burnt out, but I also realized that I had no reason to be nervous about the people. We all just love to create. We all love the written word. We all want more of it.
6. Bonus Tip for Introverts.
Find somewhere you can go be alone for a few minutes, through out the day, especially if you are not used to being around people all day long. I took a few breaks in my car, in the parking garage. scrolled through my phone, adjusted my uncomfortable conference-ey clothes, and took from deep breaths any time I started to feel overwhelmed. It saved the day.
Any conference tips of your own? Please share in comments!