I made the decision a few months ago to attend the RWA National Conference this year in New York City. At the same time made the commitment to make an editor/agent appointment in order to pitch a book while I'm there. Confession time: This will be my first time pitching and, yes, I'm damned nervous about it. Since it is my first time, I don't have much to say about pitching right now. See me later in July, I'm sure I'll have more to say on the subject then. :-)
Conferences, though, are a different story. Others on this blog have already said some of the same things, but there are three things about conferences that I think ring pretty true: 1) you'll get something different out of a conference than I will; 2) not all writing conferences are right for all writers; and 3) not all writers need (or even want) to attend conferences.
Since I'm still a relative novice at conferences, I thought I'd share my experiences so far. This will be my third National Conference and I'm looking forward to this one for very different reasons than I had for attending the first two (San Francisco and Washington, D.C.).
I went to San Francisco because it was close and I was familiar with the area, having just moved to Oregon from San Jose less than a year earlier. I was very curious about the conference experience and thought it would be easier if the first one I attended was in familiar surroundings. I'm not the most extroverted person on the planet and I was at the very beginning of my journey towards publication. I didn't have a finished book to pitch or that I could talk about when asked what I write. I figured out pretty quickly that I probably should have been prepared for questions about my writing, but it honestly didn't occur to me before I left for the conference. There were times I felt a little foolish not knowing what to say, but that was my problem--the people asking were being polite, not trying to put me on the spot. Technically, this conference might have come at a time that was a bit early in my career for me to attend, but I'm glad I did. I sat in on some interesting workshops on the craft of writing, got an understanding of how the conference works, and I had a terrific time.
I came away from San Francisco revved up and intending to have a book ready for the next National Conference in Washington, D.C. Long story short, a year later and that book didn't exist. I'd learned a lot during that year, though, and since things were going good at the Day Job I decided I'd still attend the conference. I was a lot more comfortable that time around since I already had an idea of what to expect. Still not being an extrovert, though, I think I actually had fewer conversations than I did in San Francisco. That might have been because I was doing a lot of people watching (and I think I project invisibility when I do that). It had been years since I was last in D.C., so I'll also confess to spending some of the time on the Mall and at the Smithsonian. As for the workshops, most of the ones I went to were still craft related, but I attended a smattering of career oriented workshops as well.
That was two years ago. Last year was the year of many changes for me and I didn't attend the conference in Orlando. I've listened to most of the recordings of the conference workshops. And I can say from those recordings that the workshops just keep getting better. If you can't go to a conference, the recordings are a great way of getting about 50% of the benefit of being there.
I say 50% because I think there's a great deal to be said for attending in person. There's an energy at National that I can't adequately describe. You can feel it as soon as you get to the hotel. It's a buzz that's generated by the excitement of being around other people who are doing the same thing you're doing and love the same thing you love--writing. It's quite an experience.
I have two goals for this year's conference. The first is to get through that pitch. The second is to talk to people. Of the two, I think the second is the harder for me. (LOL) Wish me luck!
As far as tips go, about the best thing I can recommend if you're attending a conference is to relax. Most conferences are designed with multiple things going on at the same time. You can't be in more than one place at a time, so it's inevitable that you'll stress over possibly missing something important. It can't be helped. So enjoy each event you choose to attend, and if it's National and you can afford it, buy the recordings to listen to the things you couldn't be at in person. Don't let the schedule get in the way of your having a great time.