The ACFW conference begins in Minneapolis next week, and like so many of our Seekerville residents and guests, I’m busy getting ready to head that way.
Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot more to getting ready for a conference than deciding what clothes to pack! Creating one-sheets. Designing business cards. Making editor/agent appointment choices. Practicing pitches. Does it ever get any easier?
After twenty-some-odd years of attending writers conferences, my unequivocal answer is a resounding NO!
However, I’ve picked up a few pointers over the years that have helped lower my stress level at least a little.
1. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until conference week to make sure you have everything in order. If you’re reading this and you haven’t started getting your act together yet, may I remind you the clock is ticking!
2. Arrive early. If at all possible, get to the hotel at least a couple of hours before the first scheduled event so you have time to check in, settle into your room, and maybe freshen up from the trip.
3. Face the fact that you can’t do it all. There is no way any normal human being can physically, emotionally, or even spiritually take in everything a conference has to offer. You’ll save your sanity and maybe even your health if you give yourself permission to skip a workshop or two and take a nap or visit the prayer room instead.
4. Volunteer. You may have already seen announcements on the ACFW loop about volunteer opportunities, and there may still be openings available.
5. Dress for success, but keep it comfortable. Conference days are long and you could be in the same clothes and shoes for 12 to 16 hours. Bring a sweater or jacket, or dress in layers.
6. Stock your portable office. A few weeks beforehand, I start putting together a conference organizer notebook that includes my registration and hotel confirmation, the schedule, workshop descriptions, editor and agent information, and my pitching notes. Don’t forget a legal pad or tablet for taking notes, extra pens, a highlighter, sticky notes, paper clips, and anything else you might need.
7. Get your pitching materials in order. Write out and practice an attention-getting one-liner and a slightly longer “elevator pitch.” I also like to print out answers to typical questions editors or agents ask about my story so it’ll be handy for quick reference (see #9).
8. Plan your appointment strategy. Locate the room ahead of time and make sure you know exactly how to get there. Arrive a few minutes early so you have time to catch your breath and organize your thoughts. Have your notes handy and your one-sheet, business card, and possibly a writing sample ready to show the editor or agent.
9. Be prepared to talk intelligently about your project. You should be able to tell:
• Why readers will identify with your hero or heroine
• Where the is story set
• The projected length
• Your target audience
• The main character’s visible goal and external motivation
• What obstacles the main character will face
• How the main character grows through the course of the story
• How the conflict is resolved
• Published books similar in tone or style to yours
• Your passion for this project
• Where the idea came from
10. If there’s a particular faculty member you’d like to sit with during the Friday or Saturday lunches, get to the dining room early. If you can’t find a seat at the table you were hoping for, God may have someone else in mind for you that day, so wherever you find a spot, introduce yourself around the table and see what happens.
11. Soon after you get home, sort through all your notes and handouts. Send thank-you notes to anyone who was especially helpful and to everyone you had an appointment with, even if you didn’t get a request. If you did get a request, send that proposal!
12. If you haven’t already, start right now to cover your conference experience in prayer.
A writers conference can be transforming. It’ll stretch your mind and your faith. It can open doors to opportunities you may never have anticipated. Expect an emotional roller-coaster ride, because there will be highs and lows—moments you wonder why in the world you ever thought you could be a writer, and then those mountaintop highs when you know this is what God called you to do and you know you have to keep writing no matter what. That’s the voice you want to listen to!
See you in Minneapolis!