Friday, July 6, 2018

A Conference State of Mind



by Mindy Obenhaus

Conference season is upon us and the excitement is building. Whether you are a regular attendee of writers’ conferences or this is your first, you need to approach your conference experience with the right attitude. So today I thought I'd share a few tips to help guide you to a productive and enjoyable conference. 


DO expect to learn –

No matter what writers’ conference you choose to attend, you can expect to come away with some new knowledge. It may be a different way to plot or how to market your books. It can be something as simple as finding out that the publisher you’ve been targeting is no longer looking for the genre you’re writing.

Before you head off to your conference, look at the classes being offered and see which ones would serve you best at this point in your writing career. If you’re a relatively new author or you haven’t submitted a manuscript yet, a course in marketing your book might not be the best fit for you right now. However, a class on how to increase tension and emotion in your story could benefit you greatly.

DON’T be disappointed if the agent/editor you meet with does not ask to see your work –

There are many reasons an agent/editor won’t request your work. Yes, it could be that they feel like your project needs more work. That, based on your pitch, your story needs to be more focused or have a better hook. But that’s not the only reason.

Editors know what their readers want and are looking for projects that will fill that desire because their goal is to sell books. Perhaps your story isn’t a good fit for their line. Don’t take it personally. Don’t storm off in a snit and then bad-mouth the editor/agent. Yes, I have actually seen people do this. Agents/editors are business people. They’re not trying to be mean. If they don’t ask to see your work, simply thank them for their time, suggest that, perhaps, you could work together at some point in the future and then go on your merry way. Because the last thing you want to do is burn a bridge you might need in the future.
DO expect to meet new people –

One of the best things about a writers’ conference is that you go into it knowing that you have at least one thing in common with everyone else who’s there. Writing!  And you could even throw in a love for books. If it’s a Christian writers’ conference, then there’s one more thing you have in common. Even if you’re an introvert, those things make it easy to strike up a conversation. Let’s say you’re sitting in a room, waiting for the next workshop to start. Someone asks if the seat next to you is taken. You say no, they sit down and BOOM, the conversation has already started. Introduce yourself. This will likely lead to questions about what you write. You exchange business cards and who knows where that chance meeting will lead. Or someone introduces you to someone else. You discover they write Amish Vampire Romance too and the connection is made.

On the flip side of that coin, if you’re used to hanging with a few specific people and you meet a newbie who looks like a deer in the headlights, invite them into your fold. I know the ladies of Seekerville are great about that and it’s always nice to feel like you belong.

DON’T compare yourself to other writers –

The more conferences you attend, the more people you will know. And it’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow when you run into Lucy, a conference friend you thought was at the same level as you in your writing career and then learn that she’s received a three-book contract while you’re still collecting rejection letters. Of course, you’re happy for Lucy, but inside you’re wondering when it’s going to be your turn.

The first thing you need to remember in a situation like that is YOU’RE NOT LUCY. You’re YOU (if your name happens to be Lucy, then insert another name) and God has a plan for YOU. It’s unique, designed specifically for YOU. Rejoice in the fact that the Creator of the universe has His eye on YOU, that’s He’s called YOU to something no one else can do and He will reveal it to YOU in due time. YOU simply need to be obedient in what God has called YOU to do.
DO expect to be flexible – 

When things don’t go as planned, think of it as an opportunity for something even better. Say that workshop you’ve been looking forward to attending more than any other is full to the gills and you can’t get in. Instead of getting upset, take the opportunity to find another workshop or take a timeout in the lobby or coffee shop. Sometimes those timeouts can lead to chance meetings. Or as I like to call them, divine appointments. Be open to whatever God might have in store for you.  
DON’T overdo it –

Conferences can be exhausting. Especially if you and your roommate that you only get to see once a year like to stay up late chatting. Even if you’re an in-bed-by-ten kind of person you may still find yourself feeling a little worn out. Between all of the excitement, events, learning and interacting with others, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you start feeling as though your head might explode, know that it’s okay to retreat. Go back to your room, put your feet up and recharge. You don’t have to attend every workshop on your list. Ask someone to share their notes with you or purchase the recordings. Know your limits.
A writers’ conference can propel your writing and create lasting friendships if you have the right mindset. And behaving in a professional manner and keeping a positive attitude is the right approach for the best possible outcome.

Now it’s your turn. Are you headed off to a conference this year? Will this be your first or have you been before? If you’re a seasoned conference attendee, what’s your best advice for newbies? And if you’re a newbie, do you have any questions for us seasoned folks?



Three-time Carol Award nominee, Mindy Obenhaus, writes contemporary romance for Love Inspired Books. She’s passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren at her Texas ranch. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com




45 comments:

  1. Wonderful perspective on conferences, Mindy! I've always loved going to writing workshops and conferences--so much to come away with in so many respects. Unfortunately, due to day job conflicts, I seldom get to go to any; but when I AM fortunate enough to get the opportunity, I'm always energized from networking with other writers--both pubbed & unpubbed, learning more about the publishing industry, and gaining new "tips" from workshops.

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    1. Good morning, Glynna! I know exactly what you mean. It's the whole iron sharpens iron thing. There's just something energizing about being around other writers.

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  2. Mindy, so much to glean from this. I've gone to conferences alone but never FELT alone, Christian writers tend to look after their own.
    Good point on editor/agent NOT asking to see your stuff. You made the contact and often you can submit another project if they're willing to hear from writers they met at a conference. The net is getting tighter and that leads to your other point about being flexible. I've heard tons of stories where "not now" doesn't mean "not ever."
    I like Glynna's point about being energized. Even the smallest conference is a shot in the arm.
    We do need to look for those "God appointments," and they aren't always in the formal sessions.
    Debby did a good post a few weeks ago about what and how to pack. My top conference tip, not that I have a lot of them, is...Why not bring pre-stamped thank-you notes so you can dash them off in your downtime, in an airport layover, or even on the plane home? Easy to pack and one less thing to do when you get back. Or if you write them and mail them from the hotel, one less thing to HAUL back.
    I've been to tons of conferences but this is my first time at ACFW, so it could be interesting. I'm in a "newbie" forum. I don't want to screw up.
    Going out now, may be back later.

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    1. Kathy, that's a great idea to write thank you's while still traveling!

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    2. Kathy, that is a great idea about the thank you cards. And I hope to see you in Nashville. The praise and worship sessions are a great way to start the day. And it feels like everyone is family.

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    3. Love your thank-you note idea, KB!

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  3. Mindy, this is some great advice! My biggest conference advice is always to pace yourself, and that you can't do everything.

    I can remember my first couple of conferences being so stressful I ended up in tears a few times. From that, I learned that I needed some down time in my room to recharge.

    I'm not going to RWA. And I'm still deciding about conferences for later this year. I need to decide soon!

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    1. Yes, Missy, you do need to decide. Isn't Nashville within driving distance for you? You know, as I recall, you were one of the first people I met at my first ever conference. I remember sitting in the lobby of the Atlanta Marriott with you and Lindi Peterson. Y'all made me feel like I actually belonged. And I've loved you both ever since.

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  4. I'm moving in slow motion this morning, but cinnamon rolls are fresh and the coffee and tea hot. Y'all enjoy yourselves.

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    1. I'm gaining weight just READING about cinnamon rolls.

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    2. That happens to me a lot, Mary.

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  5. Hi Mindy!

    This is a great post about conferences. I love going to them, even though I'm not able to attend as many as I'd like to!

    Your tip about meeting new people is a great one. The thing I always try to remember is that I'm in a building full of introverts. Everyone I see is just as overwhelmed as I am (maybe not everyone - the extroverts stand out!). A smile and a "how is your conference going" is a great conversation starter with the person who is sitting next to you, and before you know it, you've made a new friend.

    Getting involved is another great way to get to know people. Volunteer! There are always volunteer slots open to do everything from checking people in at registration to greeting people at meal times.

    I hope everyone enjoys their conferences!

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    1. Excellent advice, Jan. And the registration desk is a wonderful idea. It's a great way to put faces with those names you may have only seen online.

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  6. A couple of pieces of general conference advice that have served me well.
    1) FIVE WORDS that can get you through an awkward lunch with strangers or spasm of loneliness. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WRITING.
    That's it, ask whoever you are next to, "Tell me about your writing."
    Guaranteed conversation started. You will never be lonely.

    AND
    2) Look around the room. Look for lonely people sitting by themselves, staring into space. Focusing on their food or their notes, YOU CAN TELL WHO IS LONELY. Go over to them and sit down and say, "Tell me about your writing."

    If you are a loner, who is there without a convenient covey of friends, remember this and reach out. Help someone else and by doing that, help yourself and maybe make a new friend.

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    1. Mary, you're so right. Everyone likes to talk about their story! Great conversation starter!

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    2. Agreed, Mary and Debby. The one thing writers like to talk about is writing.

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    3. Great advice, Mary (and Mindy and everyone!). I’m going to ACFW for the first time this year, so I’ll be proactive in asking about others’ writing. I can’t wait to meet you all, and hope some will say g’day to this Aussie author!

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    4. Looking forward to meeting you, too, Carolyn!

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  7. The RWA Literacy Signing used to open the conference. I loved meeting new folks who were attending their first conferences. We'd meet WED and bump into each other throughout the rest of the week. By SAT, we were old friends. Seems Lyndee Henderson and I did that at an RWA many years ago. Also the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter meets on WED and the group goes out to dinner that evening, which is a great way to make new friends at the onset.

    I chat with folks sitting next to me at the various workshops before the programs begin...another way to make new friends.

    The conference is exciting and fun. Don't worry about getting lost in the crowd. You'll find new friends everywhere you do!

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    1. Debby, I haven't been to RWA since they moved the signing to Saturday. I'm afraid it will be anticlimactic, though I hope I'm wrong. What do you have to say about the change?

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    2. You nailed it, Mindy. Last year, the conference seemed to end SAT afternoon. Lots of folks went home that day. RWA said they made more money for literacy due to non-conference folks attending the signing on SAT, but I prefer starting the conference with the event. Also the RITA awards ceremony is on Thursday so SAT night was very quiet last year. :(

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  8. Who is going to RWA? Let's start a list...

    Mindy will be there. I'm going too!

    Add your name if we'll see you in Denver!

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    1. Debby -- I won't get to go to RWA this year :( -- but I talked to Tina Radcliffe last week and she'll be there!

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    2. Debby, Mindy, Tina, Mary...

      Who else?

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    3. Josee Tefler is going...and she's a Golden Heart finalist AND my roommate!

      Audra, aren't you going?

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  9. I like the conference tips, Minday. I'm in no place to actually attend a Conference (it's not my time...yet) - but since I am now back home in Colorado, I plan to crash RWA to seek out Seekers and Seekerville peeps. I will visit the Literacy signing time, but I'm looking for another time as well to connect. I really would LOVE to meet in the flesh with all the folks I've grown to love here in the "virtual" community.

    p.s. I have my copy of Accidental Guardian ready for Mary's signature. Hopefully I'll be able to keep from completely geeking out.

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    1. AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! Deb, I want to meet you!!!!!
      I am leaving before the literary signing. I've got to head for the airport about noon on Saturday. Is that the day you'll be there? We have to have breakfast or coffee or something!!!

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    2. Yes, Deb, you must find us! We'd love to hug your sweet neck.

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    3. I was also planning originally to "crash" the conference to meet Seekers but it isn't going to work out after all.

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    4. Well boo, Sandy. We would have loved to see you.

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    5. I'm going to the Literacy thing to see Tina (since I know she'll be there). Everything else is up for grabs. I'm thinking of taking a day off (friday?) and hang out in the hotel with the Gupster while we look for Seekers.

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    6. DebH, you have to find me at the signing. I want a big hug!!! We sit alphabetically so we're easy to spot!

      Sandy, sorry it won't work out for you.

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  10. Great post, Mindy. I had really hoped to go to Nashville this year. But I'm not nearly at the place in my writing I had thought I would be and probably can't justify the cost right now. I am still thinking about showing up in Nashville at that time, though. We will see what happens.

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    1. I hope it works out for you to go, Sandy. You never know, it could be just the boost your writing needs.

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    2. Go for it, Sandy, if you possibly can. And read Vince's post below!

      A conference isn't only for writers who are ready to take the step into publication. It's a great place for all writers to learn and to be energized from hanging out with others who are just like you.

      If you can't make it to Nashville, look for a conference closer to home. I've heard that the Wordsowers conference in Omaha (almost in your back yard) is very good - and a lot less expensive than a national conference. :-) I think their next one will be in April.

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  11. Hi Mindy:

    Thanks for a wonderful post with many helpful ideas!

    I wish I had read your post before attending my first writer's conference some years ago. I can attest to everything you've written.

    My biggest surprise coming from my first writer's conference, a four-day event in Crested Butte,(besides the beauty of the location and the grandeur of the hotel), was how much useful learning takes place outside the conference rooms!

    In the classrooms you'll hear what also appears in print. Outside the classroom, at breakfast, breaks, and evenings you'll learn everything else that usually will not appear in print.

    What a joy to hear writers talking about every phase of the business from getting published to deadlines, edits, agents, editors and wishful projects. Breakfast was a feast of learning as everyone was excited to start another day. Some experienced writers would advise what classes not to miss. This is important when two seminars are given at the same time.

    Lunch was another opportunity to mix. It seemed all were welcome at the tables. The favorite icebreaker to conversation was, "What are you working on?" Everyone can talk about that. It really was a jolt when a multi-awarding winning author asked me to join them at their table and then asked me, "What are you working on?" I never felt more welcome anywhere!

    Even at night there were readings of WIPs which were freestyle and not organized or moderated by anyone. James Scott Bell would even come, listen, and comment even though he was a featured speaker and worked the day programs. He's a great speaker. Totally interesting. Works without notes or overheads. His talk is so interesting and rewarding no props are necessary. His classes alone were worth the cost of the conference.

    My most memorable and enlightening experience was seeing hundreds of writers and noticing that the group was almost indistinguishable from the women coming out of church Sunday morning. These were good normal people who worked very hard to achieve their dreams. People like me. What is really needed is putting in the work.

    Seeing one writer at a book signing who is the center of attention and on stage is one thing. Seeing hundreds of writers who are just part of the 'herd' is quite something else. The entire impression, gestalt, was, "You should be able to do this. Get going and do the work." Priceless!

    I think one of the best things an aspiring writer could do is go to a big writers conference and join in the classes but even more importantly, join in the socializing. Here you'll find something you can't learn in books or in a classroom.

    Attend. Take part. Mix. And live the life while you are there.


    Vince

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    1. Great advice, Vince! There's nothing that boosts my energy like hanging out with other writers, no matter where they are in their writing journey!

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    2. Vince, I love your take on this. You've shared so many of the hidden gems that one can find at a conference. Like you said, we just have to attend, take part, mix and live the life while we're there. LOVE that! Thank you for sharing this, Vince!

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  12. .
    .
    "Burning Bridges Consume Futures."

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  13. Hi Mindy thanks for your encouraging post. I'll be attending ACFW this year as my first ever conference, so I'll be back to visit this post again in September that way I can have a double dose of good words.

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    1. Oh, I will be looking for you, Barbara, so I can say hello and hug your neck.

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  14. I don't get to do any conferences this year, but I did attend a writers' retreat last month, which was amazing. I was overwhelmed at first to be rubbing elbows with multi-published authors. But I reminded myself I am a published author, too. :-) I hope I can attend more things like this in the future.

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    1. Amy, writers' retreats can be very valuable, too. You still get to mingle with other writers and be energized, AND you, typically, get to hone your story. The best of both worlds.

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