ACFW Conference is on the horizon! Friends, learning, meetings, laughter, food, and so much more!
I love going to writing conferences. I love seeing people I know, making new friends, sitting in classes learning from great teachers, making memories.
But face it, going to writing conferences isn't cheap. Money for the hotel, money for the conference, travel. For some it means taking time off from work, finding childcare, dog-sitters, etc.
Once you've poured out all that time and money, gone to the conference, done all the things, and get back home, you'll no doubt spend a bit of time reflecting on the experience, and quite possibly wondering if it was worth it. Did you get enough bang for your buck(s)?
The answer to that is: It depends. (I know, how frustrating!)
But it's true. The answer to whether a writing conference was "worth it" depends upon several factors, not the least of which is "What were your expectations going into the conference?"
(In an aside, I wrote an entire post on managing expectations, and it can be found HERE
. Go ahead and read it, I'll wait. :) )
Welcome back! :) So, if the key to a successful conference is managing your expectations, then what are realistic expectations when it comes to conferences?
I have two generic expectations that, if fulfilled, guarantee for me that a conference was a success.
1. Make at least one new friend.
One of the things I LOVE about attending ACFW is getting to hang with my friends that I only see maybe once a year (or even less frequently if we don't happen to both go to the conference.) I love catching up, sharing industry and life news, laughing our heads off, and just being 'us.'
But if I only engage with the friends I already have, I am not only limiting myself, but I'm excluding people, too. So, at each conference, I make it a point of emphasis to meet at least one new friend. The opportunities are boundless at the conference.
|Barbour authors treated to a Mississippi River Boat Cruise at|
the ACFW Conference in St. Louis Left: Rose McCauley and
Jennifer Johnson Right: Ramona Cecil and Keli Gwyn
You might be thinking, "I have a hard time making friends. I won't know what to say."
Here's the magic, door-opening key to friendship at a conference. Find someone who is not currently talking to anyone else, smile, and ask them "So, what do you write?"
Presto! Instant friend. You get to bypass excruciating small talk and go right to the heart of writer friendships! And be a good listener. Exchange info so you can continue the friendship through social media, email, etc.
2. Learn something new
No writer knows it all, no matter how many conferences they've attended, how many classes they've gone to, how many books they've written. Be humble enough to realize it, and to be willing to learn.
|Pepper Basham and our own Audra Harders, no doubt all|
primed to learn something new in one of the classes.
(Also probably getting up to some serious hi-jinks.)
You might learn this new thing during the key-note address, during an agent panel, during a class. Perhaps you might learn a new thing by listening to other writers talk about their experiences or what they just discussed with their agent or editor.
You might even learn something new from a brand new author friend. :)
If I accomplish those two goals, make at least one new friend and learn at least one new thing, then I consider the conference a success.
Now, there are some specific goals you might have for a conference, and those are not wrong, but don't hang the success or failure of the conference on those specific goals, because so much of what happens around those goals is out of your control.
Some specific goals you might have are:
1. Meet with a certain agent/editor.
If you sign up for appointments, you may or may not get the agent or editor appointment of your choice. If you don't get your 15 minutes with Agent X, does that mean your conference was a failure and you might as well not have gone?
|Me with my lovely agent, Rachelle|
Gardner of Books & Such Literary
If this is the case for you, I suggest you're expectations are not realistic. Which agent or editor you meet with is out of your control. Perhaps you got a meeting with an agent that isn't anywhere on your radar. You can still have a successful encounter, learn something, get your face, name, and story in front of an industry professional. You don't know what might come out of it. I have a couple of friends who said, "I don't think I could ever work with Agent So-and-so." But then they were 'forced' into a meeting with them, and they hit it off! God is bigger than your expectations, so let Him work!
If you already have an agent and/or editor, you will most likely have meetings with them at some point. You can make these successful by being prepared. Have your questions and topics ready for discussion. Perhaps even have a little gift for them? A memento of your friendship/business relationship?
2. Get a book contract
Um, contracts given out at conferences are so rare as to be mythical. (Exception: Both Mary Connealy and I received our first contracts at the ACFW Conference, but that was special circumstances. Barbour Publishing used to hold a contract or two each year and award it to a first-time author that they were going to contract anyway. Our proposals had been on the editor's desk for awhile. They already knew us and our work.) You're not going to 'cold call' an editor in an appointment and have them whip out a contract and fistfuls of cash after a 15 minute session. Put those thoughts away, because if you're flying in such rarefied air, you're going to come crashing down.
|Michelle Ule, Editor Rebecca Germany, me, and Liz Johnson on|
the day we found out our novella collection, Log Cabin
Christmas, hit the New York Times Best-seller list!
Rather than expect a book contract, perhaps lower your expectations to meeting some industry professionals, find out what they are like and what they are looking for, and where your work might be a good fit. Information in the writing industry is nearly as important as sheer talent and hard work. Gather all that free information just lying around waiting for someone to snatch it up at a conference.
3. Win an award
If you're not nominated for an award, you can probably stop expecting to win one, but if you ARE nominated for an award, it's hard not to begin to think that if you don't win, what was the point of going to the conference?
|Isn't he the handsomest? Peter and I just outside the|
ball room in Nashville, two weeks after his surgery and
the diagnosis that changed our lives!
As someone who has been up for a Carol Award and more than one Genesis Award and not won, it can be...deflating. But as someone who has won both a Carol and a Genesis, while both are fabulous, and I was thrilled, humbled, and grateful to have won, those aren't the things I remember most about those particular conferences. I remember the relationships, the sharing of the anticipation with the other finalists, the fact that my husband was able to join me at the banquet just two weeks after massive cancer surgery. Sitting next to Mary Connealy for one of the funniest (and LONGEST) acceptance speeches ever.
|The 2016 Carol Awards. Sitting with dear friends and sharing|
the experience with them made the night extra-special.
Whether you win or not, the conference experience is about the people. Remember for every winner, there are folks who did not win. Whichever side of that equation you fall on, your gratitude and humility will be fondly remembered. Go to the awards ceremony expecting to make great memories and let the chips fall where they may.
Have you been to writing conferences before? What determines whether a conference is a success to you?