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Theme Week: Conference Tips for Writers and Readers

Conferences are insane. Insanely awesome! But also insanely overwhelming, especially if you're a first-time attendee. At YA Highway, we've been to tons of conferences, both writing conferences (SCBWI, Backspace, etc.) and publishing industry conferences (ALA, BEA, etc.). In honor of our Conference Theme Week, we've decided to share our best conference tips.

If you have any great tips we've overlooked, please let us know in the comments!

Tips for all conferences:

YA Highway at BEA 2011
sumayyah, kaitlin, me, sarah, phoebe & emilia
Wear comfortable shoes. Like, crazy comfortable. Bring Band-Aids and Moleskin just in case.

Pack snacks! Sometimes restaurants are quite a hike from conference centers, and eating places inside the centers are almost always overpriced. Also, bring a bottle of water.

If you're an introvert, plan some alone time. Or even if you're not an introvert. Conferences are people people people nonstop – including tons of small talk – and can be exhausting for even the most social of us.

Be outgoing. Everyone else is as lost and nervous as you are. In particular, attend meetups (like kidlit drink night, ours, etc.), even if you don't know anyone. They are truly the best places to meet the like-minded – everyone is in friendly meet-people mode and the awkward level is minimized.
always make time to roll down the hill.
(just ask kristin o. & veronica)
Bring your phone charger. 

Know where the caffeine is located.

Don't drink too much (and start planking in different places around the hotel).

If you do get to interact with an agent socially at a conference, try talking to them about something other than books. Agents get fatigued just like the rest of us.

Dress in layers. Conference Centers can be chilly. Except when they're not.

Make time to hang with other writers, even if that means skipping a session or signing. Some of my best conference memories include playing hooky – it's just so rare that we're all together!

Bring business cards or bookmarks with your contact info. They can be fun and quirky – this is a creative industry!

Tips for writing conferences (SCBWI, Backspace, etc.) 

Take notes. You will forget stuff.

YA Highway (and friends) at SCBWI 2010
kaitlin, me, veronica, debra driza, kate,
cory jackson, emilia, kristin h. &
michelle schusterman
Don't bring printed copies of your work (unless you're doing some kind of workshop that specifically requests you to). There's no way to shove a manuscript at somebody that isn't a faux pas.

Have a list of your most important questions written down and ready to go if you do any kind of one-on-one session. Write down the answers. 

Only pitch during actual pitch sessions. Not in the elevator, not during industry cocktail nights, not on the conference floor, and especially not in the bathroom (jump to 1:39. Yes, that's me).

Be cognizant of other attendees. During workshops, try to ask questions that apply to other attendees – not only your specific book. During group pitch sessions, don't talk about your project the whole time – let everyone else have a chance, too.

Don't talk while presenters are talking. (You can text, though.)

During workshops, make sure your phone is on silent. For texts, too.

Tips for publishing conferences (ALA, BEA, etc.) 

Prioritize and plan ahead, especially for author signings. Lines form early for popular authors (even an hour early!).

YA Highway at ALA 2011
sarah, me & kate
Use that map. Conference centers are huge!

Don't be an ARC monster. Sure, you have to be assertive to land the books you want to review – but don't be aggressive. You would be amazed at the amount of flailing elbows. And stampedes.

Don't grab a bunch of books you don't plan to read and review. Attendees so often get frenzied by the promise of Free Stuff – I have myself. But ARCs are expensive for publishers, and it's hard to know what to do with them once the books are released. Also, bags of ARCs are heavy! And expensive to send home.

When you visit booths, don't just grab ARCs and split. Chat up the sales people (if they're available) and ask for recommendations: "if I'm interested in/loved this book what would you suggest?" The point of a conference is to get introduced to titles you might miss otherwise.

Last but not least, from Sarah Enni: "Always take a picture with the cardboard Bieber cutout."
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. I'm always turning into a Popsicle when I attend conferences. It's not a problem in the winter because I'm wearing winter clothing (though some of those breakout sessions become summer balmy). It's the summer conferences that really screw me up. I had to buy a SCBWI hoodie one year because I was so cold. The hoodie I did have with me just didn't cut it. :(

  2. This really makes me wants to go to a conference! Too bad there aren't any where I live... Last year there was one in the Netherlands, only three hours by train *hopes for another one this year*

  3. I just got back from Backspace, and it was amazing. Obviously I didn't see this post before I left, but I agree with every one of them. One of my favorite parts of the conference was hanging out at a bar with the people from my workshops. We chatted about books we loved (and some we hated), swapped writing horror stories, and just got to know each other in general. It was a great time, and I recommend anyone who's serious about writing to go. It's worth the credit card debt I'm paying off now. Ha.

  4. So this means sober planking is a total go, right? =D

  5. this is awesome advice!
    the only thing i question is, i have read a few agent blogs that say you should bring pages. not to peddle, but to have if asked. like you get a spontaneous elevator pitch & hook an agent, then she is disappointed you dont have pages...i know that is a longshot, but it's good to be prepared (and hopeful!)


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Item Reviewed: Theme Week: Conference Tips for Writers and Readers Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard