I’m planning to attend Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in a few weeks. I’m looking forward to being in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, chatting with old friends, meeting new ones, and focusing on my writing journey for several days.
Here’s my to-do list.
Before the conference:
- Pray about whether or not you should attend.
- Research the agents and editors who will attend. Become familiar with these people. Discover what they want you to bring to appointments.
- Research the publishing houses that will be represented. Discover what kind of manuscripts the house accepts. Don’t pitch a steam punk novel to a house that publishes Amish exclusively.
- Polish the first two or three chapters of your manuscript.
- Prepare an elevator pitch (about 30 seconds long) about your manuscript so that when you meet one of those agents or editors or another writer in a hallway or at lunch (but not the bathroom!), you’ll be ready to talk about it.
- Prepare a one-sheet for the appointments. (Take 5 or 6 copies.)
- Polish the first three chapters of your manuscript in case someone wants to see a sample of your writing.
- Write encouraging scripture verses on 3 x 5 cards. At my first conference, I laid out my cards and read over them before I left my room every day.
- Practice your pitch.
- Pack clothes and travel necessities, comfortable shoes, single dollars for tipping, breath mints, maybe some snacks, your Bible, pens and notebook or your laptop and charger, phone and charger, and copies of what you’ll take to appointments.
During the conference:
- Pray to be in tune with God and for His will to be done.
- Dress in layers. Every hotel conference room I’ve been in has the temperature turned to the “hanging meat” setting. (I always aim for business casual. I want to look professional. I want people to take me seriously.)
- Remember that many people are attending the conference for the first time and are fighting nerves, doubts, and the urge to vomit. Introduce yourself to people. (If you’re an introvert like me, force yourself to introduce yourself to people.) Invite them to have lunch with you or sit with you in a lecture. I have many writing friends now who were strangers before I said, “Hello,” and lifted my hand for theirs. So network!
- Take notes during the sessions.
- Remember that the agents and editors are people, too.
- Consider the appointment as getting to know someone new, not as the fifteen minutes that will make or break your writing journey.
- Make a writing to-do list for when you get back home.
After the conference:
- Write thank you notes to the people with whom you met.
- Take a few days to process the conference.
- Don’t be surprised if you feel overwhelmed after the conference.
- Don’t be surprised if you feel sad after the conference—if things didn’t go exactly as you had planned or if you’re sad that the huge experience you’d worked for and planned for is over.
- Get to work on your to-do list.
- Incorporate the knowledge and skills you learned at the conference into your writing.
If you’ve attended a conference, what worked well for you? If you haven’t, what do you fear the most?
Hope Toler Dougherty holds a Master’s degree in English and taught at East Carolina University and York Technical College. Her publications include three novels as well as nonfiction articles. A member of ACFW, RWA, and SinC, she writes for SeriousWriter.com. She and her husband live in North Carolina and enjoy visits with their two daughters and twin sons.