As a budding author, when the dates aligned for me in 2013 I jumped at the opportunity to attend the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I had planned to go with a fellow writer, but a family emergency came up, so I ended up there solo.
The solo part was ever so slightly terrifying. I’d been warned about Surrey the moment I hit the pay button. “It’s a feeding frenzy,” said one. “Intense,” said another. Yet another person went pale and speechless at the mention. Shit, I thought to myself, as I walked through the doors for the keynote the first morning. It was massive. Hundreds of people talking animatedly, all seeming to know each other. It was like I’d arrived at a party with no invite. Then I spotted my table. One chair left and nobody looking at each other. Success! I scooped up the spot and joined the silence.
Then more silence.
Ok, perhaps not a success of a table, but it occurred to me that maybe my table companions were in the same boat as myself. Steeling my nerves, I turned to the gal next to me and asked if it was her first time at SIWC. She nodded, the tension throbbing through her strained face.
Ok, Smith, man up! Years of useless networking events have to be put to work. Go! And with that moment, I started out on the path of introducing myself to some fifty or so people over the weekend. And you know what? Had my friend been able to join me that weekend, I probably would have relied on our twosome and not made the effort to be outgoing. This is my solid advice to those attending writers conferences. You’re there to meet people, so MEET. For one weekend pull out your most confident self and talk about what you love most, writing.
You can always go and hyperventilate in your room during breaks.
Was Surrey intense? Sure. You have a finite amount of time to learn, network and pitch your work. Is it a feeding frenzy? I didn’t think so. Yes, everyone desperately wants an agent or editor to pluck their work from obscurity, but you’re not in competition with your fellow writers. They’re not telling your story. You’re only in competition with yourself. So put in the work. Practice your pitch. Prepare answers to questions an agent will ask you. The more you’re prepared the less likely you’ll be caught off guard like I was when asked “What makes you unique as a writer.” Uhhh, yeah. I’m now prepared for that one next year.
SIWC is just one of many amazing conferences you can attend as a writer. I’m also a big fan of the slightly more casual When Words Collide conference in Calgary, AB. Conferences can be inspiring, motivating and a phenomenal opportunity to learn. Learn from the sessions, learn from your pitches, learn from how authors interact with their agents, learn how to present yourself professionally, but with style. Learn.
My top advice for attending any writers’ conference:
- Bring multiple copies of your synopsis, a copy of your first chapter and some professional author contact cards. I was warned that editors and agents wouldn’t want to see my work during the pitch. LIES. They didn’t want to carry it home with them, no, but seeing my work on paper was what won me two successful pitches.
- Dress professionally. This is not the weekend to whip out your sweats, but nor do you need to be in your interview suit. Jeans are fine, but don’t look uber casual. I opted for jeans, nice boots and a jacket/top combo. You’re selling yourself as much as your work.
- Arrive a day early. If you can, if time and budget allow, arrive the day before. Let yourself settle in, hit the gym, practice your pitch and get a healthy meal in the night before. You want to wake up rested and ready to go.
- Stay at the hotel the conference it at all possible. I know, I know, the cost is sometime pricey, but it’s worth it for the chance to decompress between sessions. I met a few locals who did not stay at the hotel and they were wiped by the end of the day. They also couldn’t really freshen up before dinner, the prime networking time.
- Talk! Meet people, introduce yourself and don’t be afraid to talk about your work. Talk with confidence. This was the one place I’ve been, other than my writers’ group, where I could confidently say, “I write chick lit” and very few people were judgemental. Yeah, there was one, but we won’t talk about her…
I hope this is helpful for anyone considering a professional writers’ conference. Any fellow writers have tips?