This last weekend I had my first experience at a writing conference when I attended Moonlight and Magnolias in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm not much good with crowds, but I was told that a regional conference like this would be a good introduction to help ease me into the scene, in the event I might ever consider a national conference. And I have to say, I'm so glad I gave in to the peer pressure. I'm still riding the high of spending 4 days basking in such a unique atmosphere of professional ambition and warm camaraderie. I pitched to 2 agents, and received 2 requests for the first three chapters (despite the fact that my hands were shaking under the table and I stammered my way through each appointment.)
Reflecting back on my experience, I had a few tidbits of advice I wanted to get down before my brain evicts them to make room for something of questionable importance. These were just my personal takeaways--chunk them if you don't like them. :) Hopefully there's some universal application to be had.
#1. Business Cards - I recalled a conference several friends attended last year, and the overwhelming lament from most of them was: 'I should have brought business cards.' Many had put off the necessary evil of branding themselves onto a tangible piece of paper out of concern for what pen name they might want to use, or what color-scheme suited their genre. And while I agree, it's worth making every effort to present a good first impression...better a mediocre calling card than none at all. You want people to be able to contact you later, without the use of a private detective!
Which brings me to my next point...
#2. Network, network, network! - While I carpooled to the conference with two of my dearest mentors from our particular guild chapter, we saw relatively little of each other all weekend. This was by design. My friends had navigated the conference scene numerous times before and encouraged me to seize every opportunity to chat people up and make new friends. I could talk to them any time, after all. And while the introvert in me had a number of freak-out moments in which I went running to the nearest familiar face from my chapter like my 18-month-old to her security blanket, I usually recovered within a few minutes and went bounding back into the fray.
Which leads into a consideration I initially took for granted...
#3. Nap Time - It can do wonders for the disposition of toddlers and conference-goers alike. Keep some sleep in reserve. You never know when you might hit it off with a handful of people you happened upon in the lobby, and look up later to realize you've yammered on into the wee hours. Crawling out of bed and down to your morning workshops after such an evening is about as much fun as bathing a frightened cat...while naked. I'm not exaggerating, people. There's only so much a good cup of coffee can do.
(But still, scout out all possible coffee venues upon your arrival. You'll thank me later.)
#4. Attire - Allow for comfort on travel days, but once the conference is in full swing--think business casual. As I was there to be taken seriously, along with learning and making some lasting connections, I brought along my best 'hire me' clothes. I noticed a number of people who added an exuberant flair to their carefully selected outfits, but I'm honestly too much of a newbie to be daring. :)
Note: I think I went a little TOO safe with the formal-wear. If there happens to be a formal event like a dance or award ceremony, and you would like to stand out from the crowd at all, try to avoid wearing a black cocktail dress. (Unless, of course, you happen to me a dude. In which case a black cocktail dress will definitely get you noticed. >.>)
Now, who wants to offer up their take on a conference experience, or possibly some pointers to go along with that? I'm sure I've missed some things.