Things to take to a writer’s conference and how ramen inspired my list…

I wanted a catchy title, but I also wanted to be super clear about what this blog is about. Apparently, I got one and not the other. It’s that sort of day. My head is all wrapped up in getting ready for my second writer’s conference next week. 

At my first conference, I was not 100% prepared. Mind you, I did all the research, read the emails sent out by the event organizing staff and perused other blogs gathering tribal knowledge. I was still unprepared. That bring us here and to MY list of things to bring to a writer’s conference.

 Beyond what I usually pack for any trip away from home (PJs, toothbrush, etc.), this list was scratched together on my last day of the conference after noticing what I DIDN’T use, what I WISHED I had brought and what other people told me about their experiences. My new master list includes:

1.     FOOD/DRINKS:

  • I brought protein bars, cup of noodle soups and some wine. My plan was to go to a store near the hotel and buy healthy snacks when I arrived. By day two I was over caffeinated, over sugared, and starving for real food. I hadn’t left the hotel. I spent the first evening eating ramen with coffee stirrers as chopsticks. Don’t be me.
  • Part of the reason I was unprepared foodwise is because I didn’t check out my room accommodations. There was no fridge, thus, healthier snack options were hard to find. Knowing in advance what you’ll have to use will help you be prepared with what you need to bring.
  • Bring an envelope for holding your receipts. I ended up eating out a fair bit at the hotel restaurants and coffee shop. That’s all deductible. I didn’t think about it until the second or third day – money lost there people.
  • If you’re a water fan, bring a Refillable Water Bottle. I forgot and ended up buying a bottle of water for $5 (not a typo, ugh) and I just kept refilling it.

 2. Clothes/Toiletries:

  • You’re going to ask yourself what to wear. I’m going to say – “I saw a man in a cape.” DON’T overthink it. Bring comfy, but presentable, clothes for the panels and workshops. A nice outfit for pitching agents and editors (you should think business casual/job interview) and, maybe, a nice outfit for an award ceremony day. Some people dressed up for events, but a lot didn’t. We are a mix of salesman and artist that is hard to cage.  Just remember that you’re meeting your peers and trying to sell yourself and your book – ask yourself, “How do I want these people to see me?”
  • Comfy shoes people. I saw people in heels. I was impressed. However, most hotels and event centers are carpeted and you’ll be schlepping around from place to place. I wore cute, but comfy, flats. They’re going back into my bag for this event, too.
  • Medicine. I’m so serious about this. I snuck down to the bar at 1:30 am on my third day of the event to steal salt for gargling. Everyone was getting sick. Stress from pitching, a bunch of introverts stuck in one place, and germs from all over the world in an airport hotel made for a lot of sick people. Start with Airborne and cross your fingers, but, just in case, bring tea, meds, Tylenol, whatever, so you’ll be prepared when the plague hits.
  • Sleep Aid. Whether it’s Melatonin, a sound machine, or your favorite lavender lotion, bringing something to help you sleep will help. A lot of people I talked to had trouble shutting down at the end of the day. Especially, when they knew the next day they would be (bump bump bum) pitching.

 3. Tools of the Trade:

  1. Business Cards – The best advice I’ve received regarding this is that your card should include:
    • A picture (If they don’t remember your name, they may remember your face.)
    • Your contact info including your web address, phone number, email address and/or Twitter handle if you have these (and you probably should have most of them). NEVER include your actual address unless it’s a P.O. Box.
    • Make sure the back is blank and not glossy. This will allow you to jot the name of your book, notes, or random info on the back. One person suggested using your card as a scrap piece of paper so you have more excuses to hand it out, too. Directions somewhere? Jot it on your card. That website you were just discussing? On the Card. What book were you suggesting they read? The card. You get my point.
    • Print them in small batches so you can easily update and change them. One blogger suggested putting your book title/series name on them with a log line. I chose to do this and liked it, but I knew I was committing to buying more cards soon.
  2. Notebooks/Pens – You will, presumably, be taking an insane amount of notes. You paid for the info, make sure you’re getting it written down. I used an entire 100 pages notebook for a 3-day conference and had a moment where I thought – should I have brought a spare? The answer is probably YES.  Also, I used up the ink in a brand-new pen IN ONE DAY. There were pens everywhere (I mean all over the place), but I missed my favorite pen. Bring plenty of your favorite pens This thought was shared by many sad writers using less than stellar pens. Also, hardbacked notebooks make for easier note-taking. Some rooms had round tables and to face the speaker I was writing on my knees.
  3. Laptop or Tablet – I wasn’t the only one in a hallway making changes to my pitches or jumping on inspiration between classes. If you’re that sort of creative, bring a way to take notes, change your work or knock out writing. I emailed my docs to myself and used the business center to print them off. I overheard an agent saying that they didn’t like people reading their pitches off their phone. You can be sure, after hearing that, it was paper only for me.
  4. Briefcase, Tote or Backpack – There will be freebies, receipts, business cards, notebooks for classes, pens, water bottles, etc. that you’ll be packing around all day. Classes are scheduled close to events to maximize everyone’s time. Don’t count on being able to make it to your room to unload/repack frequently.
  5. Prepared Pitch and/or Log Line – There will likely be a class there to help you fine tune what you have, but people will start asking about what you write the second you’re in the door. Like any public speaking event or performance, knowing your work in advance will make sharing it with others easier. Have an elevator pitch or log line ready and you’ll feel way more prepared when the questions start flying at you.
  6. Schedule of Events – I looked up the classes on the event page in advance. I laid them all out in an excel document, but a planner would be fine. Being able to quickly check what classes were available next and already knowing which ones I wanted to attend made getting around much easier.
  7. Cash or Check Book – Most vendors use the swiping square and you can use your credit card, but some events it’s easier to write a check or they require cash. Items you might purchase include cd/mp3 lecture recordings, books by your peers, raffle tickets or snacks.
  8.  Address Labels –  My most recent conference had a raffle. I had to write my name and phone number on almost 40 tiny little tickets. The email and preparation for the conference recommend bringing address labels. I should have listened!

I’ll keep updating this as I pack my bag this week and remember other things I wish I’d brought with me (or comment with suggestions), but I’m happy to say I will be much better prepared this time. I hope you will be, too.

THE QUICK LIST:

  1. Healthy Snacks
  2. Refillable Water Bottle
  3. Receipt Envelope/Folder
  4. Assorted Flu/Cold Medicine
  5. Sleep Aid
  6. Appropriate Clothes
  7. Comfy Shoes
  8. Business Cards
  9. 2 x Notebooks (Hardback/Spiral is easier for note taking) and Extra Pens
  10. Laptop/Tablet
  11. Briefcase/Tote
  12. Prepared Pitch/Log Line
  13. Planned Schedule of Events
  14. Cash/Check
  15. Address Labels

THINGS I TOOK, BUT DIDN’T USE:

  1. Face Mask (I thought I’d find time to relax away from home…RIGHT…I might try this, again, though) 
  2. Casual Read (See Above – Conferences are WORK and most days it ran late)
  3. Sweet Snacks (There were pastries/cookies all over. By the time I got back to my room, I had no interest in them)
  4. Paper Copy of my Manuscript (I wasn’t the only one that brought it and didn’t touch it.)
  5. Swimsuit (I never made it to the pool, but probably would have if I’d had time or people to join.)
  6. Workout Gear (I didn’t bring this, but other people mentioned it. Personal preference here.)

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