Do’s & Don’ts for a Writers’ Conference

So. Writers’ Conferences can be intimidating, especially for those of us who have yet to publish our work. They can be overwhelming, with the sheer amount of information flooding our already cluttered, creative minds.

These annual gatherings can be found throughout the world and are places where writers come together to learn from published authors, veteran agents and seasoned editors. Through a series of workshops, panel discussions, lectures and keynote addresses, writers’ conferences afford attendees a chance to learn, grow and network.

It takes a great deal of time to prepare for a writers’ conference, but it’s well worth your time to maximize your experience. With that in mind, here are some Do’s & Don’ts for attending a writers’ conference.

Writers’ Conference: Do’s

  • Make a Plan.
Make a Plan for your Writers’ Conference experience.

No matter if you’re attending a ten-day marathon or a one-day sprint, writers’ conferences are a whirlwind race. You’ll need stamina and focus to maximize your time. You need a plan.

These conferences are centered around writers learning about the craft of writing. Some are general, some genre specific, and some are entire retreats.

Devour the conference website.

Learn about who’s attending. Read the bios of the speakers, and, more importantly, the agents. Review the descriptions of the educational sessions. Familiarize yourself with the location and details. Plan it out.

Are there early bird rates for registrations? If you’re going out of town, are there hotel discounts associated with the conference? Where are you going to eat?

Remember, these events are social in nature, so just because the schedule activities have ended that doesn’t your opportunities to interact with these people have.

  • Practice your Pitch

One of the most alluring aspects of a writers’ conference is the chance to pitch literary agents. Some conferences have this opportunity built into the base cost, while others charge an add-on fee. Make sure you know ahead of time.

Plan for pitch sessions to last about 90 seconds. You’ll need to know what you’re going to say before you say it. It’s daunting. It’s nerve-wracking.

But you don’t think your a salesman, right? You’re a writer! So maybe think about your pitch this way: It’s like reciting your Query Letter in a conversational manner.

You probably spent days if not weeks on a query letter, so memorize that bad boy. Try not to read off a page or notes. You should be able to talk about your book without them.

Also, make sure you’ve done your homework ahead of time. Does the agent you want to pitch represent the genre you write in? What other writers do they represent? Keep that in mind.

  • Attend as many educational sessions as possible

Be it conference or seminar, workshop or retreat, these events all feature an educational component. Sessions are presented by industry professionals who are experts in their particular field. For the unpublished writer, it’s a wealth of information.

There might be a lecture session on the elements of a specific genre, or a panel discussion where agents discuss hot-button issues. Editors might host a Q&A roundtable.

Be ready to take advantage of these opportunities. Have an open mind. Take notes. Listen. You’ll glean insights to help your writing process and pitching along the way.

  • Dress the Part
Don’t forget your business cards! They’re a valuable resource at any Writers’ Conference.

This one might seem silly, but you can’t walk into a conference looking like you’re staggering in from an all-night bender.

Think business casual. Remember, agents are looking for business partners. Be comfortable, but look the part. And dress in layers, some conference rooms are chilly.

Don’t forget your business cards! An agent might ask for one, and you can exchange these with the other conference attendees.

You’re networking, and many of the other writers are in the same boat as you. One of them might be your next beta reader, or better yet, a longtime friend.

Writers’ Conference: Don’ts

  • Don’t pass agents or editors pages

Agents and editors interact with dozens upon dozens of writers at some of these events. Some agents will hear anywhere from 25 to 50 pitches in one day! The last thing you want to do is pass an agent you’re pitching pages of your manuscript. If they took pages from all of the writers they met, they’d collapse under the weight!

If they’re going to ask for anything, it’ll be a business card. What’s more likely to happen is they’ll give you one of their cards and tell you to email them referencing the conference pitch session.

  • Don’t Ramble On

Leave that to Zeppelin. When you’re seated across from an agent, you might only have 90 seconds to pitch your novel, so you’d better know what you’re going to say. Avoid a long, meandering ramble about your story. Make sure you’re not darting off on any tangents. Stay focused.

Also, don’t spend all of your allotted time talking. (This is especially true of longer pitch sessions.) You want to leave some time to answer any questions the agent might have. And you certainly want to leave time for some feedback from the agent about what you’ve just pitched.

  • Don’t Be Afraid (to start conversations)
It’s important to take the time to network during the Writers’ Conference.

Writers might be naturally introverted creatures–God knows I am. But when we find ourselves in a conference setting, we must be ready to talk with anyone and everyone.

Chat with the other attendees around you. Share your ideas, experiences. Trade business cards. Practice your pitches for each other.

Start a conversation while in the coffeeshop line. Or in the elevator. Go out to eat and drink with your new writer friends. This isn’t necessarily a competition. There’s plenty of room for all of us to succeed.

Some of these people will becomes friends and colleagues if you’re open. Besides, you never know where you’ll meet an agent or editor.

It’s important to maximize your experience at any writers’ conference. You might not land an agent for your manuscript (you might!), but that doesn’t mean it was a waste of time and money.

Remember, at any of these events, you’re surrounded by people who love reading and writing as much as you do, so enjoy it!

I’ll be attending the 2018 Florida Writers’ Workshop in Tampa, FL, next week. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to make inroads in the maze of publication.


“Don’t Shove Me in Your Damned Pigeonhole” and other Thoughts on Writing from Ursula K. Le Guin

So. We lost a literary titan on Monday, Ursula K. Le Guin, who, at 88, died at her home in Portland, Oregon. Her son confirmed the death, and while he didn’t specify a cause, he did say she’d been in poor health for months. Le Guin was an influential and immensely popular author who brought the world the Earthsea epic fantasy cycle, as well as her science-fiction opus The Left Hand of Darkness.

Le Guin was a prolific author, whose pointed use of speculative fiction helped elevate entire genres to the level of literary fiction. A trailblazer in the truest sense of the term, Le Guin thrived in an environment in which she should have failed, forced to employ genre conventions that belied her vision and voice.

Throughout her productive writing career, Le Guin spent an extraordinary amount of time teaching as well. She published a guide to the craft of writing called Steering the Craft in 1998, and she was incredibly forthcoming in interviews with the Paris Review, in an essay published in the Los Angeles Times and later on her website titled “On Rules of Writing, or, Riffing on Rechy,” as well as in a blogpost called “Navigating the Ocean of Story” for

We could spend years analyzing her work, showing how she inspired so many of the modern literary greats like Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, and Patrick Rothfuss, but today I want to take a look at five insightful thoughts she shared on writing over the years.

1. Begin with a Clear Sense of One Character

In her essay The Wave in the Mind, Le Guin argues that a novel should begin with a clear sense of one character. The best way to start?

“With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.”   –Ursula Le Guin, from The Paris Review

2. Our Characters Must Fascinate Us

“the characters of a novel and short story fascinate us slowly, deeply, by their passion, their pain, their moral and psychological complexity”   –Ursula Le Guin, from “On Rules of Writing”

As writers, we need to understand that it’s Character that draws us into Story. The characters provide the requisite emotional connection, which then propels us along the journey of the story. Above, Le Guin provides us with the “how” as writers to create that connection with the reader.

3. Exposition isn’t Wicked

“the fear of ‘distancing’ leads writers to abandon the narrative past tense, which involves and includes past, present, and future, for the tight-focused, inflexible present tense. But distance lends enchantment.”    –Ursula Le Guin, from “On Rules of Writing”

Here, Le Guin is lamenting the movement toward the immediacy of the present tense. The use of this tense limits the writer in her mind, and I tend to agree. She argues in the essay the “show, don’t tell” writing cliché has sent the writers in her workshops reeling away from exposition, a necessary element in world building.

As writers, we need to fully envision our worlds and our characters, and the past tense affords us the room to explore the complexities of these elements. It’s the exploration of these elements that lends enchantment to our stories.

4. Find a Rhythm

“I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey–you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.”   Ursula Le Guin, from The Paris Review

As writers, we need to find a groove and settle in. Similarly, what we’re trying to do with our stories also requires a groove. It’s a simple idea, but it’s an archetypal one. We have a predisposition to this journey as readers and writers, and we need to embrace it.

5. You Do You

“where I can get prickly and combative is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.”   –Ursula Le Guin, from The Paris Review

Le Guin fought and overcame stereotypes throughout her career. By all accounts, she shouldn’t have been as successful as she was, being a female voice in the male-dominated world of speculative fiction in the 1960s and 1970s. Her perspectives on identity and society, her deliberate treatment of race and gender, all of these things helped her breakout of the “sci-fi author” pigeonhole. And thank God she did.

As writers, we need to embrace our Voice, our perspective, and tell the stories we need to tell. We can’t worry about the labels, or pigeonholes, that we or our stories receive later. We have to be true to ourselves. And let our tentacles spread out in all directions.

Here are a few bonus thoughts from Le Guin:

  • Reading is Fundamental

“Real writers read” from “Navigating the Ocean of Story” 

  • What’s our greatest tool as writers?

“imagination working on observation” from “On Rules of Writing”

  • Get to work!

“You can’t waste time” from The Paris Review

  • Because…

“Skill is the product of experience” from “Navigating the Ocean of Story”

  • Be Who You Are!

“When people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer.”  from The Paris Review