The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Denver, CO starts today. This is a big, annual gathering in which authors of all levels get to mingle with each other, as well as the MFA programs and small presses that help perpetuate this wonderful business of creative expression. I know writers who have benefited greatly from this conference, and with the right mindset, you can, too. Here are some things to consider:
Research, if you haven’t already. Like contacting an agent, know who you are talking to. Don’t pitch your memoir to a poetry press, and don’t tell Brian Evenson that you think horror is a hack genre or the writing program at Brown is overrated (It is a good idea not to insult anyone, by the way. More on that later). Taking into account that you probably don’t have time to look everyone up on the internet and prepare extensive notes ahead of time, you should utilize the handouts and pay attention to any signs, fliers and announcements you may come across.
Don’t be too pushy. Sure, this is a great opportunity to get your manuscript or writing sample in the right hands, but you aren’t tactful about it, that valuable face time will end up working against you. If someone says “no,” accept it and move on. There are plenty of others in attendance. And don’t just go around pitching your work. Ask others what they like, what they are working on and why they are there. Once they are finished talking (and they will talk), their next logical response would be “And you?” If you are friendly and show interest, they will be friendly and show interest.
Be present. Don’t miss out on something by tweeting about it.
Be sure to participate whenever possible. If there is an open mic or other such event that fits your style, sign up. This is a great opportunity to be heard. Don’t be shy.
In the same vein, attend as many events as possible. Not only should you be getting your money’s worth, but the more you get out, the more opportunities you have to make connections and good friends.
Be a good citizen. If you see someone who needs help and you are able to help them, do so. This should be done regardless of where you are, but at AWP, you never know who you might be helping. You may incidentally strike up a good friendship with an editor or someone who actually has paying writing work to offer.
Drink just enough so that everyone else makes an ass of themselves. You can and should be social, but don’t get sloppy. If you want to be a professional writer, you must conduct yourself with a certain level of professionalism at these types of events. That means treating others with a friendly respect. Appear confident, but not overly superior. Be open to and appreciative of other art forms. Nice bar talk is good bar talk. And when you do go for a drink, always offer to buy one for someone else. The mileage you will get out of a simple, kind gesture is fantastic.
And above all, relax. Not only are these people also people, just like you, but the vast majority of them are nice and passionate about what they do. That is another thing. Everyone there is there because they love writing. You have something in common already.