Going to a Writers’ Conference: Newbie Edition

My life made a sharp turn over the weekend. The vehicle for this shift was a writing conference. If you are interested in attending one but have never gone, here’s what this newbie learned!

Fellow Persephoneer Bryn Donovan wrote a great article about her experience at a romance writers’ conference about a year ago, which I read and thought, “That must be neat!” never thinking that I might go to a writing conference myself. Ever.

bottle covered in burlap and holding wildflowers and wheat

Lo and behold, someone told me about a local conference that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to attend, and I realized I didn’t have any other excuse not to go to one. I am so glad I went because I learned a ton in the workshops, networked a bunch with other local writers, and felt inspired and encouraged by the keynote speaker, Jane Kirkpatrick.

However, before I got there, I had no idea what to expect beyond the nebulous concept of meeting with agents and acquisition editors and taking workshops. Off to Google I went, and I spent a significant amount of time researching what to expect, what to bring, how to dress, etc. There are many websites to scour for information, so I’ll summarize what I learned and go from there.

What to Expect:

Long hours! Seriously, that first day wiped me out. I stayed up late making sure I had everything prepared for the next day. I woke up early to avoid traffic. Registration was at 8:30 a.m., and things didn’t wrap up until after 8 p.m. For a shy introvert who was trying to network with crowds of strangers, it was exhausting. Fortunately, I found a sofa in a remote corner of the facility hosting the conference and was able to take a power nap before dinner. Bonus: I could recharge my cell phone while I napped, and I had enough energy to meet more people during dinner instead of sitting there blankly and ignoring those around me.

couch in the corner of a room, with an electrical outlet right next to it
I was so lucky to find this in a tucked away corner for my power nap! I was stoked to see the outlet right there as well as my phone was starting to give out.

All kinds of different writers. Within the mix of attendees were writers all over the spectrum. Obviously, there were different preferred genres, but there were writers with varying levels of experience as well. The first person I met had only ever written down her personal story and was there just to learn and meet other writers. (Side note: she has an incredible story!) Other writers were old pros and then there a bunch of us somewhere in the middle.

Opportunities. I cannot stress enough how many opportunities I had to improve as a writer. I signed up for two group critique sessions where I was able to meet with an agent based in Oregon and an acquisition editor from NYC. At the session, I quickly learned how to pitch a story. I also met in a one-on-one setting with a published author who read over a short piece that I brought with me and gave me some great feedback. Beyond these sessions, there were scads of workshops covering areas like marketing, writing a book proposal, how to start and end a piece, building your platform, and silencing the critics – inner and outer.

What to Bring:

[fancy_list style=”check_list” variation=”teal”

  • A water bottle
  • Mints, gum, or wisps
  • Business cards (I got some with basic contact info on it, but from what I hear, it’s important to have your photo on them as well.)
  • Pens, pencils
  • Notebook or notepaper
  • Manuscript, book proposal, excerpts – any or all of the above
  • Lotion and hand sanitizer
  • Headphones/earbuds and iPod/phone (in case you need to take an introvert moment away from everyone)
  • Snacks (in case you get cranky with low blood sugar like me)
  • A 3-ring binder to keep all of this stuff in one place


This is not a complete list of everything that you could bring, but it should at least give you a starting point.

writing binder with inserts and example of a business card
If you get a binder with a place for an insert, I recommend putting your name and contact info in it in case you misplace it. Also, it’s nice to get a zippered pouch you can stash inside your binder to keep track of smaller items. Finally, the bottom is an example of a business card you can get printed at Staples. This is one of their premade templates that I adjusted for my own purposes. Sadly, I do not have a photo on it, but it worked well for quick info swapping with new people!

How to Dress:

Some of the articles I read about what to wear mentioned that people who have already made a name for themselves tend to dress more uniquely and the way that they are most comfortable. Because I am an aspiring writer, and I didn’t want to turn anyone off by my appearance, I opted for a rather neutral look without going too bland.

Be comfortable but professional. Yes, you will be in workshops and meetings all day, but you will also be networking with other writers and making professional contacts. So resist the urge to wear yoga pants! Even if you do not intend to pitch a specific project, you will still be making an impression on everyone around you, and you will probably want to be taken seriously. I know I did!

This may be a regional thing, but I did not wear a suit and nice heels. Truth be told, I do not currently own a suit, and I can’t stand heels longer than four hours, let alone a 12 hour day! I chose black flats, nice jeans, a dressy top, and a long black cardigan with jewelry that was still my style without being over the top. I kept makeup basic. This outfit was comfortable enough to wear all day

I hope this has been informative! If you have further questions regarding writing conferences, hit us up in the comments, and for those of you who are more advanced in their writing careers than I am, let me know what I missed!

By Dormouse

Bilingual (and a half) white girl who spent thirteen of her formative years in Africa. She is a writer, mentor, coffee drinker, wife, cat owner, language lover, photography dabbler, aspiring speaker, and a lifetime student. She keeps her writing going over at

10 replies on “Going to a Writers’ Conference: Newbie Edition”

The short story I had critiqued was about two kids who didn’t want to go back to church Sunday night, having gone to three services already in the morning, and the fallout that then happens. It was short, humorous, and took a good-natured poke at church culture, which is my upbringing. I’m not sure how to classify that as a genre though…contemporary humor? Other than that, I enjoy writing science fiction and fantasy. :)

I would definitely encourage you to look into it. I am still learning from this conference because I have recordings from the workshops I couldn’t attend (there were a lot that were overlapping). And honestly, it’s nice to network with other writers in the area and not feel so alone. :)

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