• Meghan Ward
  • [Networking for Introverts] 10 Things You Should Take to Every Writers Conference
[Networking for Introverts] 10 Things You Should Take to Every Writers Conference
Written by
Meghan Ward
May 2015
Written by
Meghan Ward
May 2015

I thought I was so prepared at AWP 15 this year, but there were a few essentials I didn’t take that would have made my conference run much smoother:

1. Business cards

I can’t emphasize enough how much you should take a stack of business cards with you to every writers conference. I take at least 50, although I give out closer to 20.

2. Copies of your book

If you have a book published, you should never go anywhere without multiple copies. Take 20 if you can. You never know who will buy one from you. I heard a woman read last month and said, "I'd love to read your book sometime," and she said, "Well, I happen to have a copy right here" and whipped it out of her book bag. SOLD. $20 cash in her hand.

3. Post cards or book marks

You should also carry post cards or bookmarks with your book cover printed on them and give those out to everyone who asks about your book. If you speak on a panel, have a stack on the table in front of you next to your business cards. I’ve also seen people who have their book cover right on their business cards, killing two birds with one stone (as if it were a good idea to go around killing birds with stones).

4. USB stick/thumb drive/flash drive

I wish I had taken one of these to AWP! When I wanted to photocopy something, I had no way to carry the file down to the FedEx center in the Hilton or the UPS center in the conference center to print it. I had to email it to myself and then pay ($3+ $.40/minute) to use their computer to print it out before photocopying it. Big pain that a flash drive would easily have solved.

5. Handouts

I would have saved a bundle of money if I’d printed  all my handouts ahead of time rather than typing them up on the plane and printing them at the UPS office. At big hotels and conference centers, photocopy centers charge around 15 cents for black and white copies and 60 cents for color, which can cost a pretty penny if you need to print 100+ copies.

6. Layers

Weather is wacky these days, especially in the spring. It can snow one day, rain the next, and be hot and sunny the day after that—which is exactly what it did in Minneapolis last month. And no matter what the outside weather is like, conference centers can be chilly, so even if it’s sweltering outside, carry a sweater.

7. Comfortable shoes

You’ll do a lot of walking at any conference, so wear comfortable shoes. For clothing, I see most people wearing jeans or casual pants and boots (or shorts and skirts in the summer) with a nice sweater or top in case your meet your favorite agent or famous author. At the BlogHer conference I attended in 2013, women were more dressed up. I saw a lot of long sundresses and sandals (although it was Chicago in July). Bloggers seem to be fancier than writers. I think that's because they're more in the habit of selling themselves.


8. Extra room in your suitcase

You’d be surprised by how much swag you pick up at conferences—books, T-shirts, and book bags if it’s strictly a writing conference. All that plus a sack load of snacks, coupons, and toiletries if it’s BlogHer. Leave a little extra room in your bag, or bring a second bag, so you can get everything home. I’m still working my way through the nasal sprays and cough medicines I picked up at BlogHer13!


9. Snacks

Some conferences provide meals, but most don’t, and it can be challenging to find decent food in a city you’ve never visited while dashing between workshops and panels. Carry snacks—almonds and Lara Bars are my favorite—so you can re-energize when you’re feeling depleted.


10. An open mind

You never know who or what you'll encounter at a writers conference. Maybe you'll meet your agent. Maybe you won't. Maybe you'll get some great writing done. Maybe you won't write a word. Don't go with too many expectations, or you may be disappointed. Stay positive, try to make a few friends, and enjoy your time away from home.


What about you? What essentials do you take to every writers conference? What do you wish you'd taken to the last conference you attended?

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  • Patti DeNucci

    Great list and excellent comments!  As a teacher of being more intentional, I suggest you also (whether you are a presenter or attendee) take a moment to write out a few intentions for the event:

    What do you intend to experience and learn?

    What challenges or issues do you need solved?

    What resources or inspiration are you seeking?

    Who do you intend to meet (you can list people by name or simply describe the kinds of people you want to meet and spend time with)

    How do you want to feel while you're at the event?

    You will be amazed at how much more focused and aware you are - and how this simple act positively impacts your experience!

  • Ruth Feiertag

    Those are wonderful and useful suggestions. I have another: carry an interesting pen. I have had numerous people start conversations with me about my fountain pens. It's surprising what people notice and remember.

    And I agree that a notebook is essential. I suggest a notebook that has pages that can be torn out rather than a journal-style one. Sharing supplies is another way to make new contacts. Extra pens (inexpensive ones that you won't mind going astray) are also good to carry. Someone always needs one.

    Regarding Meghan's suggestion number 5: I have never had a hotel charge me for using its business center, not even when I have been printing out multiple revisions of a paper at two (and three and four) in the morning and then coming back to churn out handouts. It might be a good idea to check with the place you're staying beforehand to find out whether you need to weigh down a suitcase with handouts.

    Thank you, Meghan!


  • Judy Reeves

    Thanks for all the tips. I'm an extrovert so conferences might be easier for me. Still a conference like AWP can really sap the energy. I need to take breaks, and especially to get outside and breathe fresh! air. And walk, too. A notebook for jotting down what I know I won't remember; chocolate! a pocketful of almonds, and scoping out a semi-quiet place I can sit between sessions if I don't have time to get outside. Oh, and I always take a scarf that opens wide enough to cover my shoulders and arms in those always over-a/ced conference rooms.

  • These tips are just what I needed as I have two conferences I'm attending this summer: SCBWI and AROHO. For the last conference I attended I took a notebook and a smile. Snacks, lavender oil, and a sweater/shawl for those air-conditioned rooms would have helped.

    Since I'm not published (looking for an agent) what are your thoughts on business cards? I've thought about printing my 35-word pitch on the back of one, lol. 

  • I always take a bottle of lavender oil to make the hotel room (or just my pillow) smell like home, which makes relaxing and falling asleep much easier. And herbal tea bags so I don't have to overdose on caffeine.

    I also look at the schedule ahead of time and then on my own schedule write in a couple of 15 minute breaks during the day to go outside and get some fresh air and light--the bright light outside helps keep me awake and alert (even on an overcast winter day, there is still more light outside than inside a meeting hall)


  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    I hoped you'd say to bring an open mind. I wonder if it's dangerous to bring an open heart as well. Lots of good pieces are written from the heart and edited from the gut. JMHO. 

    And now...back to reading submissions to Writer Advice's Flash Prose Contest. 


  • Helen Gallagher

    I always add a small notebook, for the ideas and flashes of inspiration, as well as writing names of new contacts, perceptions, and for journalling during the moments between sessions. Loved the Dickinson Quiet Room at AWP!

  • Mardith Louisell

    Thanks, Meghan, for good tips. I was glad I had printed out the details for the AWP workshops I was considering. That way I knew if there was someone whom I wanted to talk to and if one workshop was full, onward with the help of my printouts. The conference booklet, huge as it was, didn't have all the information about the presenters. Save time for looking at the bookfair - a great place to find out about  presses for your book and magazines for your essays or stories. I didn't realize the bookfair would be so helpful and have SO MUCH (1800 booths). I didn't make it to all I wanted but did make a note of those I especially wanted to visit and managed those.

  • Hope J Lafferty

    11. A full voice

    I often lecture and run workshops at the conferences I attend, and even though I have to gear up for it, I enjoy trolling the trade show floor and just plain networking. Despite all the great interactions, I always finished conferences hoarse and exhausted. I wore my soar throat as a badge of honor, but something had to change. I tried an experiment where I allowed myself a lot more quiet time between events. That did the trick. Full voice on the first day, full voice on the last. And I had just as much fun.