Lynn DeFilippo: Going to a Conference? Practice your pitch, bring a notebook, and don’t forget the headlamp.

many Alaskan writers, I’m getting excited for AWP, the Association of Writers
and Writing Program’s Annual Conference to be held in Seattle this year, February
26 – March 1. It’s my first time going to AWP, and I’ve been wondering what to
expect, and how to prepare. Aside from meeting up with friends I haven’t seen
in a while, what exactly am I hoping to gain from this experience?

with other writers and meeting new people are high on my list of conference
objectives. Naturally I want to attend as many conference sessions as possible,
those given by writers I admire and a smattering of craft talks outside of my
nonfiction genre, to mix it up and learn some new perspectives. And the book
fair! I just need to remember to leave space in my pack for all the new titles
I’ll acquire, not to mention the Seattle shopping. I wonder Alaskans, any of you
bringing a tote and zip ties?

So what
should an excited AWP newbie do to prepare?

First up, check out the
conference schedule
., AWPs website has the complete
schedule on line. It’s a long list, and there’s way too many cool sessions to
choose from. If you’re registered and a member of AWP, you can create an
account and use the “check here” tool to create your own conference schedule.
At the least it’s fun to get a preview of what’s being offered.

 “Writing Conference Etiquette”, written by literary agent Scott
Hoffman, offers worthy conference advice for everyone, whether you’re still
writing a book or have a completed manuscript. One important takeaway: do NOT
try to introduce yourself to an agent in the bathroom, among other places.
(Maybe after you wash your hands?)

Self Promotion. Many writers go to a conference
in hopes of meeting an agent and pitching their manuscripts. I don’t have a
published book or a manuscript to sell, but just my presence at the conference
means that I’m promoting myself as a writer. I hope to find new venues for my
essays, and I’ll use this opportunity to flesh out several of my nonfiction book
ideas into proposals. Having concise descriptions of my work, like a one or two
sentence pitch that rolls off the tongue, can only help me to be taken
seriously. Plus, you never know who you might meet.

In my
troll around the web to find some writer’s conference wisdom, I thought it
funny so many sites advised writers to bring a notebook and a pen, as well as pack
some snacks and water. Really? Those things practically live in my pack. I
daresay many Alaskans might also have their headlamps stuffed into their gear,
for those late night hotel room sneak-ins when you don’t want to wake up your
roomies, though chances are good they’ve been out partying with you. Along with
our lighters and Swiss Army knives, Alaskans will NOT be caught unprepared,
even if it’s an urban survival situation.

common tip was to have business cards to hand out. Personally, I’m not much on business
cards, at least getting them. If your number doesn’t make it to my phone
contacts, or in my notebook, it may as well not exist. But I suppose it’d be a
bummer to have an agent ask you for your card, and you don’t have one.

week, I’ll be blogging live from AWP. Hopefully I’ll bump into you—see Linda’s
comprehensive list of Alaskans at AWP posted yesterday—and you can update me on
what you find inspiring, gleaned tidbits of writerly wisdom, and all the new
people you’ve met. And if you’re not going, stay up to date by checking in here
at the 49 Writers Blog for a daily review of the AWP Conference.

Lynn DeFilippo is a teacher and
writer. She’s published a few essays in anthologies. After completing an MFA in
creative writing at UAA last year, she’s got lots of submissions out there in
the world.
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