Making the Most of Your Conference Experience

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by Mindy Obenhaus

Time is ticking away. In only six short weeks, hundreds of Christian fiction writers will converge on the Mile-High City for ACFW’s annual conference. Whoo-hoo!

Whether this is your first ACFW conference or your tenth (though I’m pretty sure they haven’t had that many), you want to get everything out of your conference that you can. Take this pre-conference time to start asking God to prepare you for the conference experience He wants you to have. I speak from personal experience when I say that if you head off to conference and you’re not prayed up, the evil one is going to attack from any angle he possibly can and ruin your entire conference.

One of the first things I like to do when I arrive at the conference hotel, after after greeting all the familiar faces in the lobby and finally making it to my room, is familiarize myself with the layout of the hotel. Where will the keynote sessions be held? Where are the workshop rooms? Where is the prayer room? And for those people who gotta have their Starbucks, where the coffee shop is located.

No doubt you’ll spot many familiar faces/names along the way. Aren’t those name badges wonderful? Even if you’ve never been to an ACFW conference, you’ll recognize lots of names from the loop. Often times, it just feels like you know them already. Don’t be afraid to say hi and introduce yourself.

What’s that?

You’re shy.

Don’t worry. A lot of writers are. But I would challenge even the shiest person to leave an ACFW conference without making at least one new friend. This is just that kind of group.

Aside from those agent/editor appointments Lindi mentioned yesterday, you will also have the opportunity to sit with them at some of the meals. Don’t let this intimidate you. I know it scared the fire out of me at my first conference. Especially after someone told me I’d get to pitch. YIKES!

Yes, some of them will give you the opportunity to pitch. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Instead, take the opportunity to ask them questions. Get to know them, their likes and dislikes. Editors/agents are people first. They have bad days, just like we do. They get tired, just like we do. Be considerate.

Speaking of tired . . . by Sunday morning, you may fall asleep on your breakfast. There’s so much to do, and you don’t want miss any of it. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it all. I know that if I let myself get run down, my throat starts to hurt and before you know it, I’m coming down with the latest form of the creeping crud. Listen to your body and get the rest it requires. If you’re in a workshop and you realize A) you can’t keep your eyes open, B) that it’s repeating things you’ve already learned, or C) over your head, then quietly gather your things, go back to your room and take a power nap. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. People are in and out of workshops all the time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to go. In closing, here are my top ten conference tips:

~DO dress in layers. Those meeting rooms can be freezing or stuffy.
~DON’T stress out over having to make every workshop.
~DO bring a good attitude. Yes, there will be lines. No, things won’t be perfect. Choose to adapt.
~DON’T forget your business cards. Even if you’re not planning to meet with any editors or agents, you’ll want them available to exchange with friends.
~DO bring a few just-in-case items, like safety pins and band aids. Nothing worse than to discover those new shoes are rubbing a blister on your heel or that you’ve popped a button. Sewing kits, if not in the room, can usually be obtained from guest services.
~DON’T plan to break in a new pair of shoes at conference. Trust me on this one.
~DO allot a portion of your conference budget for tipping. Skycap at airport – $1 per bag if you check-in curbside; $2 per bag if skycap takes bags to check-in counter; Bellhops – $1 per bag if they bring your bags to your room ($2 minimum); Hotel housekeeper – $2-$5 per day. Hey, anyone who cleans my bathroom and makes my bed is worth that!
~DON’T take it personally if an editor/agent doesn’t ask to see any of your work. Your manuscript may not be a fit for them or it may need work. Remember, this is their business. They’re not trying to hurt you.
~DO make at least one trip to the prayer room. You’ll be glad you did.
And finally –

~DON’T corner your targeted agent/editor in the bathroom (or anywhere else) and try to pass them your manuscript!

What are some of your top conference tips?

Mindy Obenhaus makes her home in Texas where she pens tales of romance and suspense. This mom of five and grandmother of four is an active member of ACFW, as well as her local chapter, DFW Ready Writers. She’s been a Genesis coordinator for the last two years and has judged many contests, encouraging other writers, motivating them to press on.

Mindy Obenhaus
F.A.I.T.H. blog–6 unique authors, 6 unique personalities, 1 awesome God

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