Top Ten Tips to Survive a Writers Conference


Tip #1: Begin with the end in mind.

You’ve heard this phrase, I’m sure. I find it’s a great practice with conferences. You’ve chosen to put your time, energy and money into attending a writers’ conference. How do you want to feel when you get home? The answer to this key question guides me throughout the whirl of a busy conference. Ask yourself, do you want to feel inspired, satisfied, appreciated, educated, informed? Do you want to feel happy because you connected with other writers? Do you want to feel as if you have clarity, a sense of direction that you didn’t have before the conference? I start with this question before I head out the door.


Tip #2: Choose one “must” for each morning, afternoon and evening of the conference.

You can do more but having these “musts” focuses you for the day and helps assure you’ll get your desired “return on investment” (ROI). I’m less likely to get distracted or get overwhelmed. Listening to a keynote speech, attending a particular workshop, sitting in on a spotlight with a publisher, doing a pitch to an agent or editor, dinner with friends away from the conference hotel—any of these can be the one “must” for your morning, afternoon or evening.


Tip #3: Allow for serendipity.


Going with the unexpected can be part of a great conference experience. One year, I attended a conference in Washington, D.C., and a publishing professional I’d known casually for years invited me to join her on a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial. My brother-in-law is a disabled Vietnam combat veteran and recipient of a number of medals, including a Silver Star. This impromptu visit to the Wall stands out as one of my top conference experiences. In an oblique way, it has everything to do with me as a writer, and my companion that day and I became close friends. Serendipity. Allow for it in whatever ways work for you.


Tip #4: Don’t “mind read.”

I was in the elevator at a big, intense conference when a mega-bestselling writer jumped in just as the doors were about to close. She was bursting at the seams to get to a bathroom. A little while later, I ran into people she’d passed who were griping because she’d run off, ignoring them. They pegged her as a self-important snob who thought they were beneath her attention. Not the case. A cautionary tale to avoid trying to read minds!


Tip #5: Choose personal and professional boundaries wisely.


In other words, are you sure you want to take your spouse and kids to the conference with you? If the answer is yes, as it has sometimes been for me, agree up front on the rules of the game. Again, begin with the end in mind.


Tip #5: Block out some alone time.

It doesn’t have to be a long time or interfere with your schedule but I can remember feeling like an over-stimulated toddler by the third day of a long conference. My answer is to room alone but that wasn’t always in my budget. A bath, a cup of tea on our own, a few minutes reading in a quiet spot can all restore and energize us.


Tip #6: Beware ego, entitlement and envy.

Conferences can bring out the best and the worst in us and others. No question, the slings and arrows at a conference brimming with writers, editors, agents and other publishing professionals can sting. Fatigue, the crush of information and options, the parties and dinners you don’t get invited to, the pitch session your friend nailed and you blew—it’s all too easy to, as my sister would put it, to sit on our pity pots, or, perhaps worse, send out a few pointed arrows of our own. Often it’s not what happens that gets us. It’s how we think about it. It’s our choice to allow a conference to bring out the best in us.

Top Ten Tips to Survive a Writers Conference

Tip #7: Bring a sweater and comfortable shoes.

While in Beverly Hills a few years ago, I happened to be at a hotel where a fancy Hollywood function was being held. Tucked in a corner with a book, I saw one well-dressed woman after another arrive in comfy shoes, whip a pair of expensive drop-dead heels out of a bag, change into them and head off. Killer heels for an evening event is one thing, quite another tramping from one end of a conference hotel to the other. And even though I’m from northern New England, there’s nothing, I swear, more bone-chilling than hotel meeting rooms. More than once I’ve appreciated having a sweater tucked in my bag.


Tip #8: Accept that you can’t do it all.


A one-day conference can be packed full with workshops and events, but a multi-day national conference is sure to be. No way to do it all! I love the personal interaction of attending a workshop but I make a point of buying workshop recordings. Some of the best workshops I’ve “attended” were at home!


Tip #9: As my mother used to say, you can never go wrong with good manners.

My friend Jennifer McCord’s mother told her the same thing. This is good advice she shared with writers: “My mother held the value in our family that etiquette and good manners were important. For me that has meant following up with thank you notes, phone calls, or emails. It has been through this kind of follow up that I have developed a valuable network within the writing, publishing and bookselling industry.”


Tip #10: Enjoy!

I saved my top tip for last. Looking back on the scores of conferences I’ve attended, I can tell you the best and most productive were the ones I made a point of kicking back, lightening up and enjoying myself. Whether you’re attending your first conference or your hundredth, I hope you have a great time!



Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels of contemporary romance and romantic suspense, including her popular Sharpe & Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 30 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, she lives with her family in New England. Liar’s Key, the next installment in the Sharpe & Donovan series, will be released August 30th. Please visit her at