|Hanging out with Jill at the conference!|
This past September, after months of researching, praying, and gathering all the courage I could muster, I took a deep breath, ignored the butterflies in my stomach—butterflies? It felt more like an elephant doing somersaults!—pasted a confident smile on my face, and attended my first writers conference.
When I first learned that the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) annual conference was taking place in my home state, I was thrilled! I’d planned on attending a conference for some time, so I signed up before I had a chance to chicken out.
But by the time the conference rolled around, I had done enough research to feel somewhat prepared . . . and even more nervous.
Here I was signing up for appointments, attending workshops, and sitting at the same table as multi-published authors, agents, and editors! What was I thinking?
A conference can be a daunting experience for anyone, and I think it can be even more so for teen writers. But there are a few things I learned that I think can help you enjoy a writers conference and make the most of the opportunity.
Don’t be so nervous, that you miss out on an awesome time! I got to hang out with Jill. I met Stephanie and Roseanna face to face, as well as dozens of other authors whose books I’ve read and loved, and even a few writers my age that I still keep in touch with.
A writers conference is an opportunity to meet people like you—crazy people who understand things like difficult plots and obstinate characters, and don’t mind talking about them.
Step out of your comfort zone
Going to the writers conference was a thousand-foot jump out of my comfort zone. But it stretched me, I grew through the experience, and I had a great time.
So step out of your comfort zone. Talk to people you wouldn't normally talk to. Engage adults in conversation. Being comfortable carrying on a conversation with an adult is an invaluable skill to have as a teen—and not just in the writing world.
Confidence is Key
Confidence is one of those things that you have to fake until you make it. Walking through the door with a smile on your face, looking people in the eyes, and taking the first step to introduce yourself rather than waiting for others to come up to you, are all good ways to appear confident and professional.
But at the same time . . .
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Everyone there was in your position at one point in time. They know what it means to be a first timer and a new writer, and they want you to succeed. So if you’re unsure of something, don’t hesitate to ask! Expect to have questions, have a teachable spirit, and you'll get the most out of the conference.
You don’t have to prove yourself
Because you’re a teen stepping into the professional world, you may feel like you have to prove yourself. Don’t. Yes, it’s a good idea to act professional if you want people to treat you like one. So running up and down the hallway like you’re being chased by zombies, or sneaking around humming Mission Impossible theme music is probably not the best thing to do (although if you claim it’s book research, you might be able to get away with it . . . just kidding).
For the most part, everyone is extremely encouraging. But there will be a few people who will treat you differently because of your age. One lady told me I was just just adorable and looked like I was twelve. (I’m not by the way.) But don’t get defensive. Don’t feel you have to prove yourself. A humble and gracious attitude goes a long way.
It’s not You vs. Them
I tried to get appointments with both editors and agents, and wound up with two editor appointments where I had the chance to pitch my novel. Before the conference, I hunted down and devoured every bit of information that I could find, but as I walked into my first appointment, out of everything I'd learned, two big tips stuck with me:
1. It's not you versus them. Editors and agents are seeking talent, not trying to prove that you are a failure. So don't expect to hear the executioner drums rolling as you march into your appointment. It can actually be fun!
2. Editors and agents are people just like you . . . Okay, it sounds a bit silly put like that, but it's easy to read about editors or agents and mentally set them on a pedestal like some marble statue. But they are real people with ordinary lives, families, pets, good days/bad days, just like you. So approach your appointment prepared to have a conversation with a real person. Once I got over my initial nervousness, I enjoyed my appointments and had a pleasant chat with both editors.
At the end of the day, a writers conference is a wonderful time to learn your craft, improve your skills, get feedback, make friends and meet others who are just as passionate about writing as you are!
Are you planning to attend a writers conference in the near future? What are some things you're nervous about? Any questions about writers conferences in general?
I’m off on a grand adventure at the moment—probably canoeing down a river at this moment, or probing the depths of unexplored caverns—so I won’t be able to answer any questions or comments right away, but I will get to them once I get back!
Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published Fall 2013. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.