It’s that time again.
The San Francisco Writers Conference is officially here. This is one I’ve attended every year since before I was an agent, and I wouldn’t miss it. Over the greater Presidents’ Day Weekend, 500 writers, agents, editors, freelancers, PR professionals, etc. pack the famous Mark Hopkins hotel atop Nob Hill. It’s wonderfully hectic and consistently ranked a top 3 writers conference in America.
If you’ve never attended a conference like this, it can be overwhelming. Here are some tips for getting the most out of a conference of this magnitude using the simplest of tools available to you: the conference schedule.
As the conference approaches, visit their website to see whether or not they post the schedule online. If so, which is fairly common for a conference of this size, you’re in luck (and if not, just show up the minute registration opens on the first day, and skip to the next paragraph). A day or two before the conference, the schedule online should be almost, if not exactly, the same as the one they’ll give you when you arrive. Print it out.
Go through the schedule, and based on what you’re writing and your goals for the conference, determine which sessions you should attend. Mark a path through each day so you don’t have to try to make those decisions on the fly when you’re in the thick of it. Trust me, otherwise you’ll overlook some important sessions, make some bad impulse decisions, or just end up getting a scattered, rather than focused, education.
Having that physical copy helps because you can highlight/annotate to your heart’s content, which I highly recommend. If you’re writing cozy mysteries, and there’s a famous cozy author teaching a workshop, an agent who represents cozies, a forensics expert discussing crime scenes, etc., you should have that person marked as one to approach, whether at their session or at the mixer that evening. Another great thing about having a physical copy of the schedule is that you’ll have something to fall back on, should your phone run out of charge.
That’s another thing. Even though you have the paper in hand, if you want to take this to the next level, you should embrace the technology that’s available to you. Once you’ve decided on your sessions, consider inputting them into the calendar on your phone. You can add room numbers and people of interest, and you can have reminders pop up on the screen as each event approaches. Most smartphones can do this. If you have that information coming to you, rather than you going to that information, you end up not having to waste time flipping through your schedule before you find and then head to the next session like everyone else. You’ll get some of the best seats in the house, especially if you first show up to the conference early and study the layout of the hotel.
Also, when you’re reviewing the schedule, note any special sessions that you have to sign up for once you arrive at the conference. This often includes agent pitch sessions, where you have to book a certain agent at a certain time, or sign up for a certain time block in a group pitch session. If you’ve planned your schedule ahead of time, you can hit these signups right away and get the ones that work with your schedule. At SFWC, they also offer 3-hour intensive classes in addition to the main conference. Planning ahead of time and signing up right away will make sure you don’t end up trying to get in after they’ve sold out.
Of course, sometimes conferences have last minute scheduling changes, so make sure you compare what you’ve prepared with the schedule that they hand you when you arrive. Again, most of the time the online schedule from a few days prior will be accurate, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
And don’t forget to have fun. Yes, you should be organized, and yes, you should approach this with the same discipline as any other job, but you’re also doing something you enjoy. You’re going to have a great time and learn a lot.