For the last couple days we've been talking about conference - shoes and wardrobe specifically, both thing near and dear to the Playfriend's hearts. But ultimately, the conference is about learning, networking and spending several days immersed in your craft.
It can be completely overwhelming to open that large booklet of information that you get in the welcome packet. There are so many workshops scheduled for every hour of every day. How do you choose which ones to attend? The answer to that is going to be different for every person at every stage of their writing career, but I'm going to share with you some of my criteria in the hopes that it might help you stave off the panic when there are four workshops in the same hour that you really want to attend.
The first thing you need to do is set a conference goal. What do you want to accomplish? Is the most important thing this year your pitch to that dream editor or agent? If so, stop worrying about workshops so much! Do you want to increase your knowledge of POV? Do you want to concentrate on characterization? Is there some element of writing that's been pointed out to you as your weakness? Answering these questions will help you know where you need to focus.
Evaluate the workshop listings ahead of time. It's so much easier to break this step up into a few day process instead of an hour long marathon on your hotel bed. You'll be able to evaluate each workshop better if you take your time (and some breaks) while you're reading over what's offered. Print out the listing available on the RWA national site. Go through and highlight those workshops you're interested in. This will show you at a glance where you might have a conflict.
Feel free to slip in and out of workshops - as long as you do so quietly. And if you think this is a possibility I'd suggest sitting in the back of the room to make a quick exit. Everyone at conference is busy with pitch appointments, business meetings and workshops of their own. No one will mind if you have to leave in the middle of a presentation. If you get into one workshop and it isn't what you expected and you'd really like to be in the one down the hall...leave. You've paid good money to be here and should be able to get as much out of the experience as possible. There is no reason to sit through a workshop you find you don't need because there are too many others you might benefit from.
It is perfectly acceptable to attend a workshop specifically to hear the presenter - that editor, agent or author you've been dying to see. It's the perfect opportunity to learn their likes, dislikes and personality. In most cases if you're attending a workshop with an editor or agent you'll get to see how they interact with one of their authors or clients. This is invaluable information to have. A brilliant friend recently mentioned that when she's doing her highlighting if she's interested in a workshop just for the presenter she highlights their names instead of the title. It's a simple trick that reminds you why you were interested in the workshop in the first place and can help you decide at the last minute whether you really want to attend it or need a few minutes in your room to get away from the action.
And that leads me into my number one conference tip. Whatever you do, leave yourself some down time! Do not schedule yourself for every hour of your day. If you do, you'll hit a wall midway through the conference and your brain will stop absorbing the information being thrown at you. It is so easy to get up at the crack of dawn and find yourself in the bar until 2 AM during conference. Workshops are simply one aspect of the conference - an important one but not the only one. Leave time for other things like networking, socializing and sleep.
Remember, there are conference tapes available as well. Not all workshops are taped but most are so be sure and add that factor when you choose your workshops. Our local RWA chapter purchases a set of the tapes every year for the benefit of our members. If there are a couple workshops you can't seem to find the time to attend don't sweat it. Get the tapes or find someone who's planning on purchasing them and ask to borrow them. They are full of invaluable information and well worth the cost if you can swing it.
So which workshops should you attend? Obviously the ones the Playfriends and Honorary Playfriends are doing - Kira Sinclair, Kimberly Lang, Andrea Laurence, Lynn Raye Harris, Rhonda Nelson & Vicki Lewis Thompson. :-)
So, I'll help make you do step one for homework. If you're going to conference, what's your goal this year? Are there any workshops/topics that you're excited about attending?