A writers conference can be a scary thing -- especially your first one. I attended my first writer's conference by myself as an unpubbed author. I knew no one. The conference was held in the Rocky Mountains, and I walked around that week enjoying the scenery, but with my brain on overload and my confidence and esteem taking a self-inflicted beating.
I cannot even count how many writers conferences I have been to since then -- some as an attendee, some as a faculty member, and they all have been valuable. Having been on both sides of the unpubbed/pubbed fence, I'd like to make some suggestions as to what NOT to do at conference.
1.) DO NOT RETREAT TO YOUR ROOM EVERY TIME YOU HAVE FREE TIME. Some of the most valuable networking that you will do will occur in the coffee shop, the hotel lobby, lingering over a meal, in the elevator even. I met one of my favorite authors, Ted Dekker, in the elevator in Denver and since we are fellow Thomas Nelson authors, I felt as if I had made a new friend.
2.) DON'T BURN THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS TO THE POINT OF EXHAUSTION. Although you should try to go to the workshops that interest you, it's not possible to go to all of them. Sign up for the ones that are most appealing and leave some time to absorb what you've learned. Put your feet up for a few minutes after lunch or between classes and go over your notes. Leave a time slot completely vacant in order to catch your breath. Go to the bookstore and look at all the choice books available. You'll wear yourself out physically and emotionally if you don't space out your time wisely.
3.) DON'T AVOID PUBLISHED AUTHORS, EDITORS AND AGENTS. Every one of us was unpubbed at one time. And if the truth be known, every one of us has doubts about our own writing now and then (gasp!). We love to talk to our readers. The editors, publishers and agents are so ready and willing to help. You are not bothering them when you stop to visit. It is their privilege and pleasure to do so.
4.) DON'T SKIP THE WORSHIP SESSIONS AND THE KEYNOTE ADDRESSES. Some of the richest times at conference will come during these sessions. God has always spoken a particular word to my heart through the speakers and the worship. Avail yourself of some of the best speakers in the nation in Christian publishing. You'll be glad you did!
5.) One last word of advice: DON'T GET DISCOURAGED. I was at a writers conference one year when an unpubbed author left in the middle of the conference in a tailspin, because one of the editors said his work was not ready yet to be published. It is discouraging to have one editor after another shake their head, but every "no" that you receive just brings you closer to your "yes." If God has called you to write, then learn how to write at the very top level of your ability through the information you'll glean at conference. Then leave the results up to Him. Psalm 138:8 says, "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, endure forever--forsake not the works of Your own hands." God is for you!
A final "don't" -- DON'T MISS THE AFCW CONFERENCE IN INDIANAPOLIS! Perhaps I'll see you there!