Writers conferences: When the real work begins

imagesI cleared my calendar for Monday, May 4*, a month ahead of time. It would be the first business day and fully awake, alert day after this year’s three-day ASJA conference, and I would still have a lot to do. Of course.

Writers should expect a lot of homework after any conference. In addition to unpacking if travel has been involved, there’s sorting: One should return with a pile of business cards, a bunch of detailed notes on conference sessions, sample magazines, handouts, maybe giveaways, dongles, news releases, pens, bags, and who knows what else. If you don’t file it properly, you’re throwing away gold.

One the back of each business card, many of us write the date, the event, and a few words about the person to help us remember what we have in common or what to get in touch about. “Ghostwriter,” I jotted on the back of one card (the front didn’t say so). When I got home, I started an email conversation with the writer about this area of writing we share.

There may be official homework: Editors may have said, “Send me samples” or “Query me on that” or, more vaguely, “Follow up, okay?” or “Keep in touch.” They may have forgotten your name the instant you turned away, but if you draft a query the next day and mention your tete-a-tete, you’ll spark a useful, presumably pleasant memory. Six weeks down the road, you could be just another subject line to get rid of.

Notice I suggested “draft.” Don’t send it instantly. If the editor or publisher gave you feedback or taught a session, go through your notes first. Read through your sample magazine; look through more on his or her website, including the editorial calendar and other background. Make sure you’re on the right track—and proofread. Then send it quickly.

Undoubtedly, you found new markets. Whether you write for magazines, corporations, content marketing firms, or publishing houses, you surely learned of a few you didn’t know were there. Do some research. Check their editorial calendars. Look up their top employees. Draft a letter of interest or a relevant query. Mention something pertinent the person said in a session or over drinks at the bar. If you’re a member of the group that put on the conference, all the better—editors and publishers like to think they’re working with the best.

Unofficial homework includes following up with colleagues. Connect on LinkedIn; follow them on Twitter. Write emails to those you had a particularly interesting conversation with. Did one or the other of you express interest in an idea or ask a question? Follow up. This is how we learn. Conferences are much more than sessions.

Can you read your own handwriting? If not (or not really), type or copy the notes. This will reinforce what you learned. If you recorded the sessions, transcribe the good parts. Sometimes sessions you thought were great at the time don’t amount to much on the second listen. Okay. With those that do, you know what to keep.

Recharge your phone. The conference has already recharged you—although maybe you could use a nap before plunging ahead refreshed.

* Star Wars day: May the Fourth be with you.

(c) 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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