Why you should be planning your 2016 Conference Schedule NOW!

So September is almost over, and I have been looking at my writing calendar for the rest of the year. I have queries out to Agents, a novel MS in line edits, one short story ready for submission and another in progress, and of course my next novel length WIP underway. Oh and I am working on this blog, building my author platform and beta reading for four other writers.

Of course I haven’t listed my day job, professional events, wife, two kids, two cats, house, church, kids soccer, holidays, laundry, dishes…

Busy.

And I need to sleep and eat sometimes too.

Hmphg. Too busy.

I feel like if I blink, 2016 will be here and I won’t have finished much. Of course that is the wrong attitude, just because I haven’t finished doesn’t mean I haven’t accomplished much.

In my ‘day job’ I am an architect. I design and build projects that take years to complete. The work is a marathon, with a bunch of hills and turns and the occasional sprint to the finish, much like writing. Among the many things my professional work has taught me, I know I need to have a plan, or at least a map to get where going. A napkin sketch can be brilliant, but if there isn’t a plan to transform it into a completed work, it will only ever be a napkin sketch. I want my writing to be more than pencil scrawled on a note card or three words on a post-it note (That is how many ideas start for me. More on that in another post)

With all of these big audacious goals, I need a plan.

2015, was a good year for me. I planned to attend 2 writer’s conferences and to get my current novel to a point where is ready for submission.  I made it to the NY Pitch Conference and the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference.  Both were great conferences. I am also going to NY Comic Con this year with my son, purely as a fan. You’ll notice I picked three conferences in New York City. I am lucky in that I live in New Jersey, so I can save some cost on NYC Conferences by commuting in and out of the city on event days. I still have the cost of the conference itself and the time away from work and family, but I figure the savings in travel cost allows me to get to one additional conference a year.

In 2016 I am hoping to get to five events:

  • An event where I can learn skills to improve my craft as a writer.
  • An event where I can network with other writers in speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy or horror).
  • An event where I can pitch my new projects (assuming I don’t have representation yet).
  • An event where I can improve my author platform by speaking on a panel, or giving a workshop.
  • An event where I can learn more about the publishing world and network with publishing professionals.

You’ll notice I said ‘events’ not ‘conferences’. This is an important distinction for me as one Conference might capture more than one of those events. There are also other opportunities online to do one or more of these things, if I can’t attend a conference.

For me personally, live conferences are the best opportunity. They have a few distinct advantages over other types of events.

  1. I have to make a time and financial commitment long before the conference occurs. This forces me to budget my time both to prepare for the conference and for the event itself. If I’ve paid a lot of money to go and focus on my writing, I am far less inclined to let other things distract me from my goals for that event.
  2. I spend time with my tribe. Writing can be very lonely, and going to conferences I get to spend time with other writers. It is great fun to find a diverse array of people who are all committed to writing. I am always thrilled to let my geek flag fly full mast and dig deep on great writing, amazing books and the people who craft them.
  3. There are things that you can only learn by being there. If you are a sports fan (like me) you certainly know it is a different experience to watch a game on TV than it is to go to a live event. Writer’s conferences can be like that. Listening to a great writer get choked up over their own words, or seeing the passion an Agent has for an Author they represent is a special experience. Those moments stoke the fire in my own belly and can keep me going for months to come.
  4. You will build a network beyond what you might expect. I have made amazing friends at writer’s conferences. While this can be a somewhat intangible goal, I can’t express enough how valuable it has been for me. Making those connections beyond just craft feeds my soul.

Sounds great, right? But it is only September, why do I need to plan now? I can start to look at these events at the start of the new year. That is what resolutions are for!

Sure, you can wait, but for me I need to plan now. I am figuring I’ll go to at least 2, if not 3-4 Conferences in 2016. I need to start to figure out which ones and build a plan. Here is why:

  • 3-4 Conferences is potentially 3-4 weekends away from home and perhaps a few days off work. Maybe I can plan one of these to align with a family vacation, or work travel. Either way I need to get things lined up with work and home schedules.
  • Conferences are not cheap. I need to build a budget that captures all the costs of going. (look for a future blog post on budgeting for a conference). If I plan ahead I can make sure I get the best deals on registration and travel.
  • Do I need to sign up early for a Pitch Slam, or apply early for Private Appointment? Even if I am not sure I will be ready to pitch I want to make sure I get the opportunity.
  • What do I need to write before these conferences? Should I be updating my pitch, my synopsis, my first chapter? (Yes to all three!)
  • What else might I need? (business cards, an awesome cosplay, comfortable shoes)
  • What about the other fun stuff? Is there an author I want to meet who is going to do a book signing there? Are some of my other writer friends going?

I realize this is all months and months away, but so is the publication of my current book and probably yours (fingers and toes crossed). Even if you are a pantser, you should start thinking about your conference plan for next year.

Do you need help figuring out where to start? My suggestion is that you make your own list of events you want to attend and then take a look my Pitching Opportunities page for information on upcoming conferences and pitch events. If there is a Conference that you are thinking about attending that isn’t on my list, please let me know.

writers helping writers

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