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Getting ready for a Writers Retreat: All you need to know

Conference and retreats are wonderful opportunities for writers. How to get ready.

I'm heading to the 2019 Autumn Frost Retreat from the SCBWI. Despite the chilly weather, it promises to be a treat. I can't wait to spend 3 days learning and getting to know other writers.

So here are some tips to get ready for a retreat or a conference and take all the juice out of the experience.

Conference and retreats are wonderful opportunities for writers to meet agents, editors, and connect with other authors.


  • Prepare your pitch or pitches if you have multiple books to place or if searching for an agent. You should produce a simple elevator pitch: a one sentence premise, and a longer one where you can elaborate--the verbal equivalent of your query. Rehearse to make sure they sound natural since you will be speaking with someone. When delivering them, pay attention to your listener's cues and be ready to adjust your delivery based on their interest.

  • Print out sample pages No matter what conference organizers say, having 10 pages of your manuscript printed out (and even your query available) is a good idea. I was personally asked for a few pages on the spot during a pitch session with an agent--imagine if I hadn't had any? I could have sent them later, but I would have missed the live feedback.

  • Make simple business cards They don't need to be expensive or premium. A clean business card tells an agent, an editor, or even a fellow author that you take this work seriously. It is a sign you know what you're doing. And it will result in more visits to your website if nothing else out of curiosity.

  • Dress well--and in brand I wish it didn't matter, but our external appearance does make an impression. We don't need to look like models dressed in designer fashion. Aim for a professional and polished outfit. Think Business Casual with a touch of personality. Make sure you choose clothes that are both comfortable and will bear well after a long time sitting down. And if you dare, show your brand a bit with a quirky or special detail that will ensure people remember you. Just don't go overboard to be memorable--Outlandish or crude will always be counterproductive.

  • Research faculty (agents, editors, authors, association heads) Information is power. Learn as much as you can about the people offering workshops, keynotes, pitches, etc. You might come across them in the elevator or buying coffee, and you'd want to recognize them and have a conversation topic ready.

A word of warning: do not hound agents, editors, famous authors, etc. This will not help you. My agent recently complained about someone trying to pitch to her in a bathroom. Don't do this. Also do not stalk people online, make a million comments and like everything they post. Not ok. On the other hand, being friendly and approachable and showing you've done your research can't ever hurt.

  • Take notes Our brains can only process so much at once. Take notes during classes and workshops. You may carry a small portfolio to gather your handouts (preferably one with a place for business cards) and your cheatsheet on your pitch, sample pages, and bullet-pointed research on faculty. You may take notes on your laptop but often speakers think it disrespectful because it is not clear whether you are doing something else on your computer. Oh, and while we are on the subject of talks. Silence your phone. You don't want to be the owner of the ringing device that interrupts the speaker's punch line.

  • If you can, volunteer In many cases, conferences are organized by associations that ask for volunteers. If at all possible, help out. Giving back is a reward in itself, but it has the added benefit of providing opportunities to connect and interact with faculty and organizers. You never know who might point you in the right direction with a comment in passing. So be always helpful, open, and friendly.

  • Have cash on hand Sometimes critique spots open up last minute and they are offered to attendees on site. Because of the nature of these transactions, they are usually performed in cash, so carry a few bills just in case.

That's it. With a bit of preparation you'll be ready to make the best of your experience at a conference and come back home energized to tackle your next project.

Enjoy the opportunity to spend time with like-minded people and learn to improve your craft.

One last thing. Don't fret. Enjoy yourself and the chance to spend time with people who share your world and love for books. There's no better experience.

Dare, always. Keep writing.

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