If you’ve got a book written and want to sell it or if you’re working towards it, strongly consider attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I hadn’t done it before. I went to Backspace once. I’ve attended workshops and classes, but this is the first time I’ve been steeped in such company for four days straight and you know what? I found my tribe.
I spent those days surrounded by talented people who commute to their imaginary worlds as often as I do. It was amazing, comical, and incredibly inspiring. I have always been wary of writers in large groups (stupidly, it turns out). The comical aspect is from the sheer introverted nature of many of us. I’ve developed a decent extrovert shell over the years, but it was well cracked by Saturday and fully broken by Sunday. What emerged was my actual self, all gay and nerdy, and nobody cared.
Turns out writers are a wacky, accepting bunch. I had the pleasure of sitting at lunch next to one of my top three favorite authors, Gail Carriger. I met award winning writers I deeply respect like Carol Berg, amazing agents like Michelle L. Johnson, and incredible editors; but aside from the industry exposure, I had the privilege of meeting writers who write speculative fiction. What struck me first, deeply, was how social we could all be despite how distinct we are. The complete lack of competitiveness and the willingness to cheer each other on was inspiring. The drive and talent of these people is uplifting, and the sense that we’re all in it together, whether published or striving, gave me a sense of wonder.
If you take my advice, and attend in 2015, which I hope you will, here are my tips:
- Bring business cards. Bring a lot of them. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive. Just make sure they’ve got your name, contact information including any social media sites, and your genre(s). I printed mine at home.
- Give your card to anyone you talk to. Take their card. Stay in touch after the conference.
- Talk to people. Ask them what they write. Tell them what you write. When you see someone you don’t know, speak to them, even if they’re not someone you’d never normally speak to. They’re probably a writer.
- Participate. Workshops are great and they’re often taught by amazing people. Before you go, read the program. Know what you need to bring. Buy or print the handouts. Read the instructions. Getting my first chapter beat up in front of 50 people sucked. You know what sucks more? Not being a better writer.
- Unplug as much as you can. I live on the Internet, but when you’ve got Gail Carriger teaching a master workshop on the history of steampunk, do you really need to know what’s going on with Facebook? You paid to be here. Engage. Like any program, it only works for you if you work for it.
- Drink lots of water and take vitamins. This altitude can be brutal on newbies. It’s rare I don’t have a cup of coffee in hand, but I counter each cup with two glasses of water to balance out the dehydration. Take a ton of vitamin C (to boost your immune system) and fish oil (for the dryer air). Wash your hands thoroughly and don’t touch your face. You’re going to be shaking a lot of hands, and should, but try to avoid getting sick.
- Relax, but not too much. These people are just like you. They are in the same place. Chances are they are feeling what you’re feeling. That said, it’s still a business you’re trying to break into. Dress in jeans, but jeans without holes. Have a glass of wine at dinner, but don’t get drunk. If in doubt what to wear, I’ll give you the same advice I give someone flying for the first time: dress like you’re having lunch with your future in laws. No need to wear a dress or suit, but you don’t want to be covered in food or in my case, wads of cat hair.
- Thank the volunteers and people who put it together. These people work very hard at this, usually for free. They’re also sometimes good for a hug when you really need one (just ask first cause personal space and everything).
- Read the books of the authors before you go. I hadn’t read Chuck Wendig before the conference. That made me feel like I wasn’t getting a lot of what the others who had were. It also meant I felt weird bumping into him.
- Similar to #9, research the attendees. Look up the agents, authors, and editors in advance. Follow them on twitter. Find out which house or agency they’re with. Know what they’ve published.
- Talk to the authors, even the ones outside your genre. If you’ve read this blog you know I think we need to stretch ourselves. Two of my friends are award-winning crime writers. I learn a lot from them about pacing and technique, even if their books don’t have any orcs.
- Be organized. Print the pages you’ll need for the workshops well in advance (the hotel printers are often taxed). Put the pages in a manila folder so they don’t get crunched (you’ll be given a lot of stuff each day and it will all swish around in your bag). A few extra pens are always wise. I divide my days into folders for each day and make backups but I’m clumsy and kind of forgetful. I need backups.
- Use that badge thingy. Wear it. Own it. If you think it’s geeky, well it is, but we’re all wearing one. And it’s got all these great secret little pockets for cards and pens and the bat-breath mints. Plus your meal tickets and pitch cards are in there. Lose those and you’re screwed.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to be in them all day.
- Wear layers. The hotel’s temperature can vary room to room. Having a jacket meant I could lose it, zip it, or loan it when the AC went wonky.
- Say hi when you see me there.