Going to the conference? Already wondering what to pack? Here's a check list for you:
1. Pack a mental image of the people you want to connect with. If this is your first conference, you're going to be meeting a lot of friends you currently know only in cyberspace. Before my first conference, one of my cyberpals admitted he'd gone to his friends' Facebook pages and downloaded a close-up shot of them so he could recognize them when he saw them. That sounded creepy at first, but it's still a great idea to study the images so you'd know who's who. If you are planning to pitch to agents and editors, be sure you know what they look like, too. That way, if you have one of those wonderful elevator happenstances, you can take full advantage.
2. Pack a smile, a hug, and a firm handshake--and keep them close to the top, so you can grab them at a moment's notice. Of course, you probably couldn't chisel that smile off your face if you wanted to. This is an exciting time. I'm just warning you, next time you need this trio this much will be at a family reunion (well, if you have a family consisting of over 600 members).
3. Pack a spare memory--and I don't mean for your computer. If you're anything like me, the minute you find yourself in the position you've been dreaming about for a year, absolutely everything you've prepared is going to fly out of your brain through your left ear. If you can't keep your wits about you, at least have a spare.
4. Pack your wits to keep about you.
5. Pack your rhino-hide. If you're getting ready for any kind of interaction with an agent, editor, or mentor, be prepared just in case what you hear isn't what you were hoping for. And remember not to take anything personally. These folks are on your side, and any information they give you is for your benefit.
6. Pack your woot! just in case you do hear what you were hoping for.
7. Pack your grace, humility, and love if you're a finalist in one of the contests. Win or lose, you'll need them (and if you win, you can always whip out your woot!).
Oh, and don't forget the practical things--you know, clothes, shoes, deo, etc. I don't mind playing the role of mom. "Don't forget your toothbrush!"
1. Clothes. (Yes, clothes. Stating the obvious is part of my charm.) The conference is in August this year, and August in the South is warm (again, stating the obvious) but the hotel/conference rooms may not be. If you tend to chill easily--and I don't mean attitude--pack something to wrap up in.
While I'm on the subject of clothes, I want to reiterate something I've said often before an ACFW Conference. This is a big deal for a lot of folks. We're all professionals--we need to remember that and dress the part. You don't have to have a wardrobe of three-piece suits and straight skirts that require infant steps in order to move from point A to point B, but slacks and nice blouses/shirts work.
The banquet Saturday night is a formal affair, which doesn't mean you have to dress in an evening gown (you can if you own one), but definitely glam up as much as your budget allows.
These days, we're allowed a costume night, when each of us can dress as according to our genre or characters. If you're participating in this, don't forget all the components that make up your costume. And don't forget to bring your camera.
Oh, and if you're one of those people I admire, envy, and wish to high heavens I could emulate (but gave up trying years ago), pack your workout clothes. The hotel has a gym.
2. Shoes--the comfortable kind you can race around in. My preference, since I hate shoes, is the kind I can slip out of easily so I can sit at a table barefooted (which reminds me, I need a pedicure).
Did I tell y'all what happened to me last year? I tried the stride of Lauren Bacall, but looked like Lucy on Vitameatavegamin. Then, just seconds before a mentor appointment, I realized the toe of the sole had curled toward the heel of the shoe, which made rushing to my appointment nigh unto impossible. I yanked both shoes off and ran barefooted from one end of the Hyatt Regency to the other. Moral of the story: take an extra pair of comfortable shoes.
Of course, since there are special dress-up days, you'll need special dress up shoes. I, however, have served my time in stilettos and platforms, so I'll stay with my low-heeled shoes. The ones that have the soles glued on tight.
3. Perfume--Don't pack that, or if you do, don't plan to wear it to conference classes, appointments, meals, banquets, book signings, etc. Since there are people who have allergies, it's best not to inadvertently send someone into a sneezing frenzy just as the speaker is delivering the punch line.
4. Hairspray, etc. If you're flying--and this is the first time you've ever flown--you may want to be careful what you pack in your carry-on. I'd totally forgotten the regulations about bottled/canned items and MSB and I both wound up with our hairsprays being thrown in the trash during the security check.
I'd always heard to take a carry-on that holds enough things to tide you over until the airlines located your luggage in Kyoto, Japan. But what I didn't realize is that so many things we use daily can't be carried on planes anymore. So, study the regs and know what is allowed and in what sizes.
I hope this helps someone, even though these are things travel-savvy adults already know to do. But it gives me something to write about.
By the way: are you ready for your interview at the ACFW Conference? Do you have your query letter, proposal, a quick and coherent description of your book and why you think it'll fit with the folks you're pitching to? Do you have your elevator pitch down pat? Do you have a pitch partner who calls you at odd hours and orders, "Spit it out!" to catch you off guard, just like running into your favorite agent or editor would.
I imagine you do--if you've finished your novel, pitching it may be the primary reason you're going to the conference. If you aren't prepared, get a move on--times a'wastin'!
But even if you're not pitching, you should have a business card to hand to anyone you want to connect with. Name and contact info are the very least you should put on the card. Identify yourself as an author--or if you're an editor attending the conference to find clients, identify your editing business. A picture of yourself is always nice, but not necessary. Your brand, if you have one, or the genre you write in. It's not too late to design and order these. I'm sure folks have their preferred on-line store they order from, but I'm fond of Vistaprint.
Do you have a new release? Or a soon-to-be released? How about something to promote it while you're at the conference? A postcard, a bookmark, or maybe a pen. Or maybe there's something else you can create, something that's inexpensive yet will still remind the recipients of you and your book. Definitely consider its size and weight while you're deciding what promo item to design. Make sure it's travel-friendly.
Last year, there were over 600 in attendance. That isn't just 600 writers, although that alone is worthwhile because it's 600 potential friends to turn to when you need them. But it's also 600 potential readers, 600 potential promotion helpers, and 600 connections to even more potential readers and promotion helpers. It's a huge group of people you can choose mentors from or you can be a mentor to. It's an opportunity to receive or pay forward or pay back. It isn't a time for shyness. If you've spent the money to get there and stay there (The Omni ain't cheap!), then make the absolute most of every minute you are there.
The best part, to me, of the conference is memory building and friendship developing. Cyberspace is wonderful and cyberpals are invaluable, but when space is diminished to a hug away and cyberpals take on flesh . . . there's nothing better. Moments to treasure. So, yeah, take advantage of the opportunity to get your name out there. Be creative, be prepared. But also expect to be blessed beyond imagining.
Which reminds me. I need to take a huge stock of tissues and my waterproof mascara. Anyone who cries as easily as I do shouldn't be caught without them.
So. There ya have it--the entire spiel. If I don't see you before the conference, I hope to see you there!