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Thursday, April 17, 2014

4 Ways to Get More from ASJA (or Another Writers' Conference) This Year

I'm gearing up for the annual ASJA Writers' Conference April 24-26 in Manhattan next week. Please let me know if you're planning to attend, and I hope we can meet in person! 

I've posted before about the benefits of attending writer's conferences. They offer a chance to learn new skills; keep up on publishing trends; network with fellow writers; and meet editors, agents, and potential clients in person. I make a point to attend at least one each year, whether I'm speaking there or simply going as a participant. 

I’d only been freelancing for eleven months when I attended a Magazine Writers & Editors/One-on-One, a Chicago-based conference for magazine freelancers. I was finding that making a living as a writer was harder than I’d expected, and was started to wondering if I should look for another job to support my fledgling career. I thought the conference might be a chance to meet some editors and hopefully get some more assignments.
            
Well, that happened--I walked away from the conference with a $2,100 feature from a market that was new to me, and a lead that turned into another regular relationship--and a growing sense of confidence in my freelance career. I also made a new freelancing buddy--and 17 years later, Kris and I are still close friends.
            
But I didn’t just make a writing buddy at the conference. I found a home. I’d never met a freelancer, let alone a successful one, before I’d quit to write full-time. Now I was surrounded by them. I eavesdropped on conversations. I watched how they chatted with their colleagues, and how they talked matter-of-factly about contracts and assignments and juggling work and families.
            
Being around dozens of smart, articulate, enthusiastic writers boosted my confidence. These men and women didn’t seem all that different from me, even if they were further along in their careers. If they were doing it, why couldn’t I?
            
That conference led to multiple assignments from one of the editors there, which repaid my investment many times over. Its true value is impossible to calculate. In just three days, I was transformed from someone who had been freelancing on little more than a whim to someone who decided to take charge of my business and commit to it for the long haul.
            
Interacting and networking with other writers is only one reason why I find writers’ conferences so valuable. Conferences also let you hear from other pros in the publishing trenches--book and magazine editors, literary agents, other freelancers--about what is happening in the industry today. You learn what editors like and are looking for from pitches or book proposals, what rates different markets are paying, and how authors are harnessing social media to build their platforms. Even if I’ve left a conference without obtaining a specific assignment, I’ve always found attending them worthwhile.
            
ASJA's annual event is aimed  at freelancers who write nonfiction books, articles, blogs, you name it, and features dozens of editors and agents. It’s the best networking I get all year long, and I recommend it to serious freelancers.
                        
Here are four tips to get the most out of attending a writers' conference: 
  • Before ASJA or any other conference, take a look at the schedule and decide which panels you’ll attend. (Panel turns out to be a dud? Don’t feel bad about leaving to check out another one.) Sign up for one-on-one appointments if they’re available and do some research about the editors you're going to meet. 
  • Even if you’re a wallflower by nature, introduce yourself to the people around you. Swap business cards and contact information. If you can't think of anything to say, simply smile and ask the person what he thinks of the conference so far.
  • Take careful notes at panels you attend. Sure, you can Tweet, but pay attention to what editors and clients say they want. Get your pitches out and follow up with people during the week after the conference. (Most freelancers won’t bother, so you’ll stand out.)
  • Finally, let yourself soak up the energy of the freelancers around you and be open to the information that’s shared. You’ll come away with new ideas, new perspectives, new contacts, and new enthusiasm for your freelance career.


**Readers, let me know if you're attending ASJA! And if you can't be there, check out my books on freelancing, like Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets.