8 Pro Tips for Your Next Writers’ Conference

Shut Up & Write! Protips for Writers' Conferences

It’s my second SFWC and I intend the make the most of it. The San Francisco Writer’s Conference is exciting! Rated the third best writing conference by Writing Magazine but it can also be overwhelming. Four full days of sessions, it begins early and runs late into the evening. It takes endurance, persistence, focus and intention.

The conference starts this Thursday, a mere two days away. That’s not a lot of time to get prepared, but with the right strategy, some planning and these pro-tips… it will be enough.

(Even if you’re unable to attend SFWC but happen to be in the Bay Area between 2/16-2/19, you can still attend their many free events. One of the things I really appreciate about the team at SFWC is that they provide a wide variety of events, both free and paid.)

(Also, these pro-tips I’ve compiled are useful for attending any writers’ conference, not just SFWC.)

(Ok, enough asides, let’s get to it.)


Read the schedule at least twice. Print it out if you can and mark up your first picks, then any others that might interest you. Review the day’s schedule in the morning and feel comfortable making any last minute changes, as you go through the conference. Sometimes it’s about the speaker or who you’re with at the session as much as the session content.

Read all the speaker bios, particularly for agents. You’ll have a chance to meet these people – not just after the session where they’re speaking but in the lobby during a break, or that random moment when you’re both waiting in line at lunch. Memorize the faces (and names) of the people you most want to talk to, and be prepared to show your best.

Practice your pitch. This is the hardest one for me personally.  I wince even thinking of it but it’s the one thing you’ll find yourself saying to EVERYONE YOU MEET. It’s a writers’ conference. It’s not just the agents, editors and other industry professionals that expect to hear about your work, it’s also the other writers. So, spend an hour (or four) and work on it. Write a few drafts and practice in front of the mirror, then pitch to your family and friends to gain more confidence.

What does a pitch look like?

  • It must be 25 words, or less—the best tend to be 17 words. Edit it down to one sentence.
  • It should include the genre.
  • It must convey the major conflict (plot) of the story.
  • It must reveal the protagonist.
  • It must answer the question, “So What?” Tell us why we should care, and why we should be compelled to read the story.


Bring your gear. Whatever that means to you; you might be old school and only need a notebook and your best ink pen (bring extras!). Or you might be like me, lugging around a laptop and tethering your notes online during every session.

For example, I recommend having:

  • Something to take notes with
  • Business cards
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Copies of your query letter / proposal and a few chapters (but not your printed manuscript)
  • Water bottle
  • A smile!


Embrace your social butterfly. Introduce yourself to people and strike up a conversation whenever you can. Ask to join groups of people talking. Head for the full table, rather than the one that has lots of empty seats. Engage on Twitter with #SFWC17. Care more about meeting interesting people and making friends than what they can do for you. Ask questions of the people you meet; get other folks to tell you their pitch.  

Engage at the conference. Attend all the social events, go to the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Sign up for sessions that allow for interactions with the audience. Raise your hand and ask a question. Give the speakers and other attendees a chance to see you and hear you speak. Give them a chance to remember you. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get back.

And last, but not least… take care of yourself. Take breaks if you need to. Your brain may feel full by early afternoon, your mouth dry from all the talking. Take a walk around the block or sit a session out and relax in the lobby. You won’t be the only one doing so.

Looking for more? Sign up for our monthly Newsletter and get our full 22 Pro Tips for Writers’ Conferences.

Tweet me at @_cat if you’re attending the San Francisco Writers Conference, I would love to hear how your writing is going!

Published by Catherine Ellsworth

Catherine Ellsworth is currently working on a science-fiction novel and runs a monthly critique group in the Bay Area. When not writing and reading, she eavesdrops on commuter conversations, monitors the development of AI, and fantasizes about living on other planets.

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