13 Do’s and Don’ts for Writers’ Conferences

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

I recently attended my third DFW Writer’s Conference. If you ever get a chance to go, I recommend it. Great information, great people. I’ve reflected on my many wonderful (and a few otherwise) experiences and want to offer some do’s and don’ts for writers’ conferences.

To conference planners

Do offer a variety of writing craft, traditional publishing, and indie publishing classes. Conferences attract writers all along the writing journey. Some are multi-published authors, others are working through their first manuscript, and everything in between. Offer a wide array of craft and business information to address the diversity of attendees.

Do host panels. Some favorites at my three DFW Cons have been the panels of experts on everything from social media to publishing options to forensics. The much-touted Gong Show is a regular feature: A panel of agents critiques anonymous first pages and/or query letters, and their feedback is invaluable in helping writers recognize a good story or pitch. Panels can provide wisdom from several sources, and how often can you get that many experts in a room to answer writers’ questions?

Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite panel experts) & Me
Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite panel people) & Me

Don’t ignore the self-pubbers. At my first conference only three years ago, agents were saying that self-publishing your own books was a kiss of death. My, how things have changed! Still, however, conferences can focus so heavily on the traditional route to publication that self-pubbers don’t feel welcome. The writer community should be about producing good books, and there is more than one way to skin that cat.

Do give conference goers a map and clear signs. I get lost easily. I am not alone.

Don’t invite pompous authors to give speeches about how much money they make. Look, author: Unless you’re willing to throw out currency during your presentation, this subject is best discussed with your agent, publisher, accountant, and loved ones. Maybe your mama is proud of your ridiculously large book advances, but conference attendees want to hear about your writing, not your bank account.

Do provide good snacks and beverages. Having a morning or afternoon pick-me-up can help attention levels. Starches and sugars should be balanced with fresh fruit. I was a bit disappointed that DFWCon did not provide free soda this year, but caffeine is my own addiction and the conference shouldn’t be expected to enable me. Water, coffee, and orange juice were fine.

To conference attendees

Do start conversations with other writers. Many writers are introverts and would rather have a root canal than introduce themselves to a stranger. But your fellow conference goers are not really strangers…because they get you. They too are excited about fictional worlds and make-believe characters and pretty words and plot twists and cover art and so forth. You’ll meet wonderful people by simply asking someone nearby, “What do you write?” Moreover, I’ve learned as much from talking to other writers as I have in classes.

Don’t monopolize class time with a specific question that only applies to you. Here’s the scenario: During Q&A, someone describes their particular plot or writing journey and asks for individualized advice. Now if your situation is a sampling of a larger issue that affects writers, fine. But if you’re looking for one-on-one coaching, wait until class has ended and approach the presenter. Most presenters are willing to spend a few minutes with you.

Do practice your pitch. Even if you’re not formally pitching to an agent or editor, you should be able to state your hook in a sentence or two or three. You may get asked by a fellow writer or agent what you’re working on, and being able to succinctly relate your story is good practice for querying or the book blurb.

Don’t fart loudly during a conference class. Actually, I felt sympathy for the person in one of my classes who did that. Maybe it was the Tex-Mex food we’d had for lunch.

Do bring a camera, even if it’s on your cell phone. You won’t want to miss shots like this.

Jess Witkins & Jenny Hansen in "Handerpants"
Jess Witkins & Jenny Hansen in “Handerpants”

Don’t sweat meeting book agents or famous authors. I’ve found them to be very approachable. As long as you’re authentic and courteous, you’re fine. No stalking, of course. (For heaven’s sake, please don’t follow them into the bathroom!) But agents and authors come to conferences to share information and hang out with writers. You’re a writer, so hang out.

Do print business cards. You can get them cheap at VistaPrint. No, you probably won’t go through all 250 cards that came with your order, but I’ve traded business cards with other authors and it’s helpful to refer to them later. Two things I include on my business card–recommended by agents when I researched–are a face photo, so that people can match your name with your face, and book titles/summaries, in case you want potential agents or readers to be hooked by what you write.

My Business Card
Front & Back of My Business Card

That’s it! As for how DFWCon went for me, I learned quite a bit, have three agents I need to query, and enjoyed meeting up with friends for the weekend whom I chat with online throughout the year.

ROW80 Update



  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. 
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Based on advice from a DFWCon class, I’m letting G&G sit for a bit. Instead, I edited 7 scenes from my middle-grade novel, THE YEAR OF FIRSTS.
  • Write one short story.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit.

Additional Goals

  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Details are coming soon.

What are your do’s and don’ts for conferences? And how was your week?

Stuffed Bears, Gongs, and Handerpants…Must Be a Writers’ Conference

Today I am in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the DFW Writers’ Conference. For today’s Scarlet Thread Sunday, I am stringing my thread through the labyrinth of a conference center as I learn writing craft, publishing, and how crazy my writer friends are when you let a bunch of us occupy the same city.

Here’s just a peek at my weekend so far.

Stuffed Bears. I went with several WANA friends (connected through Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone social media web) to dinner at a genuine Texas barbecue joint. Angelo’s in Fort Worth had delicious BBQ, animal heads all over the wall, and three stuffed bears inside. We stuffed our stomachs first, then took some pics.

Kristen Lamb & Me
Kristen Lamb & Me..in our super-cool Flash & Wonder Woman tees
Ingrid Schaffenburg, Donna Newton & Me
Cowboy-boot-clad writers Ingrid Schaffenburg, Donna Newton & Me
Jess Witkins and Julie Glover with a stuffed bear
With Jess Witkins..and a Bear

Gongs. Gongs are a big part of the DFW Writers’ Conference tradition. On Sunday, they will host their regular Gong Show, which features a panel of agents who listen to query letters and bang a miniature gong when they lose interest. When three gongs sound, the letter reader stops, and the agents explain what made them stop. It’s very useful information to all conference attendees, and the letters are anonymous so no submitting writer feels on-the-spot.

But there’s also the large gong that sounds at the pitch sessions. DFW Con registration includes an appointment to speak with an agent about your finished manuscript. I was first in line–literally, with the earliest appointment available on the first day of the conference. I chatted with the delightful agent for the allotted ten minutes, and then someone banged the gong and conversation time was over. If it’s been successful, you leave the room with a request for pages…and the gong still ringing in your ears. (Yes, my meeting was successful.)

HanderpantsHanderpants. Jenny Hansen, of More Cowbell blog fame, recently posted about a product called “Handerpants.” These are fingerless gloves made from whitey-tighty material. I remembered reading the post and thinking, Who in the world would buy those? Well, now I know.

Because Gloria Richard went online shopping, and the result below speaks for itself.

Handerpants over battery candle
“Glowing Handerpants”–our new table centerpiece

Writers’ Conference. In between the shenanigans, I’ve been soaking up knowledge and wisdom from authors at various stages of the journey. I hope to post in the future about what information I gained from this conference. But suffice it to say that I am an advocate of workshops and conferences. You can gain both practical tips for your writing and inspiration to keep going.

Speaking of inspiration, here’s how last week went with my goals.

ROW80 Update



  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. 
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Paused to get ready for conference.
  • Write one short story.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. No further progress this week.

Additional Goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Twice! Walking.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. I’m here! Count this done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June.

What interesting memories do you have from writers’ conferences? Do you have a favorite conference? And how did your week go?

A Primer on Writers’ Acronyms

Acronyms in Scrabble lettersWelcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and find some interesting tidbit. Having just returned from a writers’ conference (DFWCon), I thought this would be a good time to talk about writing acronyms.

My first year at a writers’ conference, I had no idea what POV, RWA, and plenty of other abbreviations were. Like other occupations, writers have their own language of sorts, and it takes time and exposure to learn what these acronyms mean. Here’s a primer. (Terms are listed in alphabetical order for reference.)

ARC – Advanced Reading Copy. This is a proof run–the “dress rehearsal,” so to speak–of a printed book. Authors and editors use this copy to perform one last check for errors. Sometimes, authors will use ARCs as their giveaway copies in contests before the official release of the book.

BICHOK – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. The way manuscripts get written. Most of us can’t wait for the Muse to tap us on the head with a fairy wand. We just sit and write until the magic appears. This is also abbreviated at times to simply BIC, or butt in chair.

GMC – Goal-Motivation-Conflict. One of the building blocks of story structure. Scenes are made up of a character’s goal, their motivation, and the resulting conflict when that goal is not so easily attained.

HEA – Happy Ever After. Romance novels in particular talk about the HEA, which is the  happy-ever-after ending readers anticipate, but it can apply to most other genres.

MC – Main Character. Also called the Protagonist.

MG – Middle Grade. The genre for tweens, or ages 8-12.

MS – Manuscript. Any unpublished writing project.

NA – New Adult. A relatively new genre of books aimed at those transitioning to adulthood, or 18-26 year olds. (Source: Cally Jackson Writes)

OED – Oxford English Dictionary. This isn’t really a writer’s acronym, but anyone whose business is words should know this abbreviation for the definitive dictionary of the English language.

POD – Print on Demand. A newer way of printing a book only when a buyer purchases the hard copy. For instance, CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) is a POD supplier.

POV – Point of View. This is the perspective from which a story is told. Whether the prose is written in first person or third person, there is a lens through which the whole story or each scene is told. That’s the point of view.

SF – Science Fiction. The science-fiction genre. You may also see SF/F, which simply means Science Fiction/Fantasy.

TBR – To Be Read. Writers and readers both refer to the books they plan to read as their TBR pile (or stack, or queue, or tower, as the case may be).

WIP – Work in Progress. Whether it’s a short story, screenplay, novel, or whatever that you are writing or editing, that’s your WIP, or work in progress.

YA – Young Adult. The genre for teens, with the target audience of 12-18 years old.

Groups you might have seen:

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writers’ Month. NaNoWriMo is officially November, but there are other events throughout the year including Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July. Participating writers pledge to write 50,000 words in a month (essentially a novel) and get encouragement and accountability to complete the task.

ROW or ROW80 – Round of Words in 80 DaysKait Nolan started this “writing challenge that knows you have a life.” There are four rounds each year, lasting 80 days each, of course. Writers set their own goals and support one another in reaching them. The individuality and flexibility of goals are wonderful features of this approach.

RWA – Romance Writers of America. One of the most popular writers’ groups, with regional chapters just about everywhere. RWA has long had a reputation of educating and encouraging writers from various genres, not just romance. They also hold a national convention each year and host the nice-work-if-you-can-get-it RITA awards.

WANA – We Are Not Alone. This is an online community of writers that has coalesced around Kristen Lamb‘s WANA books and courses. You can check out the WANA International website or connect with members through the #MyWANA hashtag on Twitter. The main thing to remember is that it’s not self-promotion or spam, but rather community.

There are plenty of other acronyms, but these seem to be the most common. If you hear another acronym and you don’t know what it means, just ask. No one will exclaim, “Unbelievable! She can’t be a writer if she doesn’t know what ___ means!” Every writer had some time in his/her past that he/she didn’t know what that meant. 

What other acronyms have you heard? What would you add to the list?