by Olivia M. Croom

I love conferences. I have friends I only see at particular conferences, and every year I learn something new about book publishing after attending the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference. #AWP19 in Portland, Oregon, will be my seventh AWP, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.

But conferences can be overwhelming, with workshops, seminars, panels, readings, and parties happening seemingly 24/7. Here are my five basic rules for survival at industry conferences:

Olivia’s book and swag haul from AWP 2018

Tabitha Blankenbiller’s reading for Eats of Eden

1. Plan ahead. The FOMO (fear of missing out) will be strong, but you, dear author, can only be in one place at a time. Whenever possible, scour the official conference schedule beforehand. For an enormous conference like the AWP conference, which ranges from 10,000 to 14,000 attendees, there will be many panels, readings, and events happening at the same time. Make a plan and keep it handy!

2. Ignore your plan. Only for advanced users or people with their natal sun in Pisces. Part of the magic of attending conferences is being swept away by the magic of finding like-minded people. If you get into a great conversation with an editor at their table in the book fair, don’t worry if you miss that panel or if you show up a few minutes late to a reading. Everyone gets it. Just be sure to exercise courtesy if you’re leaving early or arriving late to an event.

Spontaneous hallway meeting: (left to right) Tabitha Blankenbiller (author of Eats of Eden), Cameron Lawrence (poet), Leah Umansky (author of The Barbarous Century), Rob Spillman of Tin House, and Mira Jacob (author of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing)

3. Look beyond the official schedule. Some of the best moments of conferences happen in the hotel bar (whether you’re imbibing or not), offsite readings, and parties. It’s a great time to run into people you’ve been meaning to introduce yourself to with less formality than walking up after a panel or reading. Often vendors at the bookfair will have fliers for their offsite events. Hack: If you have a Facebook account, you can find public event pages even if you’re not invited. From your homepage, look at the left-side menu, and click Events. When the Event page loads, look at the left-side menu again, and click Discover. When this page loads, use the options on the left-side menu to set the date range (under Time, click Choose a Date) and location (under Location, click More to enter city). This will capture every public event happening in that city during that date range.

Leah Umanksy and Olivia Croom

4. Prepare for exhaustion. Some take joy in overdoing it at conferences (I am one of these people), but it can cause the second and third days to be more painful than necessary. Whether it’s a go-to combination of vitamins and supplements, a strict bedtime (unlikely), always having your water bottle at least half full, napping in the middle of the day, or a limit on drinks per day, it’s important to have a plan on how to keep yourself energized. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

5. Have fun! One of people’s favorite pastimes at AWP is saying that they’re not going to AWP the next year. They rarely follow through on this threat. The truth is, attending conferences can help you find your tribe and make friends and contacts you otherwise never would have met. Do you need to go every year for it to be worth it? No. But it’s sure a lot of fun to add another badge to my pile every year.

Did I miss any? Do you have any tried-and-true tips? Share ’em!

Olivia M. Croom is a graphic designer living in New York City. She’s workedOlivia Croom with a number of literary organizations to produce high-quality marketing materials and, of course, books, including Alfred A. Knopf, Henry Holt, and of course Indigo. She holds a master’s degree in writing and book publishing from Portland State University. You can find her on Twitter at @OliviaCroom and Instagram at @reddish.ampersand.