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1396639598494This past weekend I attended the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute. Celebrating its 25th year, this was my third time at the conference, and certainly the best so far for me. There were incredible keynote speakers, including authors Michael Perry, Nathan Bransford, and Dale Kushnar. I entered and won first place in the First Page/Poem contest for the fiction genre and am proud to display my award.

Michael Perry autographs "Truck"

Michael Perry autographs “Truck”

One bit of advice I have heard repeatedly for attending writers’ conferences is to go in with goals. I’d never really done that before, as I’m used to attending business conferences where sometimes the only goal was to get out of the office for a few days. This time I decided I go in prepared. This time I formulated a plan and set goals going into the conference. I was going to network, increase my knowledge on writing, and be successful in my pitches.

I’m not a great networker. For someone who’s worked in marketing an entire career, sometimes I just like to retreat in my shell and keep to myself. I think it comes from talking to people all day and when it feels like my personal time, I just like peace and quiet. However, being a writer is being part of a writing community, and I decided to excel in the networking realm. By talking to as many writers and authors as I could, I could learn as much, if not more, than what I was learning in the sessions. At the conference, I met many innovative and inspirational writers, and came home with a bunch of new writing relationships. I also managed to connect other writers together, which was a really cool and unexpected benefit.

I knew I would learn a lot at the Writers’ Institute because the organizers offer sessions varied in both content and experience-level. I attended as many sessions as possible and took a ton of notes. Because of conflicts and meetings, I couldn’t attend every session, but thankfully, the conference does a great job of providing handouts for nearly all sessions. I was even able to subsidize notes for a class I taught this week with information gleaned from the conference. That was another unexpected benefit. I also signed up for a personal critique session of my writing, and spent an incredible half hour with Christine DeSmet. Her edits were insightful and thoughtful, and will certainly improve my writing. The information, critique and guidance she provided also served me well and prepared me for my final goal for the weekend – the agent/editor pitches.

1396799055043I signed up to pitch to three agents who represent either young adult or fiction works. Before arriving at the conference, I crafted my marketing summaries, elevator speeches and even prepared query letters. All three meetings, in my estimation, were incredibly successful. Now that I’m home, I am preparing the requested materials to send to the agents. I hope these pitches will take me to publication, but at this point, I achieved my goals for the pitches and am happy with my progress.

It’s important to go into a writers’ conference with goals. One way to gauge success is by being able to tick off those accomplishments as you wrap up and head home. Networking? Check. Learning? Check. Pitching? Check. I do believe it’s important to celebrate the successes. I thank the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute for continuing to encourage writers to do our thing and giving us a venue to assemble and share. My goal for next year’s conference? To be on the success panel.

See you in 2015!