Preparing for my first writers conference

Next weekend I’ll be attending the OC Christian Writers Conference in Newport Beach, California. 

It’s my first writers conference. I’m excited and nervous at the same time.

A huge draw for me is that Rachelle Gardner will be one of the keynote speakers. Her topic is “Dreaming God-Sized Dreams.” I can’t wait!

I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing to prepare for the conference the past few weeks.

4-6 weeks before the conference…

Register for the conference. Registering only took a few minutes, but I spent a couple of hours on the website, poring over the contests, faculty bios and other information. As is the standard for any writers conference, attendees may sign up for one free 15-minute consultation with an agent, editor, or publisher.

Here are my top 3 picks:

  1. Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary Agency. I just want to meet the woman. She’s not just an agent. She’s a teacher. An online writing community builder. A writer. A warm-hearted human being who wants to create success for writers. If I’m fortunate enough to get a spot on her consultation schedule, I’m going to give my pitch for my novel.
  2. Pamela Jaye Smith, Author. Consultation guidelines: “Pamela Jaye will help you clarify your theme, protagonist, antagonist, dangers, symbolism, and solution so that you can create a solid, understandable, and engaging pitch to potential buyers, producers, and publishers.”
  3. Mick Silva, Author. Consultation guidelines: “Mick Silva took pitches as an acquisitions editor for 10 years. Now he is a mentor offering guidance in professionalism, excellence, next steps, and publishing options.”

Submit first page of novel for Tough Skin Critique. The OC Christian Writers Conference offers critique sessions for the first page of your novel: “Does your first page capture the interest and curiosity of publishers, agents and readers? Find out as Andy Meisenheimer offers you and the audience of aspiring Christian writers his professional input on your first page.” — First page of novel due May 15; sent April 21. 

Enter contests. Any doubts I had about entering the conference’s contests with my unfinished novel were put to rest when I read about last year’s Fiction Writing Contest winner. She had only a quarter of her book complete when she entered, and was inspired to finish it after she won. See 2011 OC Christian Writers Conference Fiction Writing Contest Winner ~ Veola Vazquez. Following are the possible fiction writing contests at the conference:

2-3 weeks before the conference…

Order business cards. On Monday, May 7, I ordered 250 business cards from for $10. Shipping was free as I opted for the 14-day turnaround time. I received an email notification on Thursday, May 10 that they shipped. I’m taking a chance that they will arrive on time. If they don’t, I’ll print them out on card stock. Nothing fancy, but they will get the job done.

Prepare one-sheet (print 10-12 copies). I was first introduced to the idea of the one-sheet in Rachelle’s Gardener’s August 9, 2011 post, What Should I Bring to a Conference? As a graphic designer, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this simple idea all by my big self. Here’s what mine looks like. What do you think? (Pardon the head shot with the MadMenYourself avatar and the editing of other personal details in my bio; my husband asked me to protect my identity on this blog. I know I will eventually need to show my face, but not yet.)

About the photo used on the one-sheet… Carrie, an important character in my novel, is the inspiration for this image. It’s a royalty-free stock photo placed “for position only.” Royalty-free means the image is not “free,” but once it is purchased, the buyer does not have to pay a fee every time it is used (unlike rights-managed photos where you do pay a fee for each use). Royalty-free photos can be used over and over again for one flat fee. I have not yet purchased the photo because the book is not published. This may not be the final cover image anyway. In graphic design world, it is common practice to show a “comp” image to obtain final approval. My hope is I’m not breaking any rules by placing this “comp” image on my blog.

Print 2-3 copies of the first 1-2 chapters of my novel. My novel is not complete; however, the first half is pretty tight at this point. I am in the middle of the critique group process and am realizing I need to rewrite and expand the last part of the story. Because the conference welcomes newbies and experienced writers alike, I’m taking a gamble at presenting my novel as an incomplete work in progress. I want to find out if the way I have tackled a common, pervasive social issue is original and fresh.

Prepare for possible one-on-one consultation session. I’ve created an at-a-glance list of things I need to remember during the short 15-minute meeting.

A few days before the conference…

Print out driving directions. I’m traveling to the conference from home, so I need to plan my route and schedule.

Figure out what to wear! Business casual clothes. I need to go shopping. 🙂

Pack. Because I’m not staying at the hotel, I need to pack my day bag carefully. It will contain:

  • MacBook Pro laptop. I know it will be unwieldy to haul around all day, and I may not have a place to plug it in when the battery dies, but I take much better notes on a keyboard.
  • Notebook
  • Pens (several)
  • Business cards
  • One-sheet printouts
  • Chapter printouts
  • Cash. I want to support my fellow writers and buy at least a couple of books while I’m there.
  • Snacks. My current favorite: Clif Kid Z Bar.

I also need to prepare mentally, spiritually, and emotionally for the event. I am going by myself and I won’t know a soul there. I’m a person who gets refreshed by being alone, not surrounded by people, so being among strangers all day—even like-minded strangers—will be a bit overwhelming. I found these blog posts to be extremely helpful on this particular subject:

Here are some other super helpful blog posts on how to prepare for a writers conference:

I’ll be sharing what I learn at the conference in future posts.

Have I forgotten anything? Does anyone have any advice for me? 🙂

All posts from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012:

Leave a comment


  1. Kourtney Heintz

     /  May 13, 2012

    It sounds like you are really well prepared! Good job on the business cards. Sounds silly but remember to bring a bottle of water. Sometimes there aren’t refreshments. And my mouth tends to get dry when I am nervous. 🙂

    And whenever you get nervous, smile and say hello to someone, chances are they are just as nervous as you and will appreciate you trying to start a conversation. 🙂

    • Thanks Kourtney! I’ll add a water bottle to my list. And I’ll go with the mindset of being the first one to say hello. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Good luck and have fun! 🙂

  3. You are so ready, Natalie. Boy, am I inspired. Your novel — that is a tough topic, but I’m glad you’re addressing it. I’ll be praying for you — for confidence, wisdom, and energy, and for the desires of your writer’s heart to be granted.

    • Wow, Darla. I’m grateful for your prayers. Thank you. After a few recent conversations, I’m motivated more than ever to get this story out there to heighten awareness about the issue, to help prevent the abuse of even one child. After the Penn State sex abuse fiasco last year… Oh Lord, kids need more people willing to speak up for them.

  4. Hi Natalie,
    thank you so much for mentioning my blog post, “Preparing for Your First Writers’ Conference.” You added some excellent tips in a very user-friendly way! I *love* your tip on creating a one sheet printout with a strong graphic. Knock ’em dead next week! Alice

    • Alice – thanks so much for stopping by! Your post on this topic was excellent. It helped so much to clarify my thoughts – and it gave me peace of mind to know how to prepare. THANK YOU!

  1. Editing & Motivation: Notes from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012 « Natalie Sharpston
  2. Tough Skin First-Page Critique: Notes from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012 « Natalie Sharpston
  3. Insecure Writer Gets a Boost: Notes from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012 « Natalie Sharpston
  4. Advice from Rachelle Gardner: Notes from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012 « Natalie Sharpston
  5. Saying Yes to God: Notes from the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012 « Natalie Sharpston

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