OK, this analogy might be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. Navigating a conference is sort of like knowing your table-manners. Suppose you're going on a date with the person of your dreams to some fancy-schmancy restaurant. Do you really want to spend the entire time thinking about whether you're using the right fork for the salad? If you're worrying about not embarrassing yourself with the silverware, then you're not thinking about the really important thing: "is this person right for me?"
The secret of success is to figure out which one's the salad fork beforehand. In fact, if you know this stuff so well that it comes naturally to you, your mind will be freed up so you can think about the important things like when's the best time to go for your first kiss.
For writers, conferences are the ultimate dinner date, only instead of figuring out which fork to use or whether you should kiss this person, you're stuck thinking about query etiquette or whether you should pitch your book to an agent in the bathroom (which, by the way, you shouldn't).
What to Bring
In Portuguese, there's a saying that roughly translates as "You don't want to show up with your hands flapping." This means when you go to someone's house for dinner, you need to bring something. When going to conferences, the same rule applies. Only here, instead of flowers or chocolates, you'll want to bring along the following items:
- Business cards: If you don't have business cards professionally made, you can print some up on your home printer and cut them with an Xacto blade and ruler (not scissors... please, not scissors).
- Notebook: You'll want to write down notes, contact info from participating agents/editors, submission guidelines and lots more. Besides, you're a writer so you probably don't go anywhere without your trusty notebook anyway.
- Layers: You never know if the conference rooms will feel like a sauna or frozen wasteland. What I can tell you is they won't be a balmy 72 degrees. If you wear layers, you'll be ready for anything.
- Tote bag or large purse: At lots of these conferences, they have a bookstore where you can purchase books written by the speakers. Oftentimes there will be opportunity to get these books sighed after the talks or at the end of the conference. If you're like me and can't resist getting a signed book, you'll want some convenient way to carry all your loot home.
Know Your Manners
As with any situation, you need to come prepared with knowledge of the proper etiquette. Rather than make a long list here, I thought it would be better to refer you to the advice from a couple of agents themselves.