The Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference—this year held in Minneapolis—is, in short, a wonderful experience for writers, publishers, and anyone related to the industry of putting words in some sort of order for the benefit of his or herself and others. The conference is also chaotic, overwhelming, and can send even the most hearty writer into a tailspin of “My god why am I even here” and “I’m never going to be as good as X.”
This list, as compared to my previous piece on AWP, has some practical advice on how to tackle AWP head-on and come out of it, hopefully, wanting to come back (and not wanting to curl up in a ball in the corner of a dark room for a month).
1. Pack light (or pack another bag).
If you’re flying, pack light. You’re going to see 50+ books that you will want in addition to the 15 that you’ll be handed as you meander the aisles of the book fair. Make sure that you’ll have space for these books. Your guard will probably be down during the book fair and before you know it, you’re going to be trying to figure out how to lug 65 books home between a personal item and your carry-on luggage.
2. Support indie lit.
In connection with the point above, go in knowing you’re going to buy X amount of books (3-5 is a nice number). Find the authors or the presses that you really love and buy from them. Many times, you’ll be able to get the author to sign the book as well (AWP has a handy guide for when author signings are). This not only helps support the indie lit community, but you get some awesome new books out of the deal.
3. Bring business cards.
Before you go, get business cards made up (Vistaprint is great and pretty cheap, but there are many sites out there and, often, you can find a good sale). Networking is a big part of AWP and, if you have business cards, you’ll be able to network that much easier. Make sure to have a few on you at all times—you never know who you’ll run into.
4. Pack your charger.
If you’re wandering around all day, you’re also likely to be using your phone. Bring your charger with you while you wander so that you don’t find yourself out at 8 p.m. in a city you don’t really know, without a phone (having an accountabilibuddy helps, as well and not just because the word is fun).
5. Get out there and talk.
I realize talking to strangers can produce crippling anxiety, I get that, but the book fair is great in that sense because, if you see someone behind a table, you can just go up to them and (simply) they can’t run away. It sounds terrible to say that way, but this is a great chance to talk with writers, editors of journals, and publishers, about their work, your work, et cetera. Don’t be forward about things (IwantyoutopublishmeprettypleasewhatdoIhavetodotomakethathappen?!) but also don’t be afraid, once you’ve established rapport, to talk with them about work.
6. Embrace the awkward.
These conversations, for the most part, are going to be awkward. If you realize that now and embrace it, the entire ordeal will go a lot smoother. Don’t strive to make them uncomfortable, of course, but if you’re face to face with your literary idol, realize that they understand that you probably feel very, very awkward.
Be sure to also check out A Beginner’s Guide to AWP (The Down & Dirty Edition)!
About the Author
Sam Slaughter is the author of the chapbook When You Cross That Line (There Will Be Words, 2015) and the novel Dogs (Double Life Press, 2016). His other work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Midwestern Gothic, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. By day, he works as a copywriter for a lifestyle company. By night, he is the Book Review Editor for Atticus Review, a Fiction Editor with Black Heart Magazine, and a Contributing Editor with Entropy. He can be found on his website, www.samslaughterthewriter.com and on Twitter @slaughterwrites.