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Tips for your first ACES conference

Tips for your first ACES conference

March 21, 2019 By Karen Conlin Conferences

You’re a first-time attendee! Welcome, and thanks for joining us. You’ll have a great time meeting like-minded folks, attending sessions tailor-made for “our people,” networking (if you choose, but why wouldn’t you?), cheering on contestants in the spelling bee, and so much more!

But what if all that feels overwhelming just to read? How are you supposed to come out the other side of this sometimes-larger-than-life event (relatively) unscathed?

By following a few conference survival basics, you’ll be better prepared and more likely to have an entirely positive ACES experience. Board member Christine Ma had a fantastic Twitter thread aimed at first-timers, which inspired some of these pointers.

  1. Do not think you have to attend every session that looks interesting. You can’t, anyway. There are simply too many of them, often scheduled opposite one another. Make your wish list and go from there.
  2. This is a Big Thing to Know: It is acceptable and expected that people will come and go during sessions. You are not stuck in one just because you got a seat. If you realize it’s something you already know, or perhaps it’s just not clicking for you, you can leave. But please, use your head: Don’t make undue commotion and leave as quietly as you can manage. Then, pick another session if you want. (Some folks plan for this. They want to see conflicting sessions, so they start with one and leave partway through, attending the latter portion of the other.) Enter the new one the same way you left the previous: quickly and quietly. There may not be a seat. Stand along the wall or sit on the floor if you’re comfortable that way. You might also decide to head back to your room or to find a seat in a foyer or hallway where you can read or chat with others. It’s all good. No one is tracking you.
  3. As a corollary to that, it’s all right (and necessary) to plan for some downtime. Everyone has FOMO (fear of missing out) to some degree, but don’t be paralyzed by it. If no sessions in a particular time slot appeal to you, maybe you’d like to take a walk around the area (alone or with some friends). Perhaps you’d rather take a nap. Do it. Again, it’s up to you.
  4. I’ll sound like your mother, but here goes anyway: Make sure you get plenty of rest, liquids, and decent food. And by “liquids” I’m not talking about the bar. I mean WATER. HYDRATE. Bring a water bottle; there will be pitchers of ice water, usually, and there are always water fountains to be found. (The restroom sink is a last resort for me.) Don’t overextend yourself. You can’t have fun if you’re too tired.
  5. Bring your meds and TAKE THEM.
  6. Say hi to people you want to meet. If they’re talking to someone, wait for a good time to introduce yourself (and folks, be aware of people waiting to talk to you). Also, ask before you hug. Many people are uncomfortable with close contact.
  7. Bring any necessary chargers for your tech. Laptops, phones, Bluetooth headphones, whatever.
  8. What should you wear? Well, what are you most comfortable in? Some folks will choose jeans and nice T-shirts (ones with grammatical/language themes are perfect); others like to wear business-casual clothes. You do you.
  9. Wear comfortable shoes! You’ll do more walking than you think.
  10. What about the banquet? Again, you’ll see people in nice jeans and pressed shirts (there are irons and ironing boards in the hotel rooms, usually) or dressier styles. Most people tend to dress a little nicer for it. (Some even wear gowns and suits.) Don’t worry; no one is taking notes.
  11. Keep an eye on your drinking: It’s probably a bad idea to get drunk and stagger through the hotel. This is the one thing people will take note of. No one wants to be remembered for dancing with a luggage rack. (At least I’m pretty sure no one does.)
  12. Bring games if you have room in your luggage. In the evening, it’s common to see groups sitting in the lobby playing a few rounds of Bananagrams or a few hands of poker. It’s a great way to meet people, too.
  13. Bring (or buy) copies of books you want to have signed. Often there are scheduled signing sessions, but I have yet to meet an author who refused to sign a book for someone who happened to see them in the hallway. Just remember to be polite with their time.
  14. Take a walk through the silent auction and maybe bid on a few things. Even if you decide not to bid, it’s always interesting to see what’s been donated.
  15. Volunteer. Registration is a great place to meet people. The Editorial Freelancers Association and other partner organizations often need people to take shifts at their tables.
  16. Build time into your schedule to do some sightseeing, if you enjoy that kind of thing. Some people stay a day or two extra just for this.
  17. Business cards! If you have them from your employer, fantastic. If you’re a freelancer, you can get inexpensive ones from Vistaprint, and Moo has different options for a bit more money. Always bring more than you think you’ll need so you don’t run out.
  18. Make plans for lunch or dinner with colleagues and friends. Someone is always going to be looking for a partner or a group.
  19. Bring a sweater or jacket. Conference rooms are notorious for being too cold.
  20. This is probably the most important point of all: Have fun!


Karen Conlin is the 2018 Robinson Prize laureate and has been editing indie fiction since 2012. Her first ACES conference was St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2017. She is not an introvert.

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