Dispatches from the Desk: AWP Survival Guide Edition

by Libby Cudmore & Matthew Quinn Martin

…hello all, your president and vice president here with our another of our semi-regular featured blog posts.

So, as many of you know, The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)’s annual conference is just around the corner––metaphorically for those of you who are planning on attending, and literally for those of you who live in Boston.

This will be our fifth rodeo, and over the years we’ve acquired some inside tips about how to make your experience at AWP a fulfilling one. We’ve even written about how to make the most of any conference for The Writer Magazine (RIP). We hope you find something useful here, and if you have tips of your own, don’t be afraid to stick them right…in the comments section. Those of you who know us, know also that we are all about sharing.

Bring a folder.  Most tables have flyers printed with their submission information.  Don’t let these get lost or crumpled up at the bottom of your bag.  You can sort them later.

ImageGrab pins and buttons.  Not only are the cool, but they’ll also help you look up the presses later for submissions and gives you an “in” to open your cover letter with. Libby’s story “Hotel Jesus” got published in Pank this way—she mentioned that she’d picked up one of their awesome typewriter buttons.  Like any good souvenir, it shows that you were there. (side note from Matthew––it also helped that the story was awesome)

. . . but don’t hoard cheap swag.  Almost every table will have something with their logo on it. Take what you need and leave the rest. After all, how many ballpoint pens  are you really going to use in a year?  Save the space in your bag for the good stuff.  Libby had to make herself swear not to pick up any more sticky notes because she hasn’t used up the “Lunch Ticket” ones she got in Denver 2010…and Matthew still has a stack of unused blank notebooks.

ImageOnly take journals if you think you will read them, or are in the mood for an aching back. Most journals are free because no one wants to lug them home.  Don’t get fooled into lugging them home yourself—only take the ones that are interesting to you, and don’t feel guilty.

Talk to the people at the tables, in line for coffee, waiting by the bathroom.  Ask them what their press is about, what they like to read, what they write.  Tell them a little bit about yourself, but mostly hear them out.  You’ll get your chance to talk in the cover letter.

…but don’t feel like you have to be “on” every second of the conference. Take time to just relax and enjoy the company of old friends, new friends, fellow writers (and old enemies and complete poseurs)

Most tables will have a “fire sale” on Saturday.  Buy your cool t-shirts and books then.

…it’s called “The Buffett Rule” for a reason, people!

If you are low on funding, skip dinner at the hotel restaurant and go to the program-hosted parties in the evening.  There’s free wine and beer, and, if the party’s good, free appetizers.  Eat your veggies and party-hop.  You’ll save about a hundred bucks this way, and (because you feel guilty if you just dine and dash) you’ll get to chat with people you might not have otherwise.

…but don’t overdo it on the candy. Every single table will have piles of candy luring you over like a stranger standing in front of a white panel van. A little is OK…but you don’t want a sugar crash.

ImageHit the panels, but if one is full, take a breather and explore the city you are in. Check out a museum, or a local hot spot, or restaurant that serves local fare. There’s more to the writing life then listening to other writers explain how it’s done…and with that advice, we sign off.

See you there.


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