Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What to Wear at a Writers Conference

Today I’m going to continue my series on getting ready for a writers conference. One of the most asked questions I get is about appropriate attire. Below is my opinion—you’ll find others who disagree—but it’s always worked well for me.

First let me say this, you’ll see a little bit of everything when comes to what people wear at writing conferences. But, and this is important, just because you see someone wearing it doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.

I always treat a writing conference like a job interview—and really that’s what it is. You are meeting people who are deciding on whether or not to invest in you and your work. It may be a small investment—like an article; or a large investment—like a book contract.

Here are the guidelines I use when I plan my conference wardrobe.
  • Business casual always works. For women, slacks, casual skirts, nicer jeans or capris. For men, slacks, nice jeans, polo’s, even some t-shirts if not sloppy. Suits are definitely NOT required. I like my style to look effortless and timeless.
  • Keep it comfortable, for shoes at least. I don’t know about you, but I can’t concentrate when my feet hurt. I try to avoid athletic shoes because of their ultra casual nature, but I would choose them if they were the only ones I could be comfortable in.
  • Dress in layers. No matter what the temperature outside—inside is always a roll of the dice. Some rooms will be hot, some cold. So I always try to top an outfit with a light sweater or jacket, and usually a scarf.
  • Leave the perfume (men, this means cologne) at home. I know lots of folks who get headaches from or are allergic to different strong scents—and their definition of strong isn't always the same as mine. Some conferences, like ACFW, bill themselves as perfume free. 

And although this isn’t actually a piece of clothing, you’ll need to choose something to carry. Men and women need something to tote their laptops, notebooks, handouts, business cards, etc. Pick something with a wide strap, because it can get heavy by the end of the day and don’t forget to pack extra pens, tissues and breath mints!

Now it’s your turn—how do you plan your wardrobe for a conference? Also, my next post will be about how to organize all your paper paraphernalia in one conference notebook.

Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. I just want you to know that I really appreciate this series! My first conference is in a week and a half! It's just a day, but it's the American Christian Writer's conference and it's all day, and it's a huge step for me. I am totally unprepared. My proposal isn't even close to being finished, but I'm not really there to sell it...mostly I want feedback on my writing and what direction I should take. I'm doing one of those 15 minute consults and I have my overview, competing books, bio, and 3 sample chapters (that I think might be entirely too long)...and that's it. Oh, I am also working on my "hook", or trying to describe my project in one or two sentences. What else should I do? Should I print off my published online articles? (Is that even "real" writing, lol!) Should I just sit and take it all in? I'm not really sure what to "do". I'm so green, I feel like I'm SO far out of my element, lol! But I'm strangely excited at the same time!

  2. Great Questions! I'll try to address them all.
    First - online articles are REAL writing! Actually that's where the majority of my income comes from. So yes, I'd print off a couple. But more than that, include the places they're published in your bio.
    If you don't know which ones to list, google your name and see what pops up. Those are the ones to list.
    As far as what to DO. Don't be afraid to talk to people. Network with editors and agents, but also with writers, esp. those a little ahead of you career-wise.
    Believe me, the professionals you're meeting with are there to meet new writers and to help others like they were helped.
    A word of warning. Everyone experiences what I call the "Nightmare" after the conference. It's the few days after the high of a conference when you suddenly think everything positive you heard was just because "they were being nice." This is when you talk yourself out of submitting what was requested and following up on contacts. Don't give in to the NIGHTMARE!
    Hope this helps.
    Blessing - E

  3. Thanks for the encouragement and tips! :) I'll definitely print off those articles! I am really looking forward to the experience!

  4. I recently heard this advice to public speakers. Dress for a tie. That simply means you dress like the majority of those attending.

    Edie, you're advice is right on target for a conference.

    Some dress to stand out and most of those who do have earned the right to do so. I think of James Scott Bell and his Hawaiian shirts or Terry Burns and his cowboy hat, string tie, and boots.

    But, for a new writer, a writer's conference is both a job interview and a learning experience. Dress for success.

  5. During my journalism days, I heard a former journo turned published author talk about how she got her agent and six-figure advance. She dressed up in a business suit — not sweatpants. I think she had a great point to be professional. Of course, she had a great idea for a book,too. Great tips. I love this series and shared links with a fellow writer I met at a pre-conference primer this week.

  6. Tom, great insights and examples - right on the mark. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Stacy, thanks for sharing that example and also for sharing the link!
    One one other point I forgot to mention is some sound advice my grandmother gave me. If you're feeling down - dress up. We're already nervous at a conference, If we're confident in what we're wearing it will help calm our fears and nerves!
    Blessings all, E

  7. Edie, thanks for mentioning the perfume. I'm one of those who is allergic to some perfumes. I could hardly breathe the other day at the grocery store simply because of the perfume a lady in the aisle was wearing. I finally had to move two aisles ahead and then backtrack to avoid her!

    What if the potential editor/publisher/agent was allergic to your perfume/cologne? YIKES!

  8. Thanks for the advice, Edie. I'm glad I wasn't the only one wondering what to wear.

  9. Blue jeans are acceptable for the conference? That's surprising to me, especially since we'll be in "interview mode." How does that fit in with "business casual"?

  10. You explained that very well. I would only add, bring a camera/phone, you never know what writer you might get to rub shoulders with, or meet a new best friend!

  11. Oooh, a camera! Great idea! I didn't think of that.

    Edie, I have another question for you, and maybe you'll address this in another conference post. But what is the 15 minute meeting like? I'm scheduled for one and I'm clueless. I'm still learning about all this so I'm not ready to make a big pitch or sell my work, but what other questions can I ask and glean from this? I'm taking some writing samples and what I have so far of my proposal. I just don't want to get there and look stupid, lol!

    Thanks again!

  12. Vonda, perfumes didn't used to bother me, but now some do. I guess it's old age!
    Lynetta, most of us worry about the same things. That's why it's so important to be part of a writing community.
    Ellen, there are some blue jeans that work well with business casual.
    Kimberly, that'a great idea for a post. I'll either include it with my next Tuesday post or schedule it in for next Thursday. But I'll definitely get to it! Thanks!
    Blessings all - E