How to AWP
This is my tenth straight year at AWP (70th in dog years) so when I saw Dylan Kinnett’s tweet, I knew I couldn’t impart the breadth of my wisdom in 140 characters or less.
I'm all set to attend #awp17 and it's my first AWP conference.
Does anybody have any tips for how to go about it all?
— Dylan Kinnett (@dylan_k) January 11, 2017
Here you go, Dylan.
AWP is all about accelerated serendipity.
In three days you’ll meet more people with your same weird tastes than you will in the rest of the year. Remember, they’re just as hungover as you are.
Schedule things in advance, and expect schedules to fall apart.
With a little effort, you can find three readings that all take place within a few blocks of each other and have staggered start times—but when the time comes to actually leave the 7 o’clock event at Madams Organ, you might be having too good of a time. Don’t feel bad about skipping things. Keep in mind that the show that looked amazing because it has all the people from the last issue of Whimpering Pine might actually be held in a noisy bar with no microphone.
Stay out late and wake up early.
Every year, being the last to leave and the first to arrive is what I’m proudest of. And it’s always in those weird hours that I’ve made the best connections.
Go through the Bookfair directory and mark the tables of the presses you want to see.
And then enjoy all the others you meet along the way.
If you have a place to be in three minutes, don’t walk there with other people. They’re bound to see someone to say hello to (or someone will stop them), and you’ll feel dumb as their conversation goes on and on. “I read your thing in Whimpering Pine.” “Oh, my one with the enjambment? That issue has Walter Snobdrob!” “I just saw Snobdrob over by the Broken Toe table!” “What a funny mustache!” By this point, you should have already arrived at your destination.
“Take dead aim on the rich boys.”
The person sitting next to you is awesome.
Hopefully you’ll find yourself at lunch or a bar with a group of people, only two of whom you know, and they’re at the other end of the table. I say “hopefully” because at AWP, this has been the situation where I’ve met some of my favorite strangers, the ones I set up dates with every year afterward. Ask these friends-you-haven’t-met-yet a ton of questions. Ask uncommon questions like, “Do you have trees where you live?” “Which of your license plates have you felt the most connection with?” “Do your parents go to AWP?”
Have a budget,
both for things you’re going to give away and things you’re going to buy. You’ll be tempted to give away 5o copies of Infinity’s Kitchen but people are handed tons of stuff, so make sure you’re giving it to someone who is genuinely interested—otherwise you’ll find it on the back of the toilet in the bookfair bathroom (which, actually, is great um exposure). Also, you’ll meet a kindred spirit and feel compelled to buy their book. Which you totally should. But keep in mind that these engagements are going to happen over and over, so be careful you don’t spend too much. My first couple years at AWP I spent around $500 on books and was so proud of myself, but most of the books I never read.
Make it a date.
If there’s someone you really want to hang out with, contact them in advance and set up a time to hang. Be sensitive to changing schedules. And be smart about times—some people have been booked up for months already, but if you ask them to get coffee at 9am, they might be open to it.
Read this post by Bob O’Brien.
“I guess some people like to be cool and say that the panels at AWP are a waste of time. This was not my experience. I saw two on Thursday, and they were awesome.” (I’ll let that be all I say about panels.)
Be the crowd, don’t follow it.
You know that billboard that says “You’re not IN traffic, you ARE traffic?” I’ve always liked that, though I’m not sure how it applies here. Anyway, my AWP highlights have always been the quiet moments spent at a bar with a small group of friends, and then someone gets a text and their assistant editor comes and joins us. And then a guy in funny pants stops to say hello. AWP is basically a giant game of Sardines, so if you’re being your authentic self (as opposed to trying to get a book deal), you can’t go wrong.