The Official Masters Review Survival Guide to #AWP16

March 28, 2016

We’ll be at the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference this week in Los Angeles! Will we see you there? 

A banner image that says #AWP16 Part I Survival Guide over an image of a large and bustling conference center

“The key to surviving AWP is to understand that some aspects of it are ludicrous,” Barrelhouse editor Tom McAllister told Ploughshares in 2013. “It’s impossible to do everything and talk to everyone.”

Embracing the absurd is certainly a good place to start when it comes to the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, which is happening next week, Thursday March 31–Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of literary professionals will descend to the LA Convention Center to talk MFAs, writing craft, and industry realities, not to mention the author talks, caucuses and network events, and off-site parties. It’s a jam-packed four days, even for seasoned professionals, but it can be especially daunting if it’s your first time. We compiled a survival guide if you’re attending for the first time. (And don’t forget, there’s always a friendly face at our booth, #959.)

Keep your logistics handy.
Sometimes writing your room number on your hand just won’t cut it. Take the time to type or write out some key logistics all in one place: your flight number, the Bookfair tables you don’t want to miss, the phone number of your friend who’s local, your bus stop. It’s a little tedious, but you’ll be grateful it’s all in one place when you can’t locate that must-see panel in the conference schedule or—god forbid—the wifi cuts out. 

Have a spiel ready.
Networking is one of the main reasons to attend AWP. Whether you’re meeting a lit journal face-to-face or approaching an Internet pen pal, get ready to leave your comfort zone and put yourself out there. Arrive with your own personal elevator pitch. Why are you here? What should people know about you? How will they remember you after the conference? This isn’t just to avoid getting tongue-tied (but that, too), there’s a ton of folks meeting and greeting at AWP and if you truly want to be remembered you need to have the most salient and meaningful information at hand. Don’t forget, they need to find you after the conference, so whether you have a business card, a chapbook, or simply an email address—make sure to have your contact information handy.

Be respectful of other people’s time.
That being said, everyone at AWP is just as overwhelmed as you. When you do meet a fellow emerging writer or your favorite essayist, be aware of how much of their time and energy you’re taking up. Sometimes it feels like we know authors intimately because of their work—and, in a way, we do. But they’re also human and you are one of many faces they will encounter this week. Be polite, respectful, and brief. (See above.)

Pick a few off-site readings (or don’t pick any at all).
In addition to the many panels, readings, and author signings at the conference, there are even more off-site events that go late in the night. Browse through the schedule (if you dare), and pick out one or two that you’d really like to go to. Keep in mind venue size, location, and whether it will be packed—then plan accordingly. But keep in mind that part of the pleasure of off-site events is discovering new writers and voices. Be flexible and join a friend on the way to an event or stop by an intriguing reading on the street. Doing both will guarantee that you won’t get overwhelmed or disappointed while ensuring that you’ll find a new voices and friends.

an image of the AWP book fair, packed with vendors and writers  an image of a booth at AWP that says WRITING ADVICE and has multicolored notecards strung in garlands with writing tips written on each piece

Take multiple trips to the Bookfair.
The AWP Bookfair is a vast sea of publishers, MFA programs, and other literary delectables. If you only go once, you’ll be completely overwhelmed and want to head to the nearest bathroom stall to get your bearings/hyperventilate/question your existence. Instead, allow yourself to take multiple visits through the fair. Not only is it a good way to decompress between events, you’ll discover new sections, have more meaningful conversations, and choose more wisely when making your purchases (hint: most stuff goes on sale the last day).

Be selective with your schedule.
With so many panels and readers to choose from, you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. If you’re interested in a certain area—writing as a mother; speculative fiction; self-publishing—you’ll find several panels on the topics. You don’t have to go to all of them—weigh your different options in terms of timing, panelists, location, and specific angle.  

It’s your first AWP. You’ll never have a first AWP ever again. Enjoy it, stay hydrated, and embrace the ludicrous. As McAllister went on to say, “You need to prepare to be overwhelmed and try to match its excesses, knowing that by the end of the week you will be exhausted and dehydrated and probably broke, but it will have been worth it.”

Don’t forget to visit The Masters Review at the Bookfair, we’re at table #959! Stay tuned for our next post, “#AWP16 Panels for Emerging Writers.”

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At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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