Ten tips for attending AWP

Elizabeth Donald
7 min readMar 31

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention can be a little overwhelming for a newbie just flying out of the MFA nest. Here’s how to find your wings.

This past week was my first on-site attendance at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, which took place in in Seattle. While I’ve been a guest author at speculative fiction conventions for more than 20 years, I am new to the literary world. I started my MFA adventure during the pandemic, and AWP has been online each year. They returned to in-person in 2022, but I was already scheduled as a guest author at Midsouthcon the same weekend and thus had to attend AWP remotely again. Finally, it was in Seattle in 2023 and I was able to attend, and I found it a very different experience than the virtual.

AWP is a large convention and the majority are literary writers and poets, with a staggering number of agents, presses, universities and so on in attendance. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options and without knowing anyone there, our little introverted hearts may panic.

Therefore, I have put together a list of advice if you should choose to follow my lead and join the literary crowd for their version of nerd prom.

  1. Go with someone you know. Or at least make some connections with people who will be there. I get the feeling that this is like a family reunion for people who work together on various small presses, have survived previous AWPs together, who were in the same cohort at an MFA program or otherwise have a pre-existing professional relationship. If you don’t know anyone and you’ve never worked with anyone, and especially if you are shy or introverted, it’s kind of hard to make connections. People are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I didn’t see a rude or obnoxious person anywhere. This is more than I can say for a lot of speculative fiction cons, let me tell you. Still, in terms of networking, I don’t think I made much actual progress in connecting with people.
  2. Choose your panels carefully. There are more than 20 panels on any given hour, and some of them are worth more than others. I found most of the business advice, career development, and practical application panels very useful. And most of the time they were staffed by people who knew what they were talking about, which…
Elizabeth Donald

Journalist for more than 25 years, freelance writer, editor, photographer, and fiction author. Subscribe at patreon.com/edonald or visit donaldmedia.com.