Most professionals are required to attend at least two conferences a year. By doing this, they gain new information in their field, get to network with other members, and acquire tools that help them advance in their career. It’s the same for writers. You can read all the books on writing and meet regularly with your writers’ group, but one of the best ways to develop as a writer is by attending writer’s conferences. Maybe you already know this and are planning to attend a conference this year or the next. In order to get the most for your money, here are some things you should know.
1. First decide what you want out of the conference. Conferences offer a lot of sessions on different aspects of writing. Depending on the type of conference, there may be workshops on everything from fiction as well as non-fiction writing, social media networking, website design and, of course, opportunities for pitching to agents/editors. Some conferences also offer critiquing and mentoring. What do you want? Maybe you are a fiction writer with a manuscript you would like to pitch, and you’re also interested in social media. Zero in on the one that’s more important – you may not have time for both – then prepare accordingly.
2. Register early. The early bird catches the fattest worm doesn’t only apply to hungry birds. If you want to get the most benefit for your money, you should register early. Reason is, workshops, especially those that are most in demand, fill up quickly. Also, if you are looking to pitch your manuscript, by registering early you are more likely to get the appointments you want.
3. Do your research. After you register, you should receive a packet with a list of presenters, editors and agents who will be at the conference. A well-organized conference will indicate the learning level of the workshops. You don’t want to waste precious dollars sitting in a session that is beneath your knowledge level. Also, and this is very important, if you plan to pitch to an agent/editor, study their bios listed on the conference website so you know what they are looking for. Don’t pick a fantasy editor if you are a romance author. When you have found some you’re interested in, visit their websites or Facebook pages to see what kinds of books they deal with.
4. Prepare for your appointments. Once you have selected the people you want to pitch to, get your manuscript(s) ready. Most agents don’t want a whole manuscript at the conference – not even a proposal – but they will look at your one-sheet or outline and if they’re interested, they would request a proposal. However, what I found at the last conference I attended is that after I’d pitched my story, they all asked to see the first five pages of my manuscript, which they read before giving it back to me. So, if you’re having multiple appointments, make sure you walk with several copies of your one-sheet and either the first five pages or the first chapter of your manuscript.
5. Practice your pitch. Katherine Sands in her book Making The Perfect Pitch says when practicing your pitch you should interview yourself. What would you say if you were on Oprah? What would you want your viewers and readers to know, not just about your book, but about you. I remember an agent’s first question to me at a conference was, “What kind of books do you like to read?” Now, that’s a loaded question. If you are a writer, you should love to read, and you should be reading some books – not all – in the genre you write. Fortunately, I love to read, so I was able to answer that question comfortably, but I hadn’t prepared for it. Practice your pitch in front of the mirror and with someone until it sounds perfect. Remember you only have five minutes to impress the agent or editor.
6. Dress professionally. At the conference you want to impress others, but a writer’s conference is not the place for your stilettos and low-cut blouses. Leave those for the gala night. Most conference brochures will emphasize business casual as the dress code. Why is this important? The people you meet with will be forming their own impression of you. Do you look like someone they would want to do business with in the future? By dressing professionally, you will demonstrate that you are serious about your work and can be taken seriously.
7. Give them something to remember you by. Every writer should have business cards. You can either make them yourself, or have them made very inexpensively from Vistaprint in a color that matches your website or one-sheet. A word about one-sheets. In case you don’t know, a one-sheet is literally one sheet. It gives the hook and a brief description of your novel, along with your bio, a professional-looking headshot of yourself, and a photo that depicts the essence of your book. Most agents will keep this so when you send your proposal, they will remember who it came from.
Keep your business card in a neat little case so you don’t have to hunt for it when you need to give a card to someone.
8. Take notes. Obviously, you will take notes during your workshop sessions. Don’t depend on the outlines the presenters hand out because by the time you get home, you may have forgotten everything else. Also, take notes at your appointments. Each agent may request something different. One may ask for a query, synopsis and the first chapter; another may want a full-scale proposal. Make sure you understand and give them what they require.
9. Network, network, network. At one conference I attended, we actually had a workshop on networking. We were made to work the room with our business card in hand and talk to as many people as possible. To some attendees, it was no big deal, but to the more introverted ones like myself, it was intimidating at first. However, once I got the hang of it, I had fun doing it, and made quite a few friends. So when you go to that conference, don’t sit at the same table for every meal. And if possible, try to sit at the agents’ table at least once. They always leave a few extra seats for attendees. You never know, your next contract may come from an informal meeting such as this and not from your appointment.
10. Follow up. After the conference, be sure to email the contacts you made and let them know you enjoyed meeting them. Get your queries or proposals ready and send them off to the agents who requested them during the timeframe they stipulated. Attach a cover letter stating that you met them at the conference, state date and place, and you are sending your query per their request. If you had an appointment with someone and were not able to keep it, send your query and explain what happened. Also, if your agent suggested changes, be sure to make those changes for that particular query.
Attending conferences is one of the things I enjoy about being a writer. I get to visit a strange place, most of the time, and meet other writers. Most of all, I increase my knowledge about the craft of writing, and return home energized to keep on writing. What has been your experience at writer’s conferences? Please leave a comment in the box below, and if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my blog.