Monday, February 1, 2010

Writer's Conferences - How to Play Nice with Others

It's HERE! We are excited to announce the second annual Audience with an Agent Contest on Novel Matters! Our last contest yielded fantastic results with two authors seeing their manuscripts requested by Wendy Lawton.
This time around literary agent Janet Grant will be reading the top submissions.

Here are the official rules:

Our new Audience with an Agent Contest begins February 1, 2010. Submissions must be received at Novel Matters by April 15.
Finalists will be announced on May 15, and Janet Grant of
Books & Such Literary Agency will announce a winner from the finalists on June 15.

You won't want to miss this remarkable opportunity. We look forward to your submissions. Please follow carefully the Guidelines below.


  • Open to US and Canadian fiction writers
  • 1 submission per person, fiction only
  • 1 chapter, up to 20 pages, plus 1-2 page synopsis
  • 1" margins, double spaced, Times New Roman 12 (synopsis may be single spaced)
  • Pages should be numbered and your last name and title should appear in the top left hand corner of every page.
  • Books & Such Guidelines apply
  • e-mail your submission to In the subject line, type: Audience with an Agent Submission
  • Attach your submission as a single file as Word document (one file containing BOTH your synopsis and first chapter)
  • Six submissions will be selected and sent to Janet Grant. Being selected does not guarantee offer of a contract for representation
It's February; we've officially broken in the new year and many writers from beginners to multi-published are sifting through information from various writer's conferences trying to decide which one(s) to attend.

We at Novel Matters feel your pain - so, its Writer's Conference week on the blog. I'm kicking it off today with a post about general rules for conference attendance - tips and tricks that will help ensure you get the most of the conference experience no matter which writer's conference you attend.

We invite you to ask questions either in the comments section or, you can e-mail us your question and we will answer it over the course of the week. If your question is about a specific agent, editor, publisher, or writer you hope to connect with at a conference, ask, and we'll try to help you out. Between the six of us, we know a fair number of people in the industry - or we know someone who knows someone - no guarantees, but we will do our best to help you with your question.

Playing Nice with People Who Intimidate You - or, how to not just survive, but thrive at a writer's conference.

Da Rules:

1) Align your writing goals to the conference you want to attend. This rule assumes a great deal of forethought prior to registering for a conference. As a writer, you are the CEO of your small business - an entrepreneur. It's important to have clear goals for what you want to accomplish as a writer and how you plan to accomplish them. Are you just starting out? You're in luck. Most conferences offer workshops for beginner writers - but ensure you sign up for the workshops that best fit with what you hope to accomplish. A workshop on writing Amish Memoirs may well be fascinating, but if you hope to write devotional books for computer nerds - you shouldn't waste time in the memoir workshop. The short version of this rule: Writer, know thyself.

2) Don't keep going to the same conference year after year out of habit. Routine and habit are fine for housework and memorizing the multiplication table, but creative types require fresh thought, stimulation, and adventure to keep the writing pipes running. I know, it's so great to get together with a gang of ol' writing buddies and catch up, but returning year after year to the same ol' same ol' does nothing to boost your creative effort. Are you looking to raise the bar on your writing? Check out some of the conferences you've been over looking all these years and take a chance. The short version of this rule: Think outside the box.

3) Stalking a specific editor or agent because God told you they will publish/represent you is always a bad idea. Conferences have systems in place that put writers and industry professionals together. Do everything you can to work within the system that is set up (e.g. fifteen minute appointments you can sign up for. Or submitting your ms ahead of time to a specific editor/agent in hopes they will want to talk to you about it during the conference). But even if the system isn't working for you and you can't get in to see that one person God TOLD you is THE one for you - don't lose heart. And don't follow them into the washroom. Relax. Be professional (no one wants to work with a writer who goes to extremes to get noticed). And remember - if God told you that you will be working with Agent-Amazing, you have nothing to worry about. He'll make it happen in His time. The short version of this rule: Have faith; be a pro.

4) Realize that pitching your book will feel weird - and get over it. You will only have a short time to talk to any single industry pro, and while it may feel strange to launch into a spiel straight away - it's actually helpful for the editor/agent/publisher you're talking to. Be professional - Sit down, shake hands and say, "I'm Joe Blow. I've written a 75,000 word Women's fiction titled There Goes Joe Blow. It's the Ya Ya Sisterhood meets The Stepford Wives." Give 'em what they want - the goods on your book. It will feel weird for about three seconds, then the editor/agent/publisher will say something back to you and you'll go - whew! I did it! I can do this! (But PLEASE don't say you wrote a fictional novel. Can't tell you how many times I've heard a new writer refer to her masterpiece as a fictional novel. No, no, no). Short version of this rule: Shoot from the hip.

5) If you get stars in your eyes, give them a rub and keep your agenda in mind. Some conferences are packed with multi-published authors we all gush over. It's fun to rub elbows with the likes of them - but remember, you aren't a tourist, you're on a journey to become a multi-published author yourself. Avoid gushing. It's actually awkward for the author or whoever it is you are gushing over. A smile, or handshake and a quick, "I enjoy your books. It's a pleasure to meet you" or words to that effect are perfect. Short version of this rule: Act like you belong (because you do!)

6) Multi-published authors want to help you, but they are not information cows to be milked. I attended a conference last year and was approached by an unpublished, but hopeful writer. She asked me for my professional contacts. I declined (I didn't know her, hadn't read her work). She asked again. I declined again. Later, she approached again and told me if I were really a Christian writer, I would share my professional contacts. Again, I declined. The exchange was uncomfortable, but I would do the same thing again. Publishing is about developing relationships. This takes time, but the rewards are lasting - and I don't just mean sharing contacts. The short version of this rule: Relationships first.

Now you: What's your question about attending a writer's conference? Do you have a tip to share? Leave a comment! If you prefer to e-mail us a question or comment, you are welcome to contact us at We will answer each question as best we can.


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

This is great! Thanks! I don't think I'll be able to attend a conference this year. But I'm hoping for next year!

Woohoo for the contest!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Excellent tips. I'm looking forward to Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing in April (my first conference). Hand raised, "I promise not to approach anyone in the restroom or to call my works fictional novels." ;)

Great advice. I'm excited. Hopeful to learn more.
~ Wendy

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Great post, Bonnie. I would add that there can be a point in a longer conference where a new writer feels overwhelmed and deflated. So many weeks spent in anticipation can result in disappointment if the desired result doesn't materialize. I think the answer is to be prepared to the best of your ability, but be open to what God wants to do for you at the conference. He may point you in a different direction in your writing, or be working behind the scenes to lay the groundwork toward publication so stay flexible. And print business cards to hand out - network!

Nichole Osborn said...

I've been praying about going to Calvin, it looks like it might be in the budget!

Patti Hill said...

Latayne and I will be at Calvin. Neither of us has been, but I've wanted to go for years. Look us up, Wendy. You'll discover how very human multi-published authors are. And if you follow us into the bathroom, you have to hold our purses!

Bonnie, this is excellent advice. The power of the conference is friendship. Don't look at what that publisher, editor, agent can do for you. Think about what you can do together for Christ through art.

Sarah Forgrave said...

I'm hoping to go to Mt. Hermon in March and have a question. Is it acceptable to pitch to two different agents that come from the same agency? I've heard it's a no-no to query like this, but is pitching at a conference considered different?

Unknown said...

Wendy and Nichole, I am glad you're thinking about Calvin! I am so excited about this that I dreamed about it last night. (In my dream I was the coordinator for getting people on buses to get to the airport for the conference. Like most of my dreams, it did not go well and I "lost" a lot of people and the rest were mad at me. Typical dream, for me....)

The cool thing about what Patti and I will be doing at Calvin is that we will be facilitating a small group to explore the definition and examples of upmarket fiction being published today, with a particular emphasis on that written from a Christian worldview.

Edgy! Stimulating! Cool!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'd be glad to hold your purse, Patti. ;)

Latayne, that group sounds intriguing.

I hope to see you both there. Need to book my flight soon.
~ Wendy

Bonnie Grove said...

Hey Sarah: Publishing is all about relationships. It's a good idea to carefully choose the agent you believe will be a good fit for your work and for you.
My advice is to make an appointment with the one agent you think is the best fit. After talking - if you still feel strongly about talking to another agent from that agency - mention that to the one you are talking to. Chances are the agents know each other well, and often share information about potential clients with each other - follow any advice the agent gives you about whether or not to pitch to his/her co-agency agent.
Hope that helps!

Steve G said...

What about, Pace the Eating. All sitting and blah blah blah over food can make you feel bloated and wreck your sleep, etc. I try to cut calorie intake, watch the (cold) caffeine, drink plenty of water, and in general try to keep the old "jalopy" from experiencing sugar rushes, etc.

Word Verification - hypec: What your shoulder muscles say to your chest muscles.