Writer's conferences can be a terrific opportunity to network with writers and meet with editors and agents. They can also be an opportunity to make bung things up so badly you'll want to run home, hide under your bed and never come out again.
Strange things happen at writer's conferences. Normal adults begin behaving as if the conference were some big slumber party. Writers cry. Many of them. Often. Otherwise psychologically healthy people break down and start stalking people. The conference atmosphere is surreal and you need to prepare for it now. Here's a quick check list for deciding which conference you should attend, and what to do once you get there.
1) Align the conference you want to attend to writing goals
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 (e.g. fifteen-minute appointments, submitting your manuscript ahead of time to a specific editor/agent or for critique). If the system fails you for some reason, don't lose heart. And don't follow them into the washroom. Relax. Be professional. Agents and editors aren’t thrilled about signing a writer who goes to extremes to get noticed. One way to get noticed is to spend time online, reading blogs and commenting. 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 sit down and go straight into your pitch, the editor will thank you. Your pitch is the reason for the meeting. Eating up half your allotted time with chitchat is a waste of your time and it annoys the editor or agent.
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! 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're on a journey to become a multi-published author yourself. Avoid gushing. It's actually awkward for the author 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 a hopeful writer who asked me to share my professional contacts with her. Three times she asked. Then she informed me that I wasn’t a good person because I refused her reasonable request. The exchanges made me uncomfortable, but there’s no way I was going to hand over contacts emails and phone numbers. Publishing is about developing relationships. This takes time, but the rewards are lasting - and I don't just mean sharing contacts. I have wonderful relationships with editors and publishers because they are terrific people. 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!