At some point in your writing career, you’ll probably consider attending a Writer’s Conference. That idea may seem daunting. How do you prepare? What do you do once you’re there? How do you follow up when the conference is over? Here are some suggestions:
What do you need to prepare?
- A thirty-second pitch. You’ll be meeting authors, editor and agents who will ask, “What do you write?” You need an enthusiastic answer that hooks the listener.
- A ten-minute pitch. When you meet agents and editors formally, you will have ten minutes to persuade them to take a closer look at your work. A good pitch has several elements, including a brief description or hook, setting, an introduction to the main character (and perhaps the villain), what it is your character wants, and what stands in their way. Close with a call to action—ask if the agent/publisher wants to see the manuscript. Don’t be bashful about this last part!
- Business cards. You will be networking, and you need to trade cards with everyone you meet.
- Study in advance. If you have scheduled meetings with an agents or publishers, you should do background work on their career. Who have they published/represented? How does your book fit into their interests/past successes? Don’t limit yourself to one or two. Go to the conference website, get a list of guests, and research all of them.
- Make a list of promising classes. What seminars do you wish to attend?
What should you do at the conference?
- Attend classes. These seminars are taught by experts who will help you round out your knowledge of the craft. First, analyze your shortcomings as a writer. (If you don’t know what they are, ask your fellow critique group members. If they care, they’ll tell you.) Target those areas as opportunities to improve.
- Meet every agent and editor you can. This can be done in three ways. First, schedule a formal meeting at the conference. Authors cancel their pitch sessions constantly (nerves), so if someone you want to meet with is already booked, get back to them. Put your name on a waiting list. Second, sit with people you wish to pitch to at mealtimes and be sure to give them the sixty-second pitch. Third, you can catch folks in the hall or in the bar, do so. (I blocked one poor agent from going to the toilet in order to pitch. I got a card, and I got a reading, and he got to the restroom before his bladder burst.)
- Everyone is a contact. Exchange cards with as many people as possible. When you sell a book, you’re going to need a list of contacts. Conferences are a great way to build your list. Wondering how to keep everyone straight? Write something on the back of the card to remind you of that writer/editor’s interests and projects.
- Listen. You can hear really good stuff at a conference. Listen at lunch and dinner, in the halls, at the bar…
Here are some Don’ts:
- Don’t offer up a physical manuscript. Those are sent or emailed later. No one can carry around pounds of manuscripts or take them home on the plane.
- Don’t try to pitch an unfinished project.
- Don’t be overly modest, and don’t brag. Find the professional middle.
After the Conference:
- Thank-you notes are in order, whether in writing or via email. A simple note saying, “It was a great pleasure to meet you” will establish contact, and allow for future e-mails (one of which might be, “Hey, remember me? I published a book. You can buy it at…”)
- Mail your manuscript. You don’t have to send requested manuscripts immediately, but you should set a schedule, and stick to it.
- Evaluate. Did you meet your goals? What got in the way? Did the conference measure up? And most important—list things you’ll do differently at the next conference.