If you’ve followed us for any period of time you’ll probably know what we think about writing conferences—we love them over here! For some writers, though, the idea of attending a conference with a bunch of writers is scary.
Well, I think that things seem much scarier when you’re uninformed, so this week on the blog I thought I’d go over some conference dos and don’ts!
…research the conference beforehand. All writing conferences are unique in their own special way (I sound like a Barney song here, but it’s true) and not every conference will have what you want. Because of this, it’s super important to figure out which conferences create the type of environment you need. If you’re new to the writing world, this might mean looking for conferences that focus on the craft of writing rather than the business of writing—you might not be ready to, say, sell your book. And that’s fine! There are conferences for you. If you are at a stage where getting some face time with an agent is your goal, be sure to go to a conference that offers query one-on-ones or pitch meetings. If you go to a conference that doesn’t offer these types of meetings and still insist on pitching your book, you’ll look out of touch and won’t have as great of a chance of actually hearing a “yes” from an agent.
…attend a genre-specific conference if you write genre fiction. This is something I’ve recently been looking into a bit more. I grew up reading Christian/Inspirational fiction and have decided that I want to try my hand at writing it, but I learned at the last Pike’s Peak Writing Conference (PPWC) I attended that not all agents/editors specialize in that category. So if I wanted to pitch a Christian Historical Fiction novel at PPWC this past year, I would have been out of luck. Admittedly, that genre is a bit more niche than say, science fiction, but it’s something to consider. There are conferences for Christian/Inspirational writers (some that I am researching to attend in the future, see my first “do” above) and there are conferences for almost every genre you can think of! If you want to learn the skills of your particular trade when it comes to the genre you write, try attending a conference with other genre-junkies just like you!
…create a mini-pitch about whatever your current project is. Or, if you are in between projects at the moment, come up with a few concise words to describe what you write. This is hands down the most common question you will be asked by everyone you encounter—from agents, to editors, to other authors, to keynotes, to the staff at the hotel front desk. When people hear you are going to a writing conference—even if they aren’t writers themselves—their first instinct is to ask what you write. Figure that out, and practice it a few times! The best elevator pitches, as they’re commonly called, rely on few syllables but very descriptive words to paint a vivid picture of what it is you do.
…make some business cards (and use them!) Every time I’ve gone to a conference I bring at least 20 business cards. Sometimes I only give out two, sometimes I give out fifteen (I’ve yet to run out, but I’m also not the best at remembering to offer them up!) I think 20 is a good number because you can easily even print out your own since you aren’t going to need 500+. I usually do order a big pack from Vistaprint or Kinkos, but if that’s not in your budget, printing some off is so helpful. You never know when someone really important is going to ask for your card! My best example is when I was explaining the concept of the book I was working on to one of the keynote speakers at a conference a few years ago, who also happens to be the founder of one of the biggest literary agencies in NYC, and he was interested enough to give me his card. I’m so glad that I had my own to give in return!
…interact with fellow writers. It can often seem like everyone is at a conference to only make connections with the professionals who are in attendance, i.e., the faculty and keynote speakers, but be sure to interact with other writers! You can make some new writing buddies by chatting with others in your sessions and at late night hangouts at the hotel bar. You’re not guaranteed to come out of a conference with a book deal (in fact, you probably won’t), but if you interact with the other conference attendees you could come out of it with a new critique group or beta reader. And hey, you never know, that writing friend you exchange emails with a few times a year could end up on the New York Times best seller list one day (or you could!)
…go in with big expectations. Attending a conference is a fantastic way to network and make some new connections, but the chances of selling your debut novel or becoming BFFs with a bestselling author is slim. That’s just the reality of being a writer—the odds are not exactly in our favor. That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t value in attending a conference! The value comes from the way you frame attending a conference. If you go into it expecting to learn, and grow, and come away refreshed, then you’re on the right track. Go in with the mindset to have some fun and recharge your writer batteries. If you by chance happened to come away with the card of an agent who said “send me your first chapter,” then take that as an unexpected blessing. Don’t go into it with that expectation, though, or you could come out disappointed.
…pitch to editors and agents outside of designated pitch windows. Take just a minute to imagine that you are a successful editor or literary agent. It might be your dream job, or you might prefer to stay on the writer’s side of things, but imagine it anyway. Now, imagine going to a conference where, for a long weekend (sometimes even a whole week at bigger conferences), you are constantly bombarded by people pitching their book to you. At every turn you’re running into hopeful writers with big smiles and puppy dog eyes who might as well be down on their knees begging you to take a look at their book. A dream job or a nice work trip could suddenly turn into something that more closely resembles a horror movie—instead of the creepy guy in a mask wielding a saw around every corner, it’s overly eager writers you can’t escape. Okay, so that might be a little dramatic, but there’s a reason that most conferences have rules when it comes to pitching. At PPWC, for example, you can sign up for a meeting with an agent or editor where you get their undivided attention and can pitch to your heart’s content. Outside of that meeting, though, pitches are off limits. Follow those rules if the conference you are at has them—don’t become known as the rule breaker (and not in the misunderstood-bad-guy/girl-trope kind of way).
…bail on the optional activities. When I’ve attended conferences in the past, writing or otherwise, it can be tempting to go back to my room or head home after a long day and skip the afternoon or evening activities. Despite the temptation to go change into pajamas and read whatever novel I’m currently making my way through before getting some shut-eye, I try to attend at least a couple after hours activities. I make it a bit of a challenge to myself—pick a few activities that sound like the most fun and make a friend or two I can hang out with during the festivities. Make said friend beforehand, or during, the event, and then use the time at the event to tag team it—work up the courage together to go chat with that author you’ve been dying to meet or the editor from that major publishing house whose job you’d kill for. If you start off with the expectation that you are going to x amount of events, you’ll know ahead of time when you can plan to go get into your PJs, and you might even find that the festivities are more fun than sleeping, anyway.
…be afraid to put yourself out there! Going to writing conferences is about selling yourself to a certain extent. While that might seem intimidating, think of it this way: who knows your product (i.e, YOU) better than you? You’ve got this—you’ve literally been researching your whole life for this moment.
I hope this gives you a bit of the inside scoop when it comes to writing conferences. If you’ve never attended, I’d encourage you to try at least once. You might find that you’re a repeat offender and go back again and again.
What other dos or don’ts would you add to the list? Let us know by commenting below!