Making Conferences Work for You

Posted at May 19, 2013 3:14 pm

I love conference season.  It’s a chance to escape my writing cave, meet other writers, learn my craft, pitch my books and just have fun.  But more important, as an unpublished writer, a conference is a professional opportunity.    

Here are my suggestions to make your next conference—work for you.  A lot of these suggestions are geared for RWA, but can apply to the regional conferences.

Set conference goals:  Are you trying to learn about a specific part of the craft of writing?  Conflict has always been my nemesis; so I try and attend as many workshops on conflict as available.  Do you have a specific publisher you want to write for?  Attend the spotlights.  They give advice on what they’re looking for in submissions.  Check out workshops that give you critique opportunities like the opening pages or query letter reviews. 

Meet new people:  Don’t forget your business cards.  I’ve made so many wonderful friends at conferences.  This is my third time to the Golden Heart dance.  This year I’ll meet a new set of Golden Heart sisters and see my Unsinkable and Starcatcher friends.  Follow your new friends on Facebook or Twitter and support their successes.

Prepare your Pitch:  If you’ve completed and polished your manuscript, prepare an elevator pitch.  Just because you have an appointment with an agent or an editor doesn’t mean that will be your only contact with someone who is in the position to request your manuscript.  An elevator pitch is your story setup in one of two sentences.  Be able to deliver your pitch in a breath or two – no notes.  If that’s a problem, print it on your business card.

Pick your targets:  Research the editors and agents attending the conference and determine if your manuscript meets their submission requirements.  Don’t forget, you can query beforethe conference.  Your objective is to be published.  That means finding the right fit for your manuscript and making sure you contact all possible outlets.  Look at their pictures and be able to recognize the agent or editor in a crowd.  Remember, this is a symbiotic relationship.  They are there to find new authors; you are there to get an agent or publisher.

Make contact:  If your previous queries have resulted in a request, notify the agent or editor that you will be at the conference and suggest a meeting.  They may not have the time, but your email might net you a quick meeting or coffee, or even wonderful advice.

Put yourself out there:  I’m an extrovert and even I have trouble pitching my work.  But last year at RWA I came home with eight requests.  I pitched in the bar, at a party, in a publishing house spotlight and of course the normal appointments.  Don’t forget, you can camp in the appointment room and pick up extra appointments with your desired editor or agent.  You are there to get your work requested.

Appointments:  Make sure you’re prepared and have practiced.  I plan for a three-minute pitch in a ten-minute appointment.  It’s the elevator pitch with my hero and heroine’s GMC.  Then they either have time for questions, or if they have requested your manuscript, you can ask questions.  If the agent or editor doesn’t like the first manuscript and if you have others, pitch them.  At one conference, I gave an agent an option of two different genre manuscripts.  She wanted me to pitch both.  I did—in six minutes.  To my delight, she requested both.

Be Professional:  Conferences are fun, but you’re working.  A lot happens in the bar, but don’t get too loud, too drunk, or too … anything.  And this means looking professional.  Torn jeans and a dirty sweatshirt may not be the image you want to portray.  Sure I write in my bathrobe, but that’s not my public persona.  Carry yourself with confidence and people will respect you more.  And maybe they’ll request a manuscript.

Because that’s what it’s about, someone requesting your work.  Your perfect story will never sell, if it languishes in the bowels of your computer.  (Or under the bed!) 

There’s lots of competition for few publishing slots.  Do everything you can to make sure that one of those slots is yours. 

Now it’s your turn.  What’s additional advice do you have?
Previously presented at the Ruby Slippered-Sisterhood Blog and MFW eMuse

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