Welcome to the second installment in our series on writers’ conferences. Last week, I looked at ways to determine whether you are ready to attend a writers’ conference, and how to choose the best type of conference for your needs. This week, I’m m
oving on to conference prep.
You’ve chosen a conference, filled out your registration forms, and made your travel plans. There’s money down, and you are committed to spending a few days rubbing elbows with writers of all sorts and talking up some agents in the bar. Now what? How do you prepare so you can get the most out of your conference experience?
What should you bring…
To wear? Conferences are not formal affairs, but nor are they a giant slumber party (though you may feel as if you’ve attended one by the time you get home). Leave the ratty jeans and sweats at home. Bring comfortable, casual business clothing, shoes you can stand in if you find yourself at the back of a crowded workshop without a seat, and some layers that you can use to adjust to drafty hotel hallways or overheated conference rooms. If the conference schedule includes a more formal affair, bring a nicer outfit for that occasion (no hiding out in your hotel room).
For networking? You’re going to meet many new people at the conference, and you should take every opportunity to talk to them. Many writers make up business cards, and networking is the place to put those to use. They are not a must-have, but they make it easy to trade contact information when you hit it off with someone at a conference. Don’t forget that these folks are your peers, and they might end up your next critique buddy, a great source for marketing advice, or just an ear to bend over your latest round of rejection letters. Keep your business cards simple: include your name, email, phone if you feel comfortable, and blog/web site URL if you have one. You can always email each other with additional information later. Bring a letter-sized envelope that you can keep tucked in your bag or notebook where you can accumulate business cards from the event, so they don’t get lost.
To work? Bring your laptop if you plan to get some writing done during the conference. You’ll see many diligent people getting their daily word counts done in the lobby or the hotel lounge. The reality is you might not write during the conference; there are many other things vying for your time, and that’s fine. But it’s a good idea to have your computer with you regardless. You should also make sure you have a notebook and several pens to bring with you to the various conference events, including workshops and pitch sessions. If at all possible, refrain from taking notes during sessions straight onto your computer, as the sound of people tapping away in the audience can distract your presenter.
Of your writing? If the conference includes any sort of blue-pencil sessions—where an agent, editor, or writer reads and critiques your work—they will tell you what to bring in the way of sample material. Beyond that, most agents and editors prefer not to be handed pages from your manuscript during a pitch session. However most is not all. Some agents and editors are happy to take sample pages and will even ask if you have some. So, better safe than sorry. Bring hard copy of the first three chapters of your manuscript and a brief synopsis (1-2 pages) in a folder or envelope. Make sure your name and contact information is on your writing sample. This way, if an agent or editor asks if you have pages with you, you will be able to provide them immediately.
What should you do…
To prep for the pitch session? A pitch is basically a verbal version of what you would put on the back
cover of your book. It’s that brief, enticing glimpse at your story that makes someone else want to read the entire thing. Tell your listener what your story is about in a few sentences, including who your main characters are, what they want, and what is standing in their way. Give two or three brief examples of their adventures/mishaps/challenges.
You should definitely write up your pitch and practice delivering it, but also take that write up with you when you go to the pitch session itself. No agent or editor will object if you need to read your pitch because you’re nervous. Far better to have the notes than to drop your head into your hands and bemoan the fact that your mind has gone completely blank.
Pitch one project unless the agent or editor asks what else you have. A second pitch, if requested, should be more of an elevator pitch – one or two lines that give a brief intro to the story and the protagonist. Do not worry if you only have one finished project to pitch.
If you prepare your pitch well, you will probably have a couple of minutes left after you’ve presented and the agent/editor has asked questions (unless you have extremely short pitch sessions). This is a good time to ask any industry questions you might have, especially if they pertain to the agent/editor with whom you’re meeting. So jot down a few questions in your notebook before the conference, so you have them on hand if there is time to ask them.
To determine your schedule? The conference web site may or may not have the actual program schedule posted before the event. If it does, you can easily go through ahead of time and see which topics/speakers interest you. If not, you should take a look at the list of presenters who are attending the conference and do a little research on anyone with whom you are not familiar. If you have time, read a couple of books by some of the speakers you don’t know to get a feel for their style and to see if you might be interested in their workshops/presentations. But keep in mind that you can learn a great deal from many of these speakers, even if they don’t write in your particular genre.
Before you leave for the conference? Make a packing list and use it to check off everything you want to take. Get a good night’s sleep so you’re energized for the event. Relax and look forward to a great conference experience.
Next week: How to handle the conference itself. See you then!