So. Writers’ Conferences can be intimidating, especially for those of us who have yet to publish our work. They can be overwhelming, with the sheer amount of information flooding our already cluttered, creative minds.
These annual gatherings can be found throughout the world and are places where writers come together to learn from published authors, veteran agents and seasoned editors. Through a series of workshops, panel discussions, lectures and keynote addresses, writers’ conferences afford attendees a chance to learn, grow and network.
It takes a great deal of time to prepare for a writers’ conference, but it’s well worth your time to maximize your experience. With that in mind, here are some Do’s & Don’ts for attending a writers’ conference.
Writers’ Conference: Do’s
- Make a Plan.
No matter if you’re attending a ten-day marathon or a one-day sprint, writers’ conferences are a whirlwind race. You’ll need stamina and focus to maximize your time. You need a plan.
These conferences are centered around writers learning about the craft of writing. Some are general, some genre specific, and some are entire retreats.
Devour the conference website.
Learn about who’s attending. Read the bios of the speakers, and, more importantly, the agents. Review the descriptions of the educational sessions. Familiarize yourself with the location and details. Plan it out.
Are there early bird rates for registrations? If you’re going out of town, are there hotel discounts associated with the conference? Where are you going to eat?
Remember, these events are social in nature, so just because the schedule activities have ended that doesn’t your opportunities to interact with these people have.
- Practice your Pitch
One of the most alluring aspects of a writers’ conference is the chance to pitch literary agents. Some conferences have this opportunity built into the base cost, while others charge an add-on fee. Make sure you know ahead of time.
Plan for pitch sessions to last about 90 seconds. You’ll need to know what you’re going to say before you say it. It’s daunting. It’s nerve-wracking.
But you don’t think your a salesman, right? You’re a writer! So maybe think about your pitch this way: It’s like reciting your Query Letter in a conversational manner.
You probably spent days if not weeks on a query letter, so memorize that bad boy. Try not to read off a page or notes. You should be able to talk about your book without them.
Also, make sure you’ve done your homework ahead of time. Does the agent you want to pitch represent the genre you write in? What other writers do they represent? Keep that in mind.
- Attend as many educational sessions as possible
Be it conference or seminar, workshop or retreat, these events all feature an educational component. Sessions are presented by industry professionals who are experts in their particular field. For the unpublished writer, it’s a wealth of information.
There might be a lecture session on the elements of a specific genre, or a panel discussion where agents discuss hot-button issues. Editors might host a Q&A roundtable.
Be ready to take advantage of these opportunities. Have an open mind. Take notes. Listen. You’ll glean insights to help your writing process and pitching along the way.
- Dress the Part
This one might seem silly, but you can’t walk into a conference looking like you’re staggering in from an all-night bender.
Think business casual. Remember, agents are looking for business partners. Be comfortable, but look the part. And dress in layers, some conference rooms are chilly.
Don’t forget your business cards! An agent might ask for one, and you can exchange these with the other conference attendees.
You’re networking, and many of the other writers are in the same boat as you. One of them might be your next beta reader, or better yet, a longtime friend.
Writers’ Conference: Don’ts
- Don’t pass agents or editors pages
Agents and editors interact with dozens upon dozens of writers at some of these events. Some agents will hear anywhere from 25 to 50 pitches in one day! The last thing you want to do is pass an agent you’re pitching pages of your manuscript. If they took pages from all of the writers they met, they’d collapse under the weight!
If they’re going to ask for anything, it’ll be a business card. What’s more likely to happen is they’ll give you one of their cards and tell you to email them referencing the conference pitch session.
- Don’t Ramble On
Leave that to Zeppelin. When you’re seated across from an agent, you might only have 90 seconds to pitch your novel, so you’d better know what you’re going to say. Avoid a long, meandering ramble about your story. Make sure you’re not darting off on any tangents. Stay focused.
Also, don’t spend all of your allotted time talking. (This is especially true of longer pitch sessions.) You want to leave some time to answer any questions the agent might have. And you certainly want to leave time for some feedback from the agent about what you’ve just pitched.
- Don’t Be Afraid (to start conversations)
Writers might be naturally introverted creatures–God knows I am. But when we find ourselves in a conference setting, we must be ready to talk with anyone and everyone.
Chat with the other attendees around you. Share your ideas, experiences. Trade business cards. Practice your pitches for each other.
Start a conversation while in the coffeeshop line. Or in the elevator. Go out to eat and drink with your new writer friends. This isn’t necessarily a competition. There’s plenty of room for all of us to succeed.
Some of these people will becomes friends and colleagues if you’re open. Besides, you never know where you’ll meet an agent or editor.
It’s important to maximize your experience at any writers’ conference. You might not land an agent for your manuscript (you might!), but that doesn’t mean it was a waste of time and money.
Remember, at any of these events, you’re surrounded by people who love reading and writing as much as you do, so enjoy it!
I’ll be attending the 2018 Florida Writers’ Workshop in Tampa, FL, next week. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to make inroads in the maze of publication.