Spring has arrived, and for me, that means writers’ conference season is in full swing. I have well over a dozen events this year, and I’m looking forward to them all. I love the chance to get out and meet writers and hopefully find the next big thing. If you approach a conference in the right way, it can be a wonderful opportunity for you to fill that role.
Great. Now, how do I find a conference?
There is a wonderful, free, searchable database of writers’ conferences, classes and events at http://writing.shawguides.com. This fairly comprehensive list includes links and details regarding the nature of each conference, date, cost, faculty composition and so on.
And if you haven’t already, you should also join and participate in a writers’ organization. Many of them are statewide or nationwide with local chapters for your convenience. In addition to offering support, classes and connections, each chapter tends to have some sort of local event or conference, usually at a relatively low cost.
There are plenty of choices. Which conference do I go to?
That really is up to you to decide, but there are a few factors that may help.
Find the one that fits your writing the best. Writers’ conferences tend to be specialized, only covering certain genres or writing forms. To make sure that you don’t end up taking your memoir to a romance novel conference, be sure to both check the listing on Shaw Guides and then follow up by visiting the conference’s website. A good, basic rule is to always get your information directly from the horse’s mouth. And though databases and resources, such as Shaw Guides, can be very helpful, their information is still secondary and therefore less reliable.
Unless you live near a major publishing city, such as New York, Seattle or San Francisco, you generally have the option to either go with a smaller, local conference or travel to a larger one. The larger conferences tend to offer more in the way of workshops, sessions and high-powered faculty, but they also tend to cost more for admission (not to mention travel and lodging expenses). Also keep in mind that, at a larger conference, you will be a much smaller fish in a much larger pond. If you prefer quality one on one time to constant action and energy, you should stick to a smaller event.
Ok. I’ve chosen my event. Now what?
Most conferences offer you the luxury of being able to plan ahead. Upon registering, keep an eye on the conference website and your email inbox. Some weeks prior to the event, you should see a full program as a downloadable PDF. This generally includes detailed descriptions of the classes/workshops/sessions offered (if not also their times and rooms), dates, faculty bios, maps, information about add-on services, off-site events and more. Though a hard copy of this is usually given to you when you check in, it isn’t a bad idea to print it out or download it to your smartphone or e-reader.
But more important than just having this is using it to create a well-researched plan of attack. Read each description for each session and create a list of your first three choices by time slot. That way, you will only learn the most pertinent information, and you will never be bored or overwhelmed by the plentiful choices.
Likewise, research the faculty, and see if there are any in particular that you should seek out. Also note those that are just not a good fit for your work. This will save the both of you valuable time and energy. Some conferences offer you to sign up for meetings with the agents of your choice. Others have more of a free-for-all agent “speed dating” session. Regardless of the format, you should number your choices ahead of time, so you know who to approach if the obvious choice is occupied.
If there is an overwhelmingly obvious choice, if you have thoroughly researched and believe you have found “the one,” don’t be shy about emailing the agent several weeks in advance to request a quick meeting to discuss your project. Be courteous and professional. If they have the time (and the conference doesn’t already provide this), they will likely oblige. Remember, agents go to conferences looking for authors, just like authors go to conferences looking for agents.
Gah! This means I’ll actually have to talk to an agent!
Right. Other than learning valuable information about the business and craft of writing, that’s your main reason for attending. Getting reactions and suggestions (and hopefully requests to read) directly from industry professionals is invaluable.
But calm down. We’re people, too. I understand if you get nervous. But the good news is, things are always easier if you prepare. Write and practice your pitch in several formats: the one-liner or 30 second pitch if you find yourself next to the agent in an elevator, the 3-5 minute pitch if you sign up for a speed dating session, and a “much longer” pitch if you find yourself in a relaxed setting with an agent who says, “That sounds interesting. Tell me more.” You need to know your manuscript backwards and forwards and be able to recite any aspect of it with the ease of exhaling.
But what about my competition? How do I take care of them?
You mean the other writers? True, everyone will be vying for the agents’ time and a place on their list. But these conferences are set up so that if you really plan ahead, you can see what you need to see and speak to those you need to speak to. If you follow these steps, you’ll have a leg up on those who don’t.
With that being said, perhaps the best way to take care of your fellow writer is to, quite literally, take care of them. Help them if they appear lost. Take interest in what they’re working on. They will likely reciprocate, offering a critique of your pitch or suggestions on a plot issue you may have. You may even end up forming a writing group. It’s generally a wise move to be a good literary citizen, especially at events like these. And you never know. Your new friend may end up becoming a bestseller and eager endorser of your novel.
This is going to be fun. Anything else I should know?
It’s a good idea to carry a granola bar or something else to sustain you if you find yourself missing lunch because you’re chatting with an agent or taking in an important session. And get plenty of rest beforehand. You’re going to need it.
This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.