The Truth About Writers’ Conferences
So you paid $400 to attend a 3 day writers’ conference. Now what? I’ve been to a few of these conferences, and I’ve learned a couple things. If approached properly, it’s one of the best investments you can make in building your writing career. That said, you have to be prepared to talk about your work, especially if you are an unpublished writer. Standing like a wallflower at a seminar that you paid an arm and a leg for is a complete waste of your time and money. So before you get there, do the 3 P’s – PREPARE, PRACTICE & POLISH.
Develop a 30 second elevator pitch. In the sales world, where I’ve spent the majority of my career, an elevator pitch is the time in which you have just about 30 seconds to sell whatever product it is you’re selling to a prospective buyer. Think of your book as the product you’re trying to sell, so basically that means you need a hook and a good one (never forget you have tons of competition!) Write it out first – what is your book about? What’s the thing that makes it unique? Characters, plot, genre? A couple key sentences are really all you need.
Once you’ve got your pitch, practice it in front of a mirror or a friend. Be confident. Enunciate and be succinct. Your goal is to present yourself as talented, confident, creative, and professional. Now get on the conference website and look for the attending agent/editor list. Research them all – with the ease of use of Google, you really have no excuse. Do it, because if you get a moment to talk to an agent, you want to be prepared to talk about books they’ve sold or specific areas of professional interest to them. Agents are people too – they feel good if someone has genuinely taken the time to learn about them.
Finally, line up the candidates that match your work, find a photo if you can so that you can recognize them at the conference. Don’t be afraid to single them out (btw, this doesn’t mean you should stalk them in the bathroom, but do find them at the right time like during a break or a mingling session), and remember that they are there because they are looking for new talent (yes, that means you). Get yourself noticed in a good way – ask questions during a seminar or introduce yourself to as many people as you can during breaks. Participate in author/agent sessions. Be friendly and personable. In any business, people connect with people.
It’s also helpful to carry a synopsis or two of your work, and maybe the first 3-5 pages. Don’t be afraid to talk about your work and your goals as a writer. If you’re afraid to pitch yourself, then why are you there? Seriously. It’s not a big deal, don’t hyperventilate – unless you make a complete fool or yourself (which you won’t) or you impress the heck out of someone (which you will), you’re just a face in the “I wanna be published” crowd. So stand tall, take a deep breath, and put on your GAME FACE.
You’ve prepared, practiced, and polished. Now it’s game time. Get in there! Believe in yourself and your work!
Finally, the last key thing after you’ve wowed a bunch of top NY agents, don’t forget to follow up with anyone you’ve met after the conference. If you’re querying an agent who told you to query them, mention when and where you met them in your query. On the flip side of this, NEVER make up that you’ve met someone because they have ways and means of finding you out. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person. Even if you don’t query a specific agent/editor/author that you’ve met, still send them an email to say thanks or that it was nice to meet them. I cannot stress how important networking is in this business (in any business for that matter). See my post on networking.
Now give yourself a pat on the back, you’re on your way!