By David E. Sharp
Blah, blah blah, conferences are a boon to writers. Blah, blah, blah, you are going to learn so much. Buckle up, because this the hard sell. Beyond the panels, the topical sessions, and the opportunity to connect with other writers, a conference grants you the unparalleled prospect of meeting industry professionals.
Publishers, editors, literary agents, and authors who have trod the road before you can all offer many insights. And by many, I mean a deluge. You will find yourself on the receiving end of an onslaught of helpful hints and industry tips. How can you take it all in without your head exploding? Welcome to Writing Conference Survival.
Before the Conference
Writing conferences packs a massive amount of information into the confines of a few days. You need to be running on all cylinders. Get a good night’s sleep and come prepared with:
· An Elevator Pitch. Be ready to describe your written work in one sentence. Develop it for optimum intrigue. You will have numerous opportunities to talk about what you’re writing, but not always enough time to go in-depth.
· A Game Plan. Figure out which sessions you want to attend ahead of time. Inevitably, some of them will happen at the same time. Get yourself a conference buddy who can help you divide and conquer. Even if you don’t know anyone attending the conference, most attendees appreciate an opportunity to trade notes with other writers. It’s your conference. Get everything you can out of it.
· A Stack of Business Cards. You’re a writer, and that’s your business. Whether you’re published or not, you will make a lot of contacts. Business cards are an easy way to follow up. Even other writers are a terrific resource. Take advantage of every opportunity. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive.
· Get Familiar with Readalikes AKA Comps. Figure out your genre and know about some of the notable titles you can compare. Choose books that have been published in the last few years. It shows you are familiar with contemporaries of your genre.
With your utility belt prepped, you are ready to face this conference. Prepare yourself to meet industry professionals, writing experts, and new colleagues. Dress up in something that makes you feel confident and professional. And take off the utility belt. Seriously, just put that stuff in a bag or something. Don’t embarrass yourself.
As the Conference Begins
Before the sessions start, it is always a good idea to connect with some other conference attendees. Conferences are an incredible chance to network, and you do not want to miss this opportunity. If you are not great at starting conversations with new people, you can always ask people what they’re writing. Odds are, they are eager to talk about it.
While the opportunity to connect with editors and agents is an obvious goal, don’t downplay the value of meeting other writers. I met my critique group at a conference, and they were indispensable in my path to publication. While I have received excellent advice from literary agents and publishers, the connections I made with fellow authors opened the most doors. So, don’t just make a crazed beeline for Agent McBooksales like some kind of torpedo with a laptop and a latte. Make a few crazed beelines for other people too.
Try not to visualize literary agents as cosmic stewards of fate if you are querying. Very few of them fit that description. Most of them are personable, encouraging, and full of helpful advice. My manuscripts have benefited dramatically from agents who did not acquire them. It is not always about acceptions and rejections. The path to publication may be a long chain of next steps, and these professionals are a great resource to give you direction.
Remember, they are people too. They don’t enjoy crushing anyone’s dreams, but they can only represent as many manuscripts as they can reasonably sell. If they don’t pick up yours, it isn’t personal. Querying is like matchmaking. You can’t marry everyone you date. And, frankly, who would want to? I don’t even like to imagine such a scenario. But sometimes, the magic strikes and a partnership is born. Every step takes you closer, so get to stepping!
I have attended several Northern Colorado Writers conferences, and one of the most significant takeaways is momentum. I come away reminded that success is not as distant as it may seem. I spent five years bringing my first manuscript from concept to published work. It went through many iterations and received valuable insights from more people than I can count. It went from a shoddy novice manuscript to a #1 bestseller in two categories on the Kindle store. Wherever you are with your writing journey, be encouraged. Make use of every opportunity to grow and improve your craft. Learn from others who have traveled this road before you. Keep putting one foot in front of another, and you will make progress.
And for the last time, take off that utility belt. It makes you look like a dork.