Later this month is the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference in New York. And while I have to miss this conference I will be going to the Historical Novel Society Conference this month. If you are a writer you should make an effort to go to a conference.
If you can’t make it to the national conference takes advantage of a local conference. A conference is a place to meet editors and agents and to network with other writers. It can be exciting, fun, worrying and exhausting and a darn good time all at once.
Here are some pointers I’ve picked up from attending local and national conference through the years.
Plan ahead. Look at the conference schedule, and see which workshops will be of interest. It never fails that there will be a time when you want to be in two places at once. Perhaps you can arrange beforehand go to one and a friend can go to another and then share notes. If you have a ms. ready, sign up for an editor and/or agent appointment. Be sure to read all the conference info and sign up with someone who’s looking for the genre or subgenre you write. Can you relate your work to other works they represent or published? How is your work in the same vein or is it different?
Dress professional. Just because writers can work in their sweats, doesn’t mean you should wear them to the conference. The editors and agents dress professional, and so should you. The conference is essentially a business meeting that last several days. At large conferences, you may end up doing a lot of walking going from workshop to workshop, so comfortable shoes are something to consider.
One of the benefits of conference is to get to know other people. Take advantage of this, especially at meal times. Sit with people you don’t know (that why we all wear name tags!). At the RWA National conference, there are 2000 (mostly) women flowing into huge room filled with tables. I’ve seen people try and save seats for their friends, who never show up as they are sitting somewhere else. Met up with one or two friends and go in together, and take a seat. I’ve had lunch with big name authors, editors and agents buy just going in and intentionally not sitting with someone I already knew. Mingle!!!
If you’re not sure about a workshop, sit in the back so you can slip out without bothering others if you decide that workshop is not for you. Workshop presenters are used to people slipping out the back to go to editor or agent appointments, or just because.
If you get an editor/agent appointment – celebrate. And relax. Some editors/agents are just a nervous as you are. Just smile, shake hands and introduce yourself. Give the pitch (the one you’ve been working on). This can be as simple as the one sentence or log line or the high concept. Mention any previous works, awards, etc. and a smidge about your background — at the Historical Novel conference, I’ll be sure to mention my MA in History and that I used to teach. Make sure you leave time for the agent/editor to ask questions about your story. Be prepared if they say they are not interested in that particular story, but ask ‘what else do you have?’
At the end, if the editor/agent asks for the story, note do they want a proposal, or the whole ms? How do they want it? Usually today it’s electronic, so get the complete email address. If you have a card, give one to the editor/agent and say ‘thank you’. Leave on time.
If you’ve gone to conferences, what other hints or recommendations would you give to other writers?
Right now I’m off to work on my pitches.