Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tips on attending a Writers conferences

So you want to go to a writers conference? Now what? 
I attended my first writer’s conference about seven years ago and thought it was the greatest experience ever. However, I felt that I could have enjoyed it a lot more had I received some tips from others before I went. The purpose of this post is to hopefully share some tips on those of you desiring to attend conferences this year. I am going to share 10 tips, although I believe there are so many more that I’m not sharing. If you have any words of advice that will benefit others I invite you to share it in the comments.

1.      Plan ahead. Most conferences will share an online schedule or outline of what will be presented at each session. Read it thoroughly and highlight the events that you feel would benefit you the most. Don’t forget to plan out breaks for yourself as well. 

2.      Have a laptop or note taking device. My first conference I didn’t have anything. I jotted notes down on the back of a program and ended up buying on overpriced notebook to take notes. You will receive some of the best advice from experienced authors, agents, and editors at these conferences. Do not waste that knowledge by not writing it down.

3.      Have your elevator speech ready. If you don’t know what I mean here, I’m talking about your hook or sales pitch for your book. You never know who you will run into at these conferences. An elevator speech is something you can plan ahead of time. Review it and say it out loud over and over again. If you ever have a half a minute of an editor’s attention don’t waste it with “umm…umm…” Think of it in this context: You get on the elevator on the fifth floor of the hotel and an editor is there waiting. You have until the main floor to sale your book. What are you going to say? I can’t tell you how embarrassed I was when I met an editor at a conference and he asked me how my work was going, that right he asked me, I then blew it and before I knew it my opportunity was over. Be ready and be prepared. In case that rare moment happens, bring a proposal package. A lot of people might say this isn’t necessary, but you never know. I understand that most of the agents and editors simply don’t have the room to carry a bunch of proposals, but what if you have the opportunity to have a pitch session with an agent or editor and you have nothing to show or give them. It never hurts to be prepared. And you’ll feel more confident knowing you have the package on hand. You may never use it or even think about it, but it never hurts to have a backup. What to have in your package: a basic cover sheet with hook (query), a brief synopsis, first three chapters, or the full manuscript. 

4.      Give out your business cards. You are going to meet some of the best people in your career at these conferences. You want them to remember you. Say something they will remember and give them your business card. You can get business cards very cheap and keep them in your pocket. It’s easy to just pull one out and offer it.

5.      Collect business cards. As you are giving your cards out, collect them. Write down on the back of the card a quick note to remind you of what you said to that person as you spoke. It’s always nice if you are querying an editor you met to remind them of your meeting and what you spoke about. It shows that you took the time to show interest in them—and it goes a long way.

6.      Be yourself. This is one of the hardest for me. I don’t know why but I get intimidated around successful authors and editors. I clam up and become shy—which is not me at all! Just relax and know that everyone there is just like you. They have written something, or are writing something and they want it shared with the world. There is no difference other than the perceptions you create in your mind. Be yourself and be friendly. When I say be yourself I mean your “nice looking” self. Don’t go dressed in your pajamas or dressed like Yoda. It’s so hard to take you serious when you don’t dress serious. Dress relaxed, you will be sitting for a long time and you want to be comfortable, but dress nice and be clean. You only have one shot at making a first good impression.
7.      Be friendly and courteous to panelist, presenters, and other attendees. There is nothing worse than watching the expression on a panelist’s face as they are rushed by a hundred anxious authors. Remember that the agents and editors are also there to socialize and network, sure they hope that maybe they’ll find a best seller, but it’s not always their main objective. Never press your book onto them. Instead ask if they have a few minutes that you could share your work, or ask if they do pitch sessions. Also be courteous of their time. There is nothing more annoying that one person monopolizing someone’s time. I waited once behind a frantic author that wouldn’t let anyone else talk to this editor. By the time they were dismissed by the editor he turned to me. I felt so bad because his time had been so wasted, that I only asked for his business card. He looked relieved.

8.      No stare downs. Imagine you are sitting in a crowded room and one person keeps eying you. Time goes on and that one person keeps looking at you as if they are sending you telepathic messages. Then after 40 minutes of staring is over, they rush to you and start sharing what they know you’ve been feeling for the past 40 minutes. This is not the way to go. Yes editors, agents, even authors have felt that special eye on them. They will not hear you if you are attempting to communicate telepathically. Don’t stare them down like they’re your bridge to fame and glory. You might scare them away and ruin a great opportunity.   

9.      Bring snacks and water. Don’t forget that you need to eat and you need to drink—and you’ll need to go to the bathroom. The conferences can get crowded, especially at the larger events. You may have scored a great seat but you were so hungry you gave it up to find a hamburger and diet coke. As for the bathroom, it’s okay to ask the person sitting next to you to save your seat. Also bring some Tylenol or ibuprofen. Nothing can ruin a conference like a bad headache.

10.  Have fun! Remember that this is to be your number one goal in attending this conference. If you are there to enjoy yourself them you will enjoy every minute of it. And I hope you do. Now go pack your bags!

Again, if you have any tips you’d like to share, please do so. I hope that you have the opportunity to attend a conference this year. It’s a great goal to make. I wish you the best in all your achievements. And that’s my key on writing conferences.

Art taken from Bongo Flo, written by Carolyn Quist and Illustrated by me. :)


  1. Great points, Mikey. I learned some of these the hard way, too, years ago.

  2. Great post. Just to keep myself from stressing out, I tell myself before I leave that an author event is a social event. Educational, too, but mostly social. That way I'm not stressing out about who I'm supposed to be networking with or practicing my live query--I'm socializing. We're writers. The pitch comes up.

    An awkward #11. Pack deodorant. Sometimes I get so excited about going to a conference that I forget that I'm technically an introvert--which means I get nervous (if only subconsciously) around other people, which makes me sweat. Luckily the last one I went to was at a college, and they had little travel deodorant in the bookstore. (whew!)

    I'm glad you included the Ibuprofen one, I might not have thought of that.

  3. Good job on these suggestions! The one thing I might add for new-comers is not to try to do EVERYthing! Particularly early on when I'd go to conferences, I'd go to every single event . . . then go home so drained, tired, and over-loaded, I was no good for DAYS after
    . . . by which time I may have lost some of my momentum.

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  5. Great points, Mikey. I love writing conferences and try to get as much out of them as possible. I like to keep my notes electronically so I can quickly search through them or bring them up quickly if I need a refresh on something.

    I love your advise on having fun. These are usually the highlights of my year and I love the networking that takes place. It will be nice to meet you in person at LTUE!


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