Wondering if you should invest in a writer's conference? Which one? How do you choose? I've assembled a quick checklist for you!
Playing Nice with People Who Intimidate You - or, how to not just survive, but thrive at a writer's conference.
1) Align the conference you want to attend to writing goals This rule assumes a great deal of forethought prior to registering for a conference. As a writer, you are the CEO of your small business - an entrepreneur. It's important to have clear goals for what you want to accomplish as a writer and how you plan to accomplish them. Are you just starting out? You're in luck. Most conferences offer workshops for beginner writers - but ensure you sign up for the workshops that best fit with what you hope to accomplish. A workshop on writing Amish Memoirs may well be fascinating, but if you hope to write devotional books for computer nerds - you shouldn't waste time in the memoir workshop. The short version of this rule: Writer, know thyself.
2) Don't keep going to the same conference year after year out of habit. Routine and habit are fine for housework and memorizing the multiplication table, but creative types require fresh thought, stimulation, and adventure to keep the writing pipes running. I know, it's so great to get together with a gang of ol' writing buddies and catch up, but returning year after year to the same ol' same ol' does nothing to boost your creative effort. Are you looking to raise the bar on your writing? Check out some of the conferences you've been over looking all these years and take a chance. The short version of this rule: Think outside the box.
3) Stalking a specific editor or agent because God told you they will publish/represent you is always a bad idea. Conferences have systems in place that put writers and industry professionals together. Do everything you can to work within the system that is set up (e.g. fifteen minute appointments you can sign up for. Or submitting your ms ahead of time to a specific editor/agent in hopes they will want to talk to you about it during the conference). But even if the system isn't working for you and you can't get in to see that one person God TOLD you is THE one for you - don't lose heart. And don't follow them into the washroom. Relax. Be professional (no one wants to work with a writer who goes to extremes to get noticed). And remember - if God told you that you will be working with Agent-Amazing, you have nothing to worry about. He'll make it happen in His time. The short version of this rule: Have faith; be a pro.
4) Realize that pitching your book will feel weird - and get over it. You will only have a short time to talk to any single industry pro, and while it may feel strange to launch into a spiel straight away - it's actually helpful for the editor/agent/publisher you're talking to. Be professional - Sit down, shake hands and say, "I'm Joe Blow. I've written a 75,000 word Women's fiction titled There Goes Joe Blow. It's the Ya Ya Sisterhood meets The Stepford Wives." Give 'em what they want - the goods on your book. It will feel weird for about three seconds, then the editor/agent/publisher will say something back to you and you'll go - whew! I did it! I can do this! (But PLEASE don't say you wrote a fictional novel. Can't tell you how many times I've heard a new writer refer to her masterpiece as a fictional novel. No, no, no). Short version of this rule: Shoot from the hip.
5) If you get stars in your eyes, give them a rub and keep your agenda in mind. Some conferences are packed with multi-published authors we all gush over. It's fun to rub elbows with the likes of them - but remember, you aren't a tourist, you're on a journey to become a multi-published author yourself. Avoid gushing. It's actually awkward for the author or whoever it is you are gushing over. A smile, or handshake and a quick, "I enjoy your books. It's a pleasure to meet you" or words to that effect are perfect. Short version of this rule: Act like you belong (because you do!)
6) Multi-published authors want to help you, but they are not information cows to be milked. I attended a conference last year and was approached by an unpublished, but hopeful writer. She asked me for my professional contacts. I declined (I didn't know her, hadn't read her work). She asked again. I declined again. Later, she approached again and told me if I were really a Christian writer, I would share my professional contacts. Again, I declined. The exchange was uncomfortable, but I would do the same thing again. Publishing is about developing relationships. This takes time, but the rewards are lasting - and I don't just mean sharing contacts. The short version of this rule: Relationships first.
Now you: What's your question about attending a writer's conference? Do you have a tip to share? Leave a comment!