I’ve been to a dozen or so writers’ conferences over the past few years. A lot of attendees ask why I go. It’s a fair question. We’re not hurting for submissions. That week when I get back and find one or two dozen partial and full manuscripts? That week is rough. But the fact of the matter is that we have a good track record finding new talent at the conferences. Besides that, given how much misinformation floats around, I like being able to answer people’s questions honestly and put a face to the concept of an agent. And an excuse for random travel!
All conferences are not created equal, though. Many are geared exclusively to beginners. Some are kept purposefully small to keep advice and information targeted. Others are sprawling events with an impressive breadth of information available. And then, of course, there are those specifically geared to a particular genre. Given the amount of cash you’re often asked to lay out for these events, it’s worth doing some research to find out which are worth attending for your specific needs. Whether you’re trying to figure out how this crazy industry works, you want to workshop your erotica, or you need a class on how to handle taxes as an author, there is something out there for you. Check out the websites for a bunch of writers’ groups and see if they run their own events or if the members often go to the same conferences. You can usually find someone to drop a line and see if they can answer some questions about a particular event’s quality and specialties.
If you’re attending a conference to pitch your project, let me share a few pointers from the other side of the table:
Many of us are nice. So try not to worry too much. I know, you can’t help but be nervous, but the worst we can do is say we’re not interested in something. We probably won’t insult the work or put you down. You want your project to be front and center in our minds—not the fact that you can’t stop sweating.
Plan what you want to say, but don’t over-rehearse! The scripted pitch is awkward. Chances are you’re still nervous, so you’re going to sound stiff or drop a line. Approach it like a conversation, which is what it should be.
Don’t pitch in the bathroom! No one (seriously, no one) wants to be pitched when they have no means of egress. There is NOTHING more horrifying than a manuscript under a stall door except for maybe a pitch at a urinal. It has happened. It was not pretty.
Be polite. Sounds easy, no? Try explaining that to the woman who opened her pitch to me with, “So how long have you been in publishing. I mean, obviously you’re no spring chicken, but…” I have no idea what she said after that. None. But I do know that my next pitch started with, “You seriously looked like you were going to hit that lady.” Of the two, you can guess whose manuscript I asked for.
But don’t be too polite. A lot of us are from
Long story short: you can get a lot out of conferences if you choose wisely. Maybe you’ll get an agent. Maybe you’ll get some good writing tips. I’ve heard lots of success stories (and horror stories) from industry types. Anyone out there have a fantastic or terrible conference story?