August 14th, 2007 | Conferences | 9 Comments
Whew. I’ve been racing around trying to get all my summer appointments in, and get boxed up for our big move, while writers keep sending questions. So without further ado…
Marie wrote to say, "I can’t figure out when exactly you post your blog. Some writers do it daily. Others on certain days. With Chip…???"
My response: "Yeah, so sue me." Sorry. I’ve been away quite a bit this summer. My wife and I had our 25th wedding anniversary, and we flew to Scotland for two weeks. Back for a week, then I had to go to the ICRS book show. My son and his wife both graduated from college. My daughter Kate graduated from high school. Back for a week, then off to speak at a writing conference at the University of Georgia. Back for a while, then I had promised to spend a day at the Oregon Writers’ Conference. Then off to Los Angeles for meetings. A few days back, before heading out to the Greater Philadelphia conference, where I was teaching a morning track to authors. And, in the midst of that, we’ve been packing for a move. But I promise to be better and get to a more regular schedule starting next week.
Dave wrote me (about five times) to ask, "Why are you doing so many conferences this year? Do you really get that much out of them?"
A year ago, when I was starting my own literary agency, I said "yes" to every conference director who contacted me. I was just getting my own company going, and I wanted everyone to know that I was in business, I was back to doing what I love, and I was ready to agent authors. So I decided to do a bunch of conferences as a way to get the word out. Maybe I wanted people to know that I was safe and sane (regardless what you’ve heard). So I went to Colorado and Blue Ridge and Seattle and Florida and Dallas and Chicago and Grand Rapids and Nashville and Atlanta and Oregon and Philly. It worked, apparently. Everybody seems to know I’m in the business again. I can promise you that I won’t ever do this sort of thing again — I got conferenced out. But I enjoyed talking with people about books and writing.
Do I get much out of conferences? Well…I enjoy the ministry side. It’s fun to talk with newbies about the basics of writing, and I LOVE talking to experienced authors about the business side of things. It’s been good to see old friends and get face to face with editors and publishers. The teaching and relationship side of conferences is wonderful. But no, it’s not a huge business for me. I don’t make much money on them. Most writing conferences pay a small stipend (a couple hundred dollars for teaching classes and meeting authors for a few days), and I’ve not been interested in seeking an extra thousand authors to represent. But, occasionally, there is a serendipity. Lisa Samson, an author I’ve long admired, ran into me at a conference and told me she was between agents. I now represent one of my heroes. Claudia Burney is somebody I met at the ACFW conference last year and now represent (she’s contracted several books with Simon & Schuster). My wife has been a huge fan of Susan Meissner, and the two of us ran into each other in line at the airport after a conference — I just helped her land a two-book deal with a division of Random House. Another writer I really respect, Bette Nordberg, first introduced herself to me at a writing conference. And several successful people in the industry (Mary DeMuth is one name that leaps to mind) were folks I met at a conference. So there’s value to them.
Staying on that theme, Vincent sent me a note and wanted to know, "How can I get the most out of a writers’ conference?" My advice would be "prepare and participate." Before you go, spend some time preparing. Study the presenters, so you’re not picking your workshops on the spur of the moment. Find out who the people are that will be teaching, and see what their qualifications are. Check out not just the topic, but the intended audience and the level at which the material will be presented. In addition, prepare the materials you’ll be bringing. No editor or agent likes to hear somebody say, "I just banged this out last night" (believe me, it happens), so spend some time preparing your proposal, bio, and one-sheet in order to make your best pitch. Speaking of pitch, prepare for that as well — practice it, OUT LOUD, so that you know what you’re going to be saying when given the chance to talk about your work. Be able to explain your book in one simple, non-technical sentence. Have a thirty-second pitch prepared, as well as a five-minute pitch for those editors who want to hear more. And, more than anything, prepare your own expectations. It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to talk to an agent for fifteen minutes and have him or her agree to represent you. It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to hand a proposal to an editor and he or she is going to make you an offer. So prepare yourself by figuring out what your expectations really are. What do you WANT to have happen? What would constitute "success" at a conference?
In my view, success for most writers at a conference is simply "someone agrees to take the next step." If it’s an agent, he agrees to read your full proposal. If it’s an editor, she agrees to let you send your completed work. If it’s a marketing specialist, he agrees to review your DVD or listen to your speech on CD. If it’s a writing mentor, she agrees to examine your work and talk about the future. Success at a conference ought to be measured in forward progress — not that you’ve arrived, but that you’ve taken a few steps down the path.
The other thing to do when approaching a writing conference is to decide you’re going to participate fully. Go to the sessions. Take notes. Join in the discussions. Submit projects. Talk to fellow members. Don’t get sucked into the attitude that you want to just sit back and observe — actively participate in the activities of the conference so that you make friends with other writers, meet publishing professionals, and learn from everyone. The people who get the most out of a writers’ conference are those who are most fully engaged.
Well, I’m down to one last conference — the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference will be in Dallas next month. They always put on a great conference, and I’m looking forward to attending. I’m teaching a workshop on publishing contracts, meeting with some authors, and putting together an interesting late-night chat. There will be three literary agents in a room, and authors can bring in a project (anonymously) for them to review. I’ve been at a few conferences where that’s been handled badly — too negative, some strange comments by presenters, and even the occasional comment from other participants. I hate to admit that I’ve come across as way too negative at a couple of these…but I’ve got high hopes for this one. It’s got three good literary agents, we all know how to evaluate things quickly, and I’m hoping it proves to be an instructive time of learning, rather than a beat-down of bad ideas. If you’re going to attend the conference, plan to join us.
Okay, the movers have come, the car carrier is on the way, and it’s time for me to grab my suitcase for our move. Enjoy the beautiful summer weather!