Make the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference – Part One
August 26, 2009 | Written by admin
My friend Chuck Sambuchino is an editor with Writers Market, hosts the www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog and is the guy who puts together the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS every year. He's a wealth of information, and in his most recent edition, he offered some thoughts about getting full value from a writing conference. I liked Chuck's words so much I asked him if he'd share something on my blog…
Wheeling and Dealing
Make the Most Out of a Writers' Conference — by Chuck Sambuchino
Writing is a solitary task. It means a lot of time sitting at the computer, researching facts online, checking your e-mail, and staring at that first chapter you've rewritten 18 times but still doesn't seem to work. If you want to be a writer, you're going to spend plenty of time alone, but at the same time, you need to understand the importance of networking and making friends who are fellow scribes. That's where writers' conferences come in.
Conferences are your rare and invaluable opportunities to simply get out there-to mingle, network, have fun, and meet new contacts that can help further your career. There are plenty of conferences all across the country and beyond. Now you just need to know how to maximize a conference's worth, and you'll be all set.
CONFERENCES: THE BASICS
Conferences are events where writers gather to meet one another and celebrate the craft and business of writing. Attendees listen to authors and publishing professionals who present on various topics of interest. Each day is filled with sessions regarding all aspects of writing, and attendees will likely have a choice of which sessions to attend. For example, you can attend the "Query Letter Writing" session versus other panels on "The Secrets of Mystery Writing" and "The Secrets of Successful Book Proposals" held at the same time. To find out what speakers and sessions will be included, check the event's official Web site or e-mail the coordinator.
Since they usually take place during a weekend, you may have to clear your Friday schedule to see all speakers. Also, conferences are not to be confused with retreats, which are longer outings that include a lot of writing assignments. Retreats typically have small attendance and cost more because of the personal attention.
Some conferences are longstanding, while others are brand new. Most are not out to make money-and few could, even if they wanted to. A regional writers group usually organizes them, and the organizers are likely all volunteers. For example, the Southeast Mystery Writers of America hosts Killer Nashville, while the Space Coast Writers' Guild organizes the Space Coast Writers' Conference in Cocoa Beach.
HOW DO YOU FIND CONFERENCES?
Conferences are all over the place. With approximately 200 per year in the U.S., you can find them in practically every state and area of the country-and then there are even more in Canada. Some areas are hotspots, such as New York, Texas and California, whereas other states may not have a lot of choices, but still have at least one annual event nearby.
To find a conference, you can use print directories, online directories or simply a search engine. This book–Guide to Literary Agents–lists a whole smorgasbord of conferences in its back section, while GLA's sister publications, such as Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, will list conferences specific to the book's target readers. Also, conferences advertise in magazines (such as Writer's Digest) and are featured in writing-related newsletters, such as Absolute Write and Writer Gazette. Subscribe to free newsletters to get conference alerts along with plenty of other helpful info.
Helpful online directories exist-especially for genre fiction writers. Look online for the Web sites of the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, or the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and you will find lists of upcoming conferences that are great value to scribes of those categories.
Another option is to simply use Google. The results are usually incomplete, but helpful enough. Try searching for "writers conference (month and year)" and see what comes up. You won't find a ton of gatherings that way, but searches will provide a few promising leads. Since conferences sometimes pop up out of nowhere without a whole lot of hubbub, this can be a good way to find newer events.
No matter where you find a conference listing, you will want to immediate check out the conference Web site, where updated lists of speakers, time, dates and registration forms can be found.
WHO WILL YOU MEET?
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of a conference is writers' ability to meet the power players and decision makers in the publishing world. In addition, they can make contacts and form partnerships with their fellow writers. Here are three different types of people you will meet.
Peers and writers
This is where the schmoozing comes in. Besides classes and presentations, there are usually dinners as well as meet-and-greet opportunities, not to mention simply banding together at night and hitting the hotel lobby or nearby bar to relax and talk. Perhaps you didn't even know the regional writers' group in charge existed, and may be able get involved with the organization.
As an editor myself, I spend a lot of time at conferences meeting with writers one-on-one and essentially answering any and all questions that they have for me. Editors specialize in presenting sessions and workshops, teaching everything from craft and characters to book proposal writing and the basics of agents.
Perhaps the biggest draw, agents attend conferences for a specific reason: to find potential clients. They are bombarded with pitches and request writing samples from those attendees who dazzle them with a good idea or pitch. Short of an excellent referral, conferences are the best way to snag an agent, so take advantage of meeting one. (I found my literary agent at a conference. Trust me: They work.)
Usually it works like this: You will schedule a short amount of time to pitch your idea to an agent. Your "elevator pitch" should be relatively short, and then there's some time for the agent to ask questions. If the agent is interested in seeing some of your work, she will pass you a business card and request a "partial" (a sample of the manuscript, such as the first 30 pages or the first three chapters). If the agent is not interested, she will say so. When an agent requests your manuscript, you can send it in and put "Requested Material" on the envelope (or in the e-mail) so it gets past the slush pile.
While there are designated times to pitch agents, it should be said that agents are usually ready for pitches at all times from all sides. However, beware crossing the line into "annoying." Don't pitch agents in the restroom. Don't interrupt them if they're having a conversation. If an agent is sitting down with fellow agents and trying, for a brief moment, not to talk business, don't hover around waiting for eye contact so you can step in and pitch.
The simple fact that you're at a conference shows that you're dedicated and professional. That in itself is enough to get agents' attention. Though writers still find in-person pitching quite nerve-wracking, the good news is that agents are not the mean stereotypes you may have in mind. They are almost all friendly booklovers like you.
More to come from Chuck tomorrow!
CHUCK SAMBUCHINO is the editor of GLA as well as the editor of Screenwriter's & Playwright's Market and the assistant editor of Writer's Market. To read agent interviews, see query letters that worked, and much more, visit his blog at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.