4 Conference Success Secrets

I have been on the faculty of more than 150 writers conferences over the years. Some might say that is the definition of insanity… !?! But I would not be where I am today if it were not for the fine people I have met over the years at those events. I am a firm believer in the purpose behind a writers conference and what can be accomplished.

After a while it became clear which writers were going to have a successful conference and those who weren’t. Let’s look at some tips to achieve conference success.

1. Set Appropriate Expectations. More often than not the first-timers has visions of grandeur thinking they are going to be “Discovered” and in short order would be flying in a private jet paid for by their publisher.

It has happened (not the jet part) but it is so rare they can be counted on one hand. It is wise to set the expectations very low. Figure you will meet a couple editors. You will get to practice your pitch a couple times. But you will learn a ton of new things from the classes and from listening to others talk about the writing profession.

2. Be Prepared. You never know when you will suddenly be confronted with that agent or editor you’ve always wanted to meet but couldn’t get an appointment. I have experienced it first-hand, watching the recognition flow across the writer’s face….accompanied by their sudden inability to talk coherently.

Remember that we agents and editors really want to meet and talk with new writers. Otherwise we would not be at the conference! We want to talk to you. Don’t worry that you’ve been caught off guard, but if we do ask “What are you working on?” be prepared to answer. You can even say “You want to hear my sound bite pitch?” Of course we do. Take a deep breath and let ‘er rip.

Understand that a writers conference is a safe place to fail. Your pitch may be poorly framed. Your idea may need to be reworked. Your pet project may be an echo of one that we just sold to a publisher. That is okay. See #1 above. If you set your expectations to zero, hitting a 1 on the scale is a victory, no matter how small.

3. Keep a Positive Attitude. Don’t let your anxiety, lack of sleep, jet lag, or information overload ruin your experience.

I once stood behind two women who were arguing about which one would get the last appointment left on the schedule…with me. I had come to the table to see what the appointment schedule was like and came upon this potentially ugly scene. They were starting to do a little hip checking at each other and angrily saying things like “I drove six hours to get here to see him and I got here first.” The conference had not even started yet and two people were already on edge.

I leaned in, lightly touched their shoulders and said, “Maybe I can help.” One of them turned pale and wide eyed. The other turned beet red. We all laughed nervously and figured out a way where they both could have an appointment.

Remember that while you are in public there are eyes that may see you in action. Eyes that see how you treat conference staff or hotel staff or restaurant employees.

You have invested a lot of time and a lot of money to attend the conference. But while that is true, keeping a light heart and a willing smile will make the experience so much more enjoyable.

4. Ours is a Small Industry. If you are going to regale those around your lunch table about how awful your editor is at So&So Publishers be aware that there are others within earshot of your tale.

Awful rumors can start at conferences. I once had an editor call to find out why I was shutting down the agency, he thought we were successful. ??? After stammering for a moment I had to ask, “Whatever gave you that impression?” It seems he had overheard someone at a conference saying something to that effect. I was quick to correct his error. I’m grateful he called to verify the veracity of the story and had not spread the rumor.

Remember that we agents and editors know each other. Some with relationships that go back three decades. And we do talk to each other on occasion…. So, be careful with your words and your complaints. Often what you say is not heard with precision and the new version becomes the story that is retold.

Your Turn:

Any secrets of success you want to add?




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