Guest blog by James Scott Bell
James Scott Bell is a bestselling thriller writer and long time friend. His most recent release is Don’t Leave Me. He is also the author of the #1 writing books, Plot & Structure and The Art of War for Writers. If you do not have them buy them today (He has five other must-have books on writing too.
I am asked all the time by ambitious, up-and-coming writers what they should do to get in the game. I tell them to do three things:
1. Produce the words.
2. Study the craft.
3. Attend a good writers conference.
The first is non-negotiable, of course. The most important thing a writer does is write. But that should be accompanied by a study of craft, because it does no good to put down words if common mistakes are being made and bad habits ingrained. You study by reading books and magazines and good blogs, and getting feedback from people who know how to help you. Sometimes you pay such people. They are called freelance editors.
The third item on the list is the writers conference. Here, the writer not only gets access to professionals teaching workshops, but can network with like-minded scribes and soak in the vibes about what it takes to make it in this roiling, changing world of publishing.
Select your conference with care. Look at the list of faculty. See what their credits are. Try to find a conference that is of longstanding reputation. I teach regularly at two: the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and the Writer’s Digest Conference (now twice a year, once in New York, once in Los Angeles). These are both highly reputable and you can count on getting your money’s worth. Smaller, more local conferences can be of benefit as well. Check out the comments of former attendees.
To gain the full benefit of a conference, one must approach it strategically. Let me suggest the following:
1. Plan ahead. Make a prioritized list of who you’d like to meet, what speakers you’d like to hear, and the workshops you need to attend (determine to work on your craft as well as your marketing).
2. Make appointments. Sometimes you can sign up for these in advance. If you’re polite and professional, you may be able to set them up at the conference. Do not expect to get every appointment you want. You can follow up with a polite email afterward saying you’re sorry you couldn’t get together, mention the conference, and include a short pitch.
3. Always remember the two cardinal rules for the writer’s conference attendee: Don’t be dull and don’t be desperate. You should be able to tell someone, in thirty seconds or less, what your book is about, in such a way that the person can immediately see its potential.
4. Talk to other attendees. Don’t only focus on the celebrities or the industry people.
5. Don’t come off as “me me me” all the time. Listen to other people. Ask them what they’re writing. Let the conversation flow naturally.
6. Keep your tech at bay. Don’t spend most of your time getting email, texting, tweeting. Be with actual people in the actual moment.
7. Don’t invite people into your social networking world right off the bat. Get to know them first. Remember, true networking is based on what you bring of value to the other person.
8. Jot notes on the back of business cards as soon as you can. Remember the key information you’ve gleaned from the contact. Mention it the first time you contact the person.
9. Be a match maker. If you meet someone who might be interested in someone else you’ve met at the conference, get them together. Your estimated value to both will increase.
10. Treat everyone with respect, including the staff. Your reputation radiates outward.
What’s the old saying? Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You can get lucky that way at a conference. I recall two career-shaping conversations I had at conferences, outside the main hustle and bustle. One was with a fellow named Steve Laube, who was working for Bethany House at the time. That conversation turned into seven books with Bethany. The other was with Karen Ball, who gave me advice when I had a major publishing decision to make. She helped me make the right one.
I wish I knew where to find those two again. They seemed to know what they were doing.
So stop with the excuses. Save your pennies and get thee to a writers conference. The investment will pay off.