Monday, July 17, 2017

Making The Most Of The Conference Experience

Heading to your first writing conference can be a bit daunting. There is a ton to do. You will feel as if your head is spinning. Your critique partners will be pushing you to push everything you have to every editor and agent out there. You will hear of all of these workshops you want to attend... Ugh, I am exhausted already. Although a conference is and should be tiring, there are approaches that will make the trip well worth it. I am going to use the RWA National conference being held at Disneyworld this year as my model.

First of all, you need to know where you are at in your writing career. Are you still working on that first manuscript? Are you 100% certain that project is ready to hit the shelves? Have you written a couple of manuscripts and changing directions. Each will shape what workshops you attend and what you do. In other words, do not try to do everything.

If you are new to writing, stick with those craft sessions, but only focus on those sessions that you know you are weak in. There will be a tendency to head to these sessions with powerhouse speakers. Look to the topic first.

The topic of the workshop should be something that will help guide where you are at right at that moment in your career. Now, I know there are sessions where you can sit with these big name authors and they chat about their career. While this is certainly entertaining, it is not worth the hour you are spending. Listen to it on the CD after the conference. You paid a lot of money to be there so make it all worthwhile.

I am a big fan of the Spotlight sessions. A lot of authors complain that all the editors do is to talk about their latest books and try to get you to buy their books. Ummmm, yes! They spend the time talking about what they liked about these books. LISTEN!!!! They are giving you hints of the voice and tone they really gravitate to. They will not tell you the plots of the stories they want, but they give you very valuable insight. And, I should note, if they open it up for questions, ask them things. Ask them what their last book was they bought from a new author and what led them to that decision. Ask them out of all of the books their line represents, what they would read on the way home from the conference. Ask them turn ons and turn offs when it comes to plots. On this last one, you'll get a lot of general answers but LISTEN! There will be hints there.

Networking is key. DO NOT travel in packs and just sit with friends. This is especially true at the lunches. Divide and conquer. Sit with new people. Talk. Discuss Shop. Share stories. You might be surprised who you meet.

Now let me explain the whole not traveling in packs. Editors and agents DO wander around. They DO like to chat. They DO come to the lunches. But if I see a larger group gathered together, I do not approach the group. It is just awkward communication. I have also come to lunches and found the entire table is taken up by a group of friends (who, by the way, have been hanging out together all day). Just a hint. I have asked to hear pitches at lunch... but if you want to turn away that opportunity...well that is up to you.

Do not pitch your book to editors and agents WITHOUT doing your research. This means not hanging out around the pitch room and waiting for ANY opening. Only pitch your story to people where your story TRULY fits. If you don't know and are simply guessing, then you are not ready to pitch.

Remember also, you are in public. Everyone is watching. This means to be professional at all times. Yes the bars are tempting, but people have ears.

I remember two conferences where it was just a bit awkward sitting there as an agent. In one case, I was talking to an editor friend and this author comes over. She had worked with this editor and wanted to say hi. She also had a bit more to drink than I think she knew. In any case, in the course of the conversation, she finally asked who I was. Now here is the catch. Her novel is one that I had written about on a post before. It was a book that I had said I personally had not liked but it was something potentially good for other people. Once she heard who I was, she launched into an attack on my thoughts. Hmmm? Not good!

In another case, I was at a reception for a publisher and was sitting at one of those round stand up tables they put up for these things. The idea is it is a place to just hang out. In any case, there were two other writers standing right there at the same table with me. They said hi but went on with their conversations. One author talked about how she was shopping for another agent. Apparently her 4th agent she had worked with was just being a complete jerk and she was looking for something better. Um, awkward, considering I knew who the person was and this author did not pay attention to the fact that my name tag also had agent on it.

Along the same lines, this is a professional conference so BE PROFESSIONAL. You can wear your casual clothes and flip flops at your local writing group meetings, but this is where the big guns are at. Business casual to full business is what you should be wearing. No costumes. No gimmicks. Professional.

The conference is not your writing time. I get really frustrated when I hear people say they sat in their room, or by the pool and got a lot of writing done. Again, you paid how much money to do what you can do at home? Keep a pad of paper with you. On breaks, jot down ideas. But please, leave the lap top at home. Don't think that right after that workshop on conflict development, the conference and your hotel room is the time to fix that issue in your novel. Let it sink in first.

Now the hard one, and this is really where the Disney thing comes into play. Yes, I know the mouse is tempting. I am a Disney Freak. I live for Disney. I met my wife at Disneyland. I have been on a lot of Disney Cruises. I collect Disney pins. BUT you paid money to attend this conference. DO NOT waste the time hitting the parks and skipping out on the conference stuff. Go before. Go after. DO NOT go during the trip.

The key to a conference is to think and use it wisely. These are where you need to be, but if you ignore these basic tips, you are simply wasting your money.

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