Next week I’m attending my first writers’ conference at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. 2012 Story Weavers Conference. My emotions are running the gamut: excitement, anxiety, fear. I know a lot of the writers’ conference experience involves interacting with writers, agents, and publishers. I wouldn’t call myself a great social butterfly. I have introvert mad skills. Extrovert skills, not so much. I want to enjoy the conference, to make the most of the opportunity, learn all I can and hopefully make a friend or two.
I was really psyched when my local writers group decided to host a panel addressing how to have a good writers’ conference experience. We got some veteran tips from some folks with with more than twenty years of conference attendance between them: authors Bob Avey, Jim Laughter and Gloria Teague. Please check out their sites to find all their book goodness.
Here are 7 of the great tips they shared:
1. Choose your workshops carefully.
You’ve paid money for this conference. You want to get your money’s worth. If you divide the total cost of the conference by the number of possible workshops/classes you can attend, you have your class cost.
Example: $200 conference 8 possible classes to take = $25 per class
If you’re spending $25 on a class, make sure it’s one that will benefit your writing goals, strengthen your core skills as well as genre focus. Take the time before all the excitement starts to pick your class choices from the schedule ahead of time.
2. Take advantage of off-hours buzz sessions or casual get-togethers built around writing topics.
An opportunity to pick the brain of an industry leader in an small group environment doesn’t come along everyday. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most writers, agents and publishers are eager to share their wisdom. Listen as writers commiserate about their experiences, the state of publishing, etc. You’ll pick up a lot of information you won’t find in a book.
3. Take notes on everything you can.
Your note-taking gear is invaluable at a writers’ conference, whether your style is notebook or digital device. You may discover something important in your notes later. You won’t learn everything, but you will learn one, two or three important things that will impact your writing.
4. If you’re going to pitch to an agent, do your homework.
Agents specialize in genres, so make sure the agents you choose to pitch your work to will be interested in what you are offering. Agents only want to hear about finished products, not nebulous ideas. Take them a solid pitch/proposal. Find out about the agent. Most have websites or blogs where you can get a peek into their personality as well as their professional activities. You may be uncomfortable going one-on-one with a publishing professional, but you don’t have to be caught off guard if you do a little research ahead of time.
5. Be able to give a clear and concise summary of your book.
You want any pitch you make to an agent to be concise, clear and interesting. You also want to be able to share your latest project with anyone who asks. You don’t want an agent to start looking at their watch or checking their cell phone while you go on and on explaining your story. If you think nervousness will get in the way, use a formula to help you stay on track.
Example: Character Name wants to Character’s Goal but can’t because Obstacle = Simple Pitch
Be able to explain your book in one sentence. This is easier said than done. Give it your best effort. Then when people find your pitch intriguing, you can share more.
Networking is one of the most important things you’ll get out of a writing conference. It’s not necessarily the person you meet, but the person you’ll ‘meet’ through that person who will move your writing career forward. Networking is invaluable, you can make business contacts who may turn into lifelong friends. Where do you network? Everywhere. Meals, workshops, between workshops, waiting in lines, happy hours and after hours. How? See tip #7.
7. Be kind and friendly.
If you’re an introvert like me, it’s sometimes hard to push past your comfort zone to interact with those you don’t know. Or maybe you don’t have a problem meeting new people, but interacting with lots of people drains you of energy. Consider that a lot of the people there feel the same way. Take it a little bit at a time. Think about saying hello to the person sitting next to you in a class. Ask them what type of writing they are interested in. All of a sudden you have a conversation. Then take the next step and do the same thing with the person sitting on the other side of you. Before you know it, you’re getting to know people. Do it afraid. It will pay off. Throw off nerves and have fun with it.