Conference consternation

I took to Twitter today for some blog suggestions, and Rina Heisel wanted to know what mistakes I see writers making at conferences. I see lots of thems, but here’s my top 10 do’s and don’ts of conference going:

10. Come prepared to talk about your book without reading something. When I sit down for a pitch, or even just begin a casual conversation, I want you to be able to tell me about your book briefly without reading a script. Other people seem to have a memorized pitch, word-for-word, and stare at me intently as they try to remember each one. Nothing is more unsettling. Instead of doing that, imagine you’re telling me about your job, family or hobbies. You don’t memorize a speech to discuss those, you know them intimately enough to simply talk about them. Be as familiar with your book.

9. If you’re meeting with an agent or editor, find out a little about them in advance. The person may not be the best match for your work, but they can still provide helpful feedback. Knowing what they do in advance can help you to get the most out of your meeting.

8. Don’t be shy! Take the opportunity to meet as many other writers and publishing professionals as you can. Be polite, of course, but don’t hesitate to talk to people. I go to conferences specifically to educate authors–take advantage of that.

7. Have realistic expectations. Know what you want out of the conference, and set achievable goals. Scoring an agent or getting a request from an editor is always great, but it rarely happens. If you’re just starting out, a good goal might be getting professional feedback on your query or novel opening.

6. Make sure to take advantage of all the conference has to offer, from speeches, to classes, to workshops, to critiques, to social occasions. It’s all part of the experience.

5. Don’t forget that it was your first conference at some point! Embrace new attendees as much as you do old friends.

4. Dress comfortably, in appropriate casual attire. You don’t want to wear a business suit, but you also shouldn’t be wearing sweats.

3. Don’t be nervous! Conferences are typically a very lively, supportive environment. We publishing professionals aren’t all that scary. Conferences are NOT a requirement of our jobs, and we choose to attend them. We’re going on our spare time, and we want to be there. And most of us don’t bite.

2. Be ready to accept criticism. It can be tough hearing about problems with your work in person, and if you’re not ready for it, don’t sign up for a critique. The worst thing is to be defensive or hostile, and believe me, it happens all the time. It does’t help you, and it makes the critiquer feel as though he’s wasted his time. It doesn’t reflect well on your ability to handle a business filled with rejection, either.

1. Behave professionally. Don’t wear costumes. Don’t slip manuscripts under the stall door in the bathroom. Don’t drink to excess at gatherings. Publishing is a very small community, and bad behavior is remembered. While conferences should be fun, remember that you’re in a business environment and behave accordingly.

I think conference attendees may have even more tips, so please share them in the comments!

6 Responses to Conference consternation

  1. Bryan says:

    Don’t only be there to promote yourself… Don’t act like other writers are your competition… Don’t look at my nametag and – when you realize I’m “not important” – pretend like you weren’t just looking at my nametag to see if I was important.

    And what’s wrong with sweats?!

  2. Thanks, Michael! Great post. I’ll be attending the SCBWI NYC conference in a few months. These are helpful tips. I love the last (#1), by the way. :)

  3. Hillsy says:

    No.8 & No.3…….DAMMIT!

  4. Emily says:

    I have discovered that an appointment with an agent at a conference is a lot like a two-way job interview. While discussing my project, the agent and I get to size each other up and decide if this is a working relationship – regardless of the merits of the pitch.

  5. Published Author says:

    Don’t be a starf***er. Don’t be that writer whose main goal is to kiss up to agents or editors and whose secondary goal is to kiss up to authors. We can tell when you’re kissing up and most of us don’t like it.

    The unpublished writer you befriend today because you like her as a person may become a lifelong friend and critique partner as well as a superstar author. The publishing professional you pursue at the conference at all costs and try to kiss up to may very well find you annoying.

  6. Pingback: Writing Tricks and Blog Treats « August McLaughlin's Blog

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