WRITING CONFERNCES: DO YOUR PREP
Spring and Summer are the seasons for conferences. Winter is pretty much dead time. But this means that right now is the time to start thinking about conferences.
If you want to be a speaker or panelist at a conference, this is the time to start the process of finding out how to apply, how to put your name in the hat to speak.
If you’re looking to attend one or two conferences this year, not as a speaker but as an attendee, then this is the time to start your research. You have to decide how many you hope to attend, how much money is in your budget, how far you’re willing to travel, and, especially, exactly what are your goals.
If you know you want to stay within driving distance, then google for conferences in your area. But maybe the subject matter of the conference is most important to you. Then search using keywords that fit your requirements, like romance or mystery or agents.
Let’s say you want a conference that specializes in the genre sci-fi. So you google that and come up with seven conferences that sound interesting and are within your budget. Now, go deeper. What kind of track record does this conference have? Who is listed as being on the panels or teaching classes? What authors will be there? Do you know anyone who has attended the conference and what do they have to say about their experience? Is the conference all one-way communication or are there opportunities for you to get involved in readings or Q&A or meet-and-greets or hospitality suites? What is the primary focus of the conference – fans getting to meet authors, authors discussing their books, experts teaching about writing?
Or maybe you’re looking for conferences specializing in agents and/or editors. Once again, you find some that you can afford and seem promising. It’s imperative that you know which agents and editors will be coming to the conference. How many of them represent your kind of writing? Will there be opportunities for one-on-one meetings? Do you only get one face-to-face or can you sign up for more? Are their social opportunities to meet? Will the agents and editors be leading workshops or on panels?
Decide now what you want from a conference. That way you have time to do research and find the perfect match. Then you have time to sign up in order to get what you want from the experience. Then you can look around in your circle of friends to see if anyone else is going to the conference, especially someone who has been before and can show you the ropes.
Don’t wait until the last moment to sign up. Be prepared. Do your research. Spend your time and money wisely and you’ll make the most out of attending.
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LEARN WITHOUT GOING
Why do writers go to conferences? Of course, there can be a lot of reasons, but the two top ones are: to meet agents and to learn about writing.
Let’s start with Learning About Writing. If that’s your goal, you’ll be hitting as many of the workshops, panels, and classes as you can. If you go. But if you don’t, there are ways to learn. First off, check the schedule and mark the events you would love to attend if you could go. Then find out if the conference will be selling tapes. You can pick up one or two tapes for a whole lot less than paying for the full conference. Another idea is to check out the instructor or workshop leader. It won’t cost you anything to visit their website. They may be teaching in your area in the future. They may have a page or more of free articles you can read. They may have a blog where you could get daily information.
Now, how about if you would be going to the conference in order to Meet Agents. You can find out about them without being there. Go to the conference website. More than likely, the site lists the agents and editors who are scheduled to attend. Most sites will do more than that. They’ll have bio of each person, along with a link to the agent’s website and what genres they are looking for. Score! Check out this page which lists the agents who came to last weekend’s Writers’ League of Texas conference. Conferences do that, especially if they’ll be offering one-on-ones with the agents. They do it so attendees will know who they want to sign up with for a pitch session. But you, even if you’re not going to the conference, can have access to this information.
Sure, there are other reasons to go to a conference - networking, meeting the big name authors, getting autographs, and on and on. But there’s a lot to gain even not going to a conference.
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THERE'S MORE TO SCHMOOZING THAN SCHMOOZE
No matter what your reason for going to a conference, be it to find an agent, learn about writing, meet authors, or sell books, you’re going to be meeting people. I certainly hope no one reading this would go to a conference and be a total wallflower.
Step away from the wall, people!
Even if you’re the most shy person in the world, pretend you’re gregarious. Never hide at a conference. Walk right up to someone, stick out your hand (unless your hand holds a margarita, in which case, use the other hand or someone will snatch your drink), and say “Hi, my name is…” Especially do this to the person you see looking uncomfortable and sitting or standing by him or her self. If they look at you like you’re crazy, lean in close and whisper, “Helen Ginger told me you were very interesting and I should introduce myself.” They’ll either smile and offer their name or they’ll run screaming. In which case, move quickly onto the next person.
Each time you meet a new person, give them your card. You have cards, don’t you? If not, order them before you go. They don’t have to be expensive or custom made. Keep them on you in a place easy to reach and hand out. Ask if that person has a card. If they don’t, ask, at some point in the conversation, if they Twitter or blog or have email. Get some kind of contact for them. Write it down in your little notepad you’re keeping handy. Make sure you put their name down, as well. If they have nothing to give you and they don’t tweet, post or have a site, after you leave them, take out your notepad and at least note their name.
If they did give you a card, when you have a quiet moment, on the back make a note of when and where you met and the things you want to remember about that person. You may not have time to do this for every person you meet right after you talk to them, but do it in the evening before you fall into bed.
Networking is more than just meeting people and listening to them. It's keeping track of all those encounters. All right, I admit, it can be a pain and time-consuming, but it could also pay off big in the future. You meet not only experts, but authors who might provide cover blurbs, other writers looking for critique partners, business people who might give you personal attention when it comes to printing your business cards because they know you, people who can give you the inside scoop on upcoming workshops or up-and-coming agents, and more. All these people are out there. You just have to meet them.
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THE PARTY'S OVER
You’re home. The conference was exhilarating and you were running from seven in the morning when you hit the breakfast buffet to midnight when you closed up the bar.
But now, the party’s over and you’re home. Done. Kaput. Back to writing.
Hold on. Not yet.
You got a few things to clean up from the party.
First thing: Get out the program that listed the agents and any cards you picked up from agents and all notes you made. Start a list of who you pitched, met, listened to, sat at the table with, smiled at in the elevator, or bought a drink for at the bar. Write down all information that comes to mind. Remember to put the date and conference. You can make a master list and also individual docs for each agent. Save it all to the folder on your computer called Agents.
Second thing: Dig out those collected business cards and notes you made on writers, speakers, conference staff, vendors, and others at the conference. Now, organize those. Pull out the most important contacts and give them their own document. The rest can go on a master document for the conference. As you did for the agents, put down all the information you can remember. These are people who might help you in the future. These are people who could blurb your book or have the say about whether you get to speak at a future conference. They might be the bookseller who later on will decide whether to carry your book and the editor you email to help you with your manuscript. All those email, twitter, blog, FaceBook, YouTube addresses you got? Within the first two weeks home, follow them, visit their blog and comment and leave a link to your blog. For those you really connected with, email them.
Third thing: Gather all your receipts. On the back write what the expense was for. If it was coffee or food, note who you were talking with and about what. If you bought writing related things, keep the receipt. If you bought a kewpie key ring, you can probably toss it - unless you somehow fit it into your book, then check with your CPA. Definitely keep the receipt for your conference registration. Unless you’re really, really, organized and have a spread sheet set up, get an envelope, label it and stuff your receipts in there.
Fourth thing: Create a list of emails you gathered. Put the date and conference after each listing. Some day, when your book comes out (or your next book) send each one an individual email, reminding them of your connection, and let them know your book is out. Do NOT add them to a master list of subscribers to your newsletter or to any mass mailing or e-mailing. They did not sign up for that.
Last thing: Put your feet up. Relax. Have a cup of tea or a glass of wine. The party’s over.
Now the work begins. Are you ready to query those agents you liked and who are taking submissions? Have you written a blog post about the conference and what you learned? At the conference, did you find out your query is all discombobulated? Your first chapter boring and too complicated? Your climax slow?
Put down that wine bottle and get to work. Like I said, the party’s over. Oh. Don’t forget to start planning the next conference strategy.
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