Here's an article on conference-going tips reprinted with permission from Randall Ingermanson's Advanced Fiction writing e-zine. Randy Ingermanson ("the Snowflake guy") is a physicist turned novelist. If you haven't read his novel Oxygen you really are missing a great read.
Louise Bergmann DuMont
Facilitator of the NJCWG
How To Have a Great Conference
Are you going to a writing conference this year? I hope you'll be able to. Writing conferences can be expensive, humiliating, and discouraging, but they can also change your life. My career began to blossom when I committed to going to at least one major writing conference every year. I know many writers who can say the same.
The problem is that writing conferences can also go horribly, frightfully, abysmally wrong. In this article,
I'd like to talk about a few things you can do to have a good conference and a few things you can avoid so as to NOT have a bad conference.
Here are some DOs and some DON'Ts:
1) DO set your expectations based on where you are in your writing career.
* Are you a "freshman" or "sophomore" writer? Then you shouldn't be expecting to sell a book at the conference or get an agent. You should be expecting to learn as much as possible about the publishing industry, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to make some friends. Those are doable goals for "freshmen" or "sophomores."
* Are you a "junior" writer? Then you still can't expect to sell your book, but you CAN expect to get some valuable feedback from editors or agents. You might possibly even find an agent who'd like to represent you. And you can expect to make new friends.
* Are you a "senior" writer?" Then it's very reasonable to see some real excitement among the editors and agents over your book. "Seniors" are pretty rare, and editors and agents are looking for them. You might not sell your book at the conference, but it's likely you'll get some requests to send in your proposal or manuscript. And you might well land an agent on the spot. Or not. Your mileage may vary.
* Are you published already? Then your goal might be to make new contacts with editors and agents. Or you might pitch book ideas. Or both. It depends on you, but you know that by now.
If you're not sure what stage you're at in your career, check out this page on my web site:
2) DON'T try to cheat the system.
I once went to a weekend writing conference at San Diego State University. About 700 writers attended, so it was a big conference! The rules said that you could submit at most 5 pages of your work to a single editor. That was designed to keep the work load down for the editors and agents.
One writer at the conference decided to get around this restriction by submitting 30 packets -- each with 5 pages in it -- all to the SAME editor! Think that endeared the writer to the editor? Nope, it just irritated the bejeebers out of him.
3) DO be nice to everybody.
There is just no good reason to be rude to other people. Those other writers next to you are NOT your competition. They really aren't. If you let them, they'll be your friends, your coaches, your mentors, your cheerleaders, and your shoulder to cry on. And you'll be the same for them.
Want to know who your competition is?
It's you. The one person most likely to keep you from succeeding in your career is yourself. You probably think too highly of yourself OR you think too little of yourself. Sometimes you need other people to tell you that you really aren't Stephen King. And sometimes you need other people to tell you that you aren't kitty litter.
So be nice to other writers. That is the one thing you can do to make your conference stupendously wonderful. I'm assuming you already know to be nice to editors and agents. In fact, you might get carried away, so that brings us to the next DON'T . . .
4) DON'T freak out in the presence of famous editors, agents, and writers.
Look, famous people are a lot like you. I can pretty much guarantee they use the exact same technique you do to put on their pants in the morning.
No doubt when you put on your pants, you toss them up twelve feet in the air, do a triple back-flip with a full twist, plunge your legs into the pants at the peak of your trajectory, and then land lightly on your feet with the pants zipped, ready to go meet the day.
Famous people do that too. So don't freak when you meet them. They're just like you. It's OK to fawn a little, but freaking out is just a no-no.
5) DO expect the unexpected.
No writing conference I've ever been to has gone the way I expected. So I've learned to just go with the flow, try to meet people, set some reasonable goals, have fun, and be ready for anything.
Probably the most fun I ever had at a conference was the infamous "Shaving Babbitt" incident. I had that conference all planned out. It went exactly the opposite of what I had planned. By all rights, it should have been the most humiliating thing that ever happened to me. I loved every minute of it.
I could tell you more, but that's enough for now. To review:
* Set reasonable expectations
* Don't try to cheat the system
* Be nice to everybody
* Don't freak out with famous folks
* Expect the unexpected
Oh yeah, and . . . have fun!
Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine