Agent Monday: How to do a Writer’s Conference Right

MP900227683Happy Monday, all!  February has almost bit the dust (kudos to the wise one who made it our shortest month). The birds are reemerging, everyone is itching to go to the store and buy pastel colored clothing for some reason, and this can only mean ONE thing: It’s Writer’s Conference Season!!!

Yup, something about springtime rolling around makes writers want to clutch paper cups of tepid coffee and sticky danishes wrapped in napkins and scurry for seating at an assortment of workshops and panels.  The appeal is clear: you get to see that, damn, you really aren’t the only nut who has been squirreled away for months on end lost in your head making up evil plots for a novel. And you also get to see that, hot damn!, there are, in fact, editors and agents out there who want to see what you’ve created.

It’s inspiring and seeing all the excitement can really get your creative sap flowing. If you do it right, you will emerge from your conference more focused, full of inspiration, and with a notebook full of tips and ideas. That’s all great!

But if you do it wrong, you’ll emerge feeling disappointed or down on yourself. Blah. Not cool.

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences over the years as both a new writer, an established author, a presenter, and as an agent taking pitches. I well remember being unsure and nervous at my first few conferences, plus I’ve seen my share of stuff.  So in today’s Agent Monday post, I thought I’d give you two things to keep in mind as you visit your first (or fortieth) writer’s conference.

KEEP THOSE EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC!

THE BAD: You come sure your dream agent is at that conference. Your purpose is clear. You are going to bee-line it for that agent, you are going to wow that agent, and by the end of the conference, that agent will be in the bag. THAT is why you are going to this conference.

Yikes! First of all, the term “dream agent” is a little messed up, don’t you think? I hear that bandied about a ton by writers, but really? An agent is a business partner, not the love of your life ;)  And a dream agent?  Hm. The only legitimate use of that term is when you have been working with your agent for a length of time and they actually meet and exceed your expectations.

But anyway, you see where I’m going with this. If you are setting an impossible goal for yourself, chances are you will be disappointed. I have seen authors come into conferences, hell-bent on success. They can be a little scary. Especially when things don’t go exactly as planned (and, really, what does?).

THE GOOD: Expect to hear agents and editors speak, and to take a ton of notes and to get closer to your goal of publication.

That’s a realistic goal, right? The more you learn, the more professional you’ll be (making both you and your manuscript more attractive to folks who are looking to work with you).  You’ll gain insight into what really interests a particular agent or editor – things that will truly help you target submissions and flavor your queries.

So try to sign up for a pitch session with an agent you are interested in, but understand that it might not work out. Still, know that what you may learn about that agent can help you to sharpen your query to that person after the conference. Did she say something in her talk that resonated with you? Then mention that in the query. I respect when writers do their homework and aren’t just sending me any old manuscript just because they found my email address.

DON’T BE ALL ME ME ME!

THE BAD: You go to the conference and tell people stuff about you, your book, your writing…  At panel talks, you raise your hand over and over and over again, not really to ask questions, but to mainly stand up and have the floor and interject you, your book, your writing.  At the end of the conference, you come home feeling a bit smug. Now everyone there knows all about you and your book!

But guess what? If you come out of a conference with no notes, with no new acquaintances, with no new knowledge, then you’ve done it all wrong.

THE GOOD: You attend the conference eager to learn. You take time to meet fellow writers and ask them what they write and about where they are in the journey, and you learn a ton from them! You share helpful stuff with them.  At panels and workshops you listen, take notes, and, yes, raise your hand if you have a legitimate question.  You go home knowing more, with new connections.

And guess what? Plenty of people asked you about your writing without you needing to pull out a bullhorn.

If you keep these two things in mind, hopefully your conference experiences will be ALL GOOD!

My upcoming conference appearances can be found here.  And if you need help working on your query letter and your verbal pitch, I’m offering a QUERY AND PITCH CLINIC through The Word Studio in Chestnut Hill, PA in April. Registration is very limited (to 8 people) for this 2-day workshop, so you know you’ll get plenty of one on one advice from me.  Info about this workshop can be found by clicking here.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.