Networking can be scary, especially if you’re introverted like I am, which is why it’s so important to consider how to prepare for a writing conference before attending one. My natural predisposition to my own company is likely why I gravitated towards writing in the first place, which is a very solitary activity.
My 9-5 is ghostwriting for executives and my “side gigs” are writing novels and managing OPwrites.com, my author page and blog (not to mention Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – I’m most active on the ‘gram, but doing my best to keep up everywhere else. I’m currently a one woman show, but that will change when I ink a deal for Twist of Fate).
Needless to say, that’s a lot of writing! It’s my favourite thing to do, so I consider myself incredibly lucky, but there’s also something to be said for meeting kindred spirits who also live and breathe their craft. Every so often, I like to actually converse with people rather than just write about the fictional ones in my head.
The best place to do that? At a writing conference, of course! James and I recently returned from a trip to Boston where I pitched literary agents live and I attended another conference in my hometown of Toronto where I did more pitching. However, even if your manuscript isn’t submission ready, you can still gain a lot of value from writing conferences through attending seminars and taking advantage of networking opportunities.
How to prepare for a writing conference
Know why you’re going. Are you attending the writing conference to pitch literary agents, meet new people or hone your craft? Maybe it’s a combination of all three, but setting clear priorities will make it easy to decide what activities to take part in and what to pass on.
Decide what sessions you want to attend in advance. Oftentimes, three different sessions will be running at the same time and you’ll need to choose which one you want to attend (or clone yourself, which is a cooler option). Deciding in advance takes the pressure off and you can even arrive early and locate the rooms to avoid any glitches.
Be flexible. I knew exactly which sessions I wanted to attend, but I also knew that my primary goal was speaking to agents (see point one). So when I had the opportunity to spontaneously pitch an agent in the hallway, I took advantage of it (and arrived late to a session I had planned to attend).
Recharge your batteries as required. As I mentioned, I’m an introvert. An entire day talking to a bunch of people I don’t know and needing to stay “on” is completely exhausting for me (well worth it, but tiring nonetheless). Since the goal of my attendance was getting requests from agents (which I did!!), I spent lunch alone in the glorious peace and quiet so I could recharge and continue practicing my pitch. For multi-day conferences, you can head back to your hotel room if none of the sessions are appealing or you just need a break. You will likely get free swag, but you can always bring a book and not look out of place.
Know what to bring and what to leave at home. The mark of an amateur at a writing conference is trying to pass printed manuscripts to agents. Not only is this a presumptuous faux pas, but it’s also rude to think an agent is going to want to carry around stacks of paper all day. If an agent is interested, s/he will ask you to email them a copy of your manuscript. However, you should bring a notebook to write down key points from the sessions and business cards to pass to other attendees (and only to agents if they ask).
Dress to impress. I don’t mean you should put on an evening gown or tuxedo, but I think looking polished, professional and put together makes a difference in terms of first impressions. I saw some folks wearing hoodies to their agent presentations and countless others who said they hadn’t even taken the time to prepare for their pitches. Like I always say, if you want writing to be your job, take it seriously and treat it like a job.
Prepare in advance. Even if you’re not pitching agents, you should still have an elevator speech about your book ready to go in case someone asks what your book is about (because someone will ask). You don’t want your answer to be long, rambling and nonsensical, so take some time and prepare a 30 second speech about it so you sound poised and professional.
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