No matter what type of writing you do, you can find a writer’s conference that will help you learn more about your craft. While the price tag on some of the conferences may seem daunting, keep in mind that the impact of a writer’s conference can continue far beyond the few days the conference lasts.
Many writers attend conferences wanting to pitch their book ideas to editors and agents. While that approach can work, you’ll see more success if you first sell yourself. If editors and agents like you, they will be more inclined to work with you. You should be looking to establish long-term relationships with editors and agents who will help you produce wonderful books year after year.
While a writers’ conference will bring writers, agents and editors together, it is up to you to get the face time with an editor or agent. Do some research before the conference to find out who is scheduled to attend and what genres they work with. Make a list of the people you want to meet in order of importance, along with the person’s thumbnail picture that can find on the conference material or web site. You now have a cheat sheet to know who to look for and why they might be interested in your book.
Sign up for a pitch session if it is available. These are quick pitches to a specific agent or editor. If the person likes your idea, he or she will ask you to send more. Be friendly and excited about your idea, but don’t be pushy. Again, you want to sell them on the idea that you are someone with whom they will enjoy working.
Make sure you get the person’s business card. It will have all the direct contact information on it along with the proper spelling of the person’s name. Once the pitch session is over, write any notes about the meeting and the person on the back of the card while the details are fresh in your mind. I refer to these notes when I am writing my cover letter for the package that I will send that particular editor or agent.
You can also meet editors and agents informally at the various events at the conference. I know one writer who likes to volunteer as an escort at conferences. He takes the conference speakers, usually editors and agents, from room to room so they can get to their sessions on time. His escorting time also allows him a little time to pitch his book to the person.
Coming across as likable is more important for these informal meetings. People don’t want to stand around talking to someone who is annoying or inappropriate. Another writer I know has pitched his book upon seeing an agent or editor in a bathroom. He hasn’t been successful so far.
While editors and agents are your primary targets at a writer’s conference, don’t neglect networking with other attendees. Friendships developed can increase your pool of potential beta readers for your manuscript, potential reviewers and even other authors who could provide you with a cover blurb for a future book.
Don’t expect something without giving something. Be generous with your information or areas of expertise. Share information with them about markets, other writers, cover designers, etc.
Pass out your own business cards, postcards and other promotional materials. If the conference has gift bags for speakers or for auctions, see if you can include something.
After the conference, send thank you notes to editors and agents for their time. It doesn’t hurt to follow up on any other friendships you started either.
If you are an introvert like me, it can be hard to step outside your comfort zone to network at a conference. You won’t be the only person who feels that way. Just remember that everyone there is looking to make connections that can help them. Who’s to say it won’t be you?
James Rada is an award-winning writer who lives in Gettysburg, Pa. His newest book is No North, No South…: The Grand Reunion at the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. You can find out more about his books and articles at http://www.jamesrada.com.