Conference Etiquette For Authors

I am so excited I could “squee”, (not something I normally do) In two days time I’m hopping on a plane to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference.

But underneath that excitement is a certain trepidation.

You see like most authors who can chat quite happily from the safety of their computer keyboard, I’m actually shy at heart, and it’s a scary thought to be about to be thrown into a large group of people I don’t know – especially “very important publishing people”.

As I was walking my dog, Puff (that’s her on the left) the other day, I realised what the problem was. I am not scared of snakes or spiders (although moths alarm me a little) but I suffer from Agpubliphobia.

Agpubliphobia – an unreasonable fear of agents and publishers.”

It’s a name I invented because well something like this just seemed to need a name – and from talking to other authors I realise I’m not the only one who suffers from it. So I thought I’d share possible causes and cures.

Now I know from experience that agents and publishers are just people, and all the ones I’ve met have been very nice people. So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not them I’m scared of, it’s actually me – and how I might behave under stress.

When it comes to knowing how to put words on paper, I’m quietly confident that I can do a good job. Even doing author talks to schools, and workhops in classrooms, I’m very comfortable.

But when it comes to talking to ‘important people’, when there’s a lot at stake – like a possible contract or judgement on something I’ve created that is close to my heart, I seem to take on some quirky traits that aren’t a normal part of my personality.

And I’m worried these tendencies may be amplified with the 2011 SCBWI LA conference because of the fact that this conference is probably five times bigger than any I’ve been to before and I’m one of only eleven delegates from Australia and New Zealand.

A large part of my motivation for going to the conference is centred around ‘actually’ meeting writer friends from all over the world that I’ve ‘virtually’ met online. I’m also enthused about what I’m going to learn from sessions like my verse novel intensive with the amazing Ellen Hopkins and from people like Gary Paulsen who is one of my favourite children’s authors.

But what if? What if someone – a publisher or agent asks me, “What are you working on now?”

If I had to think on the spot, I would probably respond with “Umm, Umm, Umm…” They would walk away thinking I was writing some weird sci fi novel about an octopus like creature with lots of arms and not much else.

Okay, so that was my first fear to overcome. The only way to do that I figured was to prepare my pitch in advance – so I wouldn’t have to get my fear-addled brain to think up something pithy on the spot.

(Thanks to Rachelle Gardner who has recently had some really helpful pitch posts on her blog.)

Memory Lapse

I’ve memorised my pitch, but what if I forget it? Then I’m back to where I started – paralysed by Agpubliphobia

To overcome that, I’ve made special prompt cards (cleverly disguised as a bookmarks) in case I forget.

My 'giveaway' bookmark

Lost For Words

What if everyone around me (including agents and publishers) is making intelligent small talk and I have nothing to contribute to the conversation? What if I can’t think what to say? If I can’t even remember my name or where I live (oh I’ll have a name tag so at least the first part will be covered)

The ‘Lost For Words’ syndrome is the reason I’ve printed another set to hand out to people – and down the bottom is a photo of where I live in Australia – so that’s kind of a visual prompt to help me relax and remind me that I do have something to talk about.

How Not to Scare Away Agents & Publishers

Now I realise that not everyone is like me. (although I know a lot of children’s writers who are). Lots of people are extroverts and things can go badly wrong for them too, so I thought it only fair that I cover this side of things as well.

Last time I posted on this topic I talked about how not to scare away agents and publishers by being overzealous and enthusiastic.

If you don’t suffer from Agpubliphobia, but agents and publishers seem to run a mile whenever they see you, here are some tips thanks to my wonderful writerly colleagues at Kids’ Writers Downunder:

Some of the following tips have been taken from a previous blog post. These are the things you DON’T DO AROUND AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS:

  • Get drunk and whisper sentimentally to a publisher or agent that they remind you of your mother.
  • Follow publishers/agents everywhere and offer to buy them drinks.
  • Follow them to the bathroom and talk to them through the cubicle wall (or under the gap in the door).
  • Follow them full stop.
  • Pitch to them in a social environment – if a publisher has just consumed a large and sumptuous main, there’s nothing that will cause them reflux more than an author pitching their 200,000 word sci fi, thriller, mystery romance over dessert.
  • March up to a well-known author’s agent or publisher and ‘drop their name’; making out you are their ‘bestie’, and that by association, this makes your writing irresistible.
  • Ambush elevators full of agents/publishers to do your ‘elevator pitch’ (This is a late addition thanks to my good friend and crit buddy, Alison Reynolds).

(In case you haven’t read it already, here’s the complete post on How Not to Scare Away Agents and Publishers.)

Deciding what to pack:)

I guess in conclusion I’d say that no matter what sort of personality you have, try to be your nicest and most relaxed self around agents and publishers. And have fun! That’s what I plan to do. I know the SCBWI LA conference is going to be an amazing experience and I’m going to make the most of it.

Do you suffer from Agpubliphobia or are you the suave, calm type that isn’t phased by this sort of occasion? If so, we could really use your help. Please feel free to leave your tips and comments.

Well I’ve got to go and pack. Next time I blog I will probably be in LA. I’ll definitely be back here to let you know how my strategies worked.


P.S. Here’s another great resource I just got from the SCBWI website.

P.P.S – Thanks to our wonderful SCBWI RAs here in Australia, Susanne Gervay and Chris Cheng and to Sara Rutenberg (Chief Operating Officer SCBWI LA) who have done so much to help me prepare for the conference and make me feel at home already.


  1. Agents can be intimidating, for sure. I introduced a young friend of mine to a publisher who had once published a poem of mine in her anthology. Well, my friend froze up and was super anxious, as if she were about to play organ poker with Hannibal Lector.

  2. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for sharing your very real experience:) I guess it just goes to show that the outcome is the most important thing.

    Homework is definitely a good idea.

    Thanks for your good wishes, Julie. I’m looking forward to reading your two new books when I get back:)


  3. Great advice, Dee! I’m sure you’ll do everything right, and even if you don’t, that doesn’t matter, you’ll come across as a lovely, warm Aussie girl. They’ll love you! 🙂
    PS Wish I was going too!
    PPS I love that image of your backyard, haha. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Sheryl,

    I wish you were going too, too:)

    Yeah, I love that image of my backyard too. It was taken by my very good friend and talented artist, writer and photographer, Sheryl Gwyther:) Do you know her?:)


  5. Hi Dee, So excited for you, wish I could drive down to L.A. to meet with you IRL. I’m sure you’ll be back though 😉
    You know, I like to think Agents and Publisher are people too.
    Some really like to read and make books but have problems facing people.
    My suggestion: Give them a little help. How? By asking them the right questions. Really smart questions that make them love you for helping them remember what it was they wanted to talk about.
    And don’t run out of the room, but give them a break, let them have the opportunity to return the favor (of keeping them on track) by asking you what you write. If you have forgotten, play that up instead of down. After all you make it easy for them with that clever bookmark. Have a safe and wonderful trip!

  6. Hi Dee,

    Loved the post. I would think that agpubliphobia is in epidemic proportions. You’re just the one brave enough to write about it!

    Have a fantastic time in LA.


  7. Thanks, Judith,

    That’s really great advice. Sorry I won’t be seeing you this time…but I do have plans to return:)

    And thanks for your wonderful help with my bookmarks.

    Dee xx

  8. Thanks, Vicki,

    To be honest, I debated about whether I should publicly confess to my agpubliphobia:) I was wondering whether I should just try to pretend to be smart and sophisticated instead, but I am more comfortable just being ‘me’.

    I’m planning on having a fabulous time in LA. Better go now and memorise my pitches:)

    Hope you have a good writing week.


  9. Now Dee, I know you… and I’m having a hard time imaging you; 1) stuck for words (we have talked to the wee small hours of the morning more than once, you will recall) OR, 2) behaving!!! Who are you trying to kid? 😉

    Seriously, you sound super-dooper organised and you deserve every success that you make out of this trip. Have a blast. Be yourself – and enjoy! Can’t wait to hear all about it.

    Oh – and ummm… I think you packed the wrong Kat in your bag… xx

  10. Don’t worry, Dee. You’re not alone out there. It scares the wits out of me, too, even though this will be my second SCBWI conference.
    I just know you will do great! You’re a writer and they know that. They will judge you on your writing and your writing is solid. You have books to prove that. 🙂 Oh, and we, the other warriors in LA, got your back!

    See you in LA.


  11. Thanks, Mina,

    And thanks for your words of encouragement.

    I have to say it makes me feel a lot better knowing I will have the support of Warriors like you in LA. And the SCBWI RAs in Australia, Susanne Gervay and Chris Cheng have been wonderful too.

    After all this time corresponding online, It’s going to be such fun to get to know my Warrior friends in person.

    Can’t wait to meet you.


  12. Hmm… have a bit of a shyness issue too. Will be doing a pitch at Brisbane this year and think all the publishers and agents are some kind of superior being and quite scary. This shouldn’t stop anyone, though. This year, I’ll make sure I’m prepared better, since last year I did one without knowing how to actually do it! I think also belief in the work goes a long way to putting forward a good pitch because the passion comes through naturally.
    Good to know that my cringy, icky feelings about this kind of thing are not unique!
    Goodonya Dee and best of luck in LA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Have a wonderful time Dee! I know you’ll make the most of it.

    I have author phobia. Children’s authors are all so friendly it’s easy to chat – but when I go to an overseas gatherings, I fear asking an individiual what they write when everyone else knows that the person is incredibly famous and multi award winning. (I’ve done it more than once!)


  14. Thanks, Peter,

    I know I’ll have a wonderful time:)

    Now you have given me something else to worry about – not recognising famous people lol.

    I’ll just have to tell them I’m from Australia and don’t get out much:)


  15. Firstly, are you me?? (I may be an extrovert but I suffer identical fears to you).

    Secondly, doesn’t every author suffer from Agpubliphobia?

    Thirdly, thank you for the wonderful [nervous] laugh.

    Lastly, your handout is sheer and utter brilliance (which is pretty typical of you, I must say). I am so totally going to steal it and I’m sure everyone else will, too. It shall now be dubbed the DeeMark.

    Oh – and super lastly, I know you will shine at SCBWI. Have fun.


  16. Thanks, Tania,

    You really made me laugh:)

    Tall, blonde and gorgeous? That is so you, and so ‘not’ me lol. So I don’t think I am you:) But I guess it just goes to show that no matter who we are, we are still vulnerable when it comes to our writing – probably because it’s so important to us.

    I think you’re right that many authors suffer from Agpubliphobia. That’s why I decided to confess:)

    Glad you liked my handout. Happy for you to steal it…and the DeeMark sounds excellent lol.

    I am definitely going to have fun in LA and I promise to tell you all about it.


  17. excellent blogpost, Dee! I’m lurching between excitement and nervousness as I prepare for my first SCBWI (haven’t even been to a regional conference, as Canada West meets way too far away from me).

    May meet you there — one of my writing colleagues is from NZ, so she’ll likely meet you, anyway.

    Breathe. Relax. Enjoy. (that’s going to be my mantra for the conference, I think.)

  18. Thanks, Elizabeth,

    I hope to meet you at the conference and will undoubtedly meet your friend – possibly at the international get together. If you tell me her name I can look out for her.

    Love your mantra. Definitely something I’ll be trying to adopt.

    I hope you have a wonderful time at the conference too:)


  19. Dee, you make me laugh and nod with understanding. Apparently I talk a lot but that only belies the fact I’m a shy little so and so on the inside. Totally gives people the wrong impression. A background in hospitality taught me a little trick though about the way in which you look at people…No matter how important or unreachable that person you admire, want to meet etc appears to you, simply imagine them standing there in nothing but a swimsuit. It’s stripping back to the bare essence of something and reminds you that beneath the title, clothes, bling or glass of champus, they are in fact only human, like you, some with more lumpy bits! And thus not really scary at all. So unless the image of a potential publisher in budgy smugglers repluses you and causes you to fumble your words even more, you should by rights feel more assured and confident. Or perhaps you should just stand there and smile a lot! I am positive you will shine and enjoy the experience to the hilt. All the very best. Dimity. I love tortoise shell cats btw!

  20. Thanks, Dimity,

    That’s an interesting method you use:)

    Another one that works for me when I’m with ‘scary’ people is to work out what sort of dog they would be if they were a dog…and picture them as that breed:)

    I love tortoiseshell cats too:) Just had to break the bad news to mine that she’s not coming to LA:)


  21. Hi Dee, by now you are in LA and sipping champagne with the stars. No doubt your stroke of genius book marks have been handed out to many by now. Good luck and enjoy! xx

  22. I’m playing catch up on my blog email notifications 🙂 I wanted to thank you for this post. I’m attending a conference next month and this has helped me get a game plan together. Last year I was a total mess. Thanks again,Dee!

  23. Thanks, Breanna,

    Glad you found it useful. It definitely pays to be prepared at conferences – and to have your own little cues to help with the nerves. Good luck at the conference you’re going to. I look forward to hearing all about it.


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