Preparing For a Writer’s Conference – A Post For Unpublished Writers

Recently, I was asked whether an unpublished writer should attend a Writer’s Conference and my answer to that is definitely, “Yes!”

A conference can be the thing that gets you across the line – that turns you from aspiring to published.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverIn 2008 I went to the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Sydney. I was unpublished but I had a novel to pitch. I was scared and even when I was sitting across from the publisher I was asking myself, “What am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself?”

But as a result of that publisher meeting at the conference, my Young Adult novel, Letters to Leonardo was published by Walker Books Australia in 2009.

So as I mentioned in last week’s post, I believe that Writer’s Conferences are worth going to.

But now that you’ve scrimped and saved and agonised to get there, how do you make the most of the experience?


1.  Polish your manuscript until it’s the best it can be. Run it past crit partners, writer’s groups, whoever can give you constructive feedback to make this manuscript shine.

2.  Do your research – find out which publishers will be there. Look at their website, read books by their authors, talk to published writers, assess whether they are a publisher who might like/be prepared to publish your book. Look at the genre, topics and themes of the books they publish or the authors/illustrators they represent.

3.  Read reviews/interviews about the publisher or agent and assess whether they are the sort of person or company you would like to work with. When you’re making your appointments to pitch, choose wisely.

4.  If you have made an agent/editor appointment, Google that agent/editor to find out what they look like.  So that when you’re walking into a room full of editors/agents at small tables, you’ll recognise the person you have the appointment with. This will help you feel at ease and will also ensure you don’t waste valuable time looking for the person you’re meant to be meeting with.  Be warned though, this isn’t foolproof. Photos on the internet aren’t always current. If you have doubts, ask one of the conference volunteers to point your agent/editor out to you.

5.   Know what your book is about. This might seem strange because you wrote this book, but if you can’t say what your book is about in a couple of sentences then the concept might not be strong enough. You should have the concept clear in your head so that when you’re asked questions about it, you’ll be able to respond with confidence.

6.  If you’re pitching a series, don’t just focus on book one. The publisher or agent will want to know about your characters – will want to know that they are strong enough and well developed enough to carry the series. So make sure you’ve prepared biographies for your main characters and that you can talk about them with confidence.

7.  Prepare questions to ask the publisher or agent you are meeting with. This will help relax you and will also help you decide if these are people you would like to work with.


1.  Find out if any of your friends or online friends are attending – arrange to meet up. Even knowing one other person at the conference will make you feel more like you belong there.

2.  Don’t pitch to everyone you see. Just be yourself and enjoy getting to know people. If a publisher asks what you’re working on, then it’s okay to tell them, but try and have your concept down to a couple of sentences you can memorise so you don’t find yourself rambling.

3.  If you’re at a social event as part of the conference, now is not the time to pitch, hand over your manuscript or shove a business card or memory stick into someone’s hand. Networking.

4.  Being nervous is okay. Most people feel a little out of their comfort zone at conferences, but there are some safe questions you can ask people to break the ice. Questions like, “What are you working on?” “What sessions are you going to?” “Have you been to this conference before?” What are you looking forward to the most?”

5.  Often conferences have a social event on the evening before the sessions start – like a conference dinner or cocktail party.  These are a really good opportunity to meet some people before the conference so that you will feel more relaxed.

6.  Try and book into accommodation either where the conference is being held or where most people are staying. This will help you feel like part of the event.

7.  Book early so that you get to see the sessions, agents and editors of your choice.

CYA Success stor

CYA Success stories

Before you jet off to your conference, there’s another post you might find helpful – How Not to Scare Away Agents and Publishers.

If you have any other tips for writers going to a conference, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and conferencing:)


13 thoughts on “Preparing For a Writer’s Conference – A Post For Unpublished Writers

  1. Invaluable. My writers’ group peeps were waiting on this Dee. You never disappoint. Thank you, Dimity x

  2. Thanks Alison,

    I definitely think it’s important for published writers to attend conferences. It’s very easy to lose touch with changes in publishing staff, and what they want. Conferences keep you up-to-date with the industry and new/current opportunities. As I mentioned in last week’s post, there are lots of good reasons to go to conferences whether you are published or not.

    Apart from anything else, it’s always helpful to learn about techniques and tips that other writers use. I don’t think I will ever stop learning. And conferences are fun 🙂


  3. Thanks for this Dee. It’s very informative. Conferences are definitely something I’m going to put on my to do list. I do have another question though – what’s the best way to find out what conferences are upcoming?

    Thanks again.

  4. Excellent and very helpful post, Dee!
    I’d like to emphasize at your ‘Be Prepared’ no. 1 tip that you should NOT focus on the first ten/twenty pages only, which is especially luring when you have signed up for a critique session with an agent or editor. You need to have your entire manuscript worked out and shine. As a published writer, an editor and a teacher creative writing, it is my strong belief that you can only make your first chapters strong if you have written and revised your manuscript all the way to the end and know where your story is going.

  5. Thanks Mina,

    I agree. You definitely need to know where you are going with your story. Having a polished first 20 pages or so of your manuscript is not enough.

    You need to know what’s going to happen in your story. It needs to have a concept strong enough to carry it through to the end.


  6. I am, thanks. Just discovered both a new alien species and a disease for my science fiction series. Horrible disease, terrible treatment, but it cures. I’m always happy with new discoveries. Now to stay away from the carriers of this awful disease …

    Hope you have a great writing week too. What are you doing? Reading or writing? I think I saw you got a bunch of mentor manuscripts, or am I imagining this?


  7. Sounds gruesome but great, Deb 🙂

    I’ve been having a good writing week working on a non-fiction picture book and a murder mystery short story. Hope you’ve been having a wonderful writing week too 🙂

    Dee x

  8. If you need a reader for the murder mystery (or the other one) let me know. I’m happy to read for you.

    Writing is slow this week. A fibromyalgia attack is slowing me down and making it hard to think. I took a long walk in the surf today, enjoyed the sun, and plotted some things. I’m rewriting a Regency murder mystery short novella (or long short story?) It’s running 19,500 words or so.

    The short with the horrible disease (called Qwara) is still getting written…slowly. Trying to see if I’ve written myself into a corner. Don’t you love doing that?!


  9. Thanks Deb,

    Thanks for the offer to be a reader. It’s still a work in progress 🙂

    Sometimes we have weeks like that don’t we? I hope you are feeling better now.

    Sounds like you have plenty of great projects to work on.

    Happy writing 🙂


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