Recently, I was asked whether an unpublished writer should attend a Writer’s Conference and my answer to that is definitely, “Yes!”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.
In 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 I was unpublished but I had a novel to pitch.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.
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:)