Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Writing Conference Tips

I got to see the preliminary cover for the YA steampunk book, and it's absolutely gorgeous. When I get the go-ahead, I'll share it, but I'm very excited. This is one I'll want to blow up and frame.

After several weeks of travel, it's time to get back to writing posts, and since my last trip was to speak at a writing conference, I thought I'd offer a few tips on what to do -- and not to do -- at a conference.

1) Keep an open mind -- but not too open
All writers and all careers are different, so not everything you hear will apply to you. On the other hand, no matter how much you think you know, you don't know everything and can probably learn something. Listen to the sessions with that attitude. If something clicks for you, give it a shot, but don't force yourself to do anything a speaker tells you is absolutely necessary. It may have been essential for that person, but it may not be right for you.

2) Be wary of advertisers and exhibitors
There will usually be people at conferences wanting to sell you stuff, and their sponsorship helps make the conference happen, but not all that stuff is essential or even helpful. Industry magazine subscriptions and professional organizations, maybe. Services to help you find an agent, utterly useless. Self publishing services, generally iffy. I've found that the people who are really helpful (copyeditors, designers, artists, etc.) are freelancing, so they're probably not sponsoring conferences and spending the day sitting at a booth. Look at the displays, but don't be seduced by the sales pitches or convinced that you can't get published without their help.

3) Don't mob the presenters at the front of the room at the end of a session
When attendees who didn't get their questions answered or who want to "network" rush to the front of the room at the end of a session to talk to the presenters, it can throw off the conference schedule because that presenter can't get out of the way so the next presenter can get set up. It also makes the presenters feel trapped. At least let the speakers get away from the podium or panel table before you approach them. Most conferences incorporate some social or networking time for you to talk to presenters. There may be fewer opportunities at conferences in New York with industry speakers, where the speakers dash over from their offices for their sessions and then get back to work, but then again, what kind of impression are you going to make if you're delaying them while they're trying to get back to the office? I can pretty much guarantee that you're not going to sell your book by grabbing someone right after they speak at a conference. If you have a question that wasn't answered during the session, many of the speakers provide contact info, so try e-mailing it.

4) Don't ask anyone to read your book
There are often formal pitch session in which it's implied that you're asking an editor or agent to look at your manuscript. Otherwise, this is a big no-no. Outside a formal pitch, an editor or agent may ask you about your book, but you shouldn't be the one to bring it up. You can ask questions like "What do you have coming out that you're excited about?" or "What big trends do you see coming?" or "What are you looking for that you're not seeing?" and then if it fits, you can say, "Oh, that sounds a lot like my book." Then they may ask you about it. It's really, really bad form to ask people to look at your book and give you feedback, unless maybe you hit it off with one of the other attendees and agree to critique each other.

5) Don't use a Q&A session as the opportunity to pitch your book
The thinly veiled "question" that's obviously designed to make the speaker say, "What a brilliant concept! Please send me your manuscript immediately!" will only make people roll their eyes. Ask a question if you've got a question. Use your own work as an example if you must. But if you're only asking a question as an excuse to pitch your work, don't bother.

6) Don't just assume that the speakers are the only people worth networking with
Your fellow attendees could have a lot to offer. A conference is a great place to make friends with other people who have similar plans and goals. You can form support groups or critique groups, and you never know where these connections could take all of you. Really, you're seldom going to sell a book just because you went to a conference. Go there to learn and to be around like-minded people and you'll get a lot more out of your conference experience.

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