Conference Prep – Are You Ready?

My writer’s group and I are planning on attending two conferences this spring, the Dreamin’ in Dallas hosted by the Dallas Area Romance Authors on April 1 & 2 and the OWFI Conference hosted by the Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc on May 5 & 6. We’ve all registered, and now it’s time for conference preparations.

Here are some things to have ready prior to any conference:

  1. Know your genre and target audience for your completed manuscript. This is actually a three-in-one. People at conferences will ask what you write. The target audience refers to the demographic of the people you think might want to read your book: middle grade, young adults, adults, men, women… Knowing what kind of people might want to purchase your book shows you’ve done your market research. Not sure about your genre? Check out the Writer’s Digest – Sub Genre Descriptions. ONLY pitch manuscripts which you have completed, revised, revised and revised again. If an agent/editor asks for your work, you want it to be as close to ready-for-print as you can get it. It shows respect for the agent/editor’s time and demonstrates your professionalism.
  2. Elevator pitch – Your story in 1-2 sentences. This helps in case some one says, “so what’s your story about?” You never know who might be listening, or who might ask. Practice saying your elevator pitch until it rolls off your tongue and be sure to use a present, active tense. The word “was” in all of its forms have no place in this pitch.
  3. Pitch – This is a slightly longer description of your story. Something you can say in 3-5 minutes (like a query) that highlights the main character, his/her goals, what stands in his/her way, as well as when/where the story takes place. Be sure the tone of the pitch matches the tone of your manuscript.
  4. Polished query AND synopsis – Have a couple of copies available just in case, but leave them in your hotel room. Agents/editors usually fly into conference and usually don’t want to tote around a bunch of papers which leads to number 5 on my list. I never take a printed manuscript for the same reason. Who want’s to lug around 200+ pages?
  5. Business Cards – Carry them with you. Business cards should be easy to read, contain your name (or pen name), website and/or blog address, email address. Be sure not to put too much personal information on your card because you never know where they’ll end up. I use the tagline “Where will you face your nightmare?” on mine. It reinforces the genre I write and adds a little fun while remaining professional. You can print business cards at home (I strongly recommend buying business card paper) or find an online source for free business cards.
  6. Professional Attire – Approach the conference like a job interview, because that’s what it is. People are judged on appearance, so make sure you look presentable.
  7. Conference Etiquette – Going to a conference may feel like a vacation, but attendees should still behave like professionals. My favorite tip ever is “don’t give a pitch for your manuscript to an agent in the bathroom.” Really? This has happened enough times to make an agent’s pet peeve list? Hard to believe, and yet it’s not.
  8. Agents/Editors can smell desperation – So relax and be yourself. Remember, you’re there to have fun, learn, and network.
  9. Networking – this is where tip 5 comes into play again. Don’t be shy about meeting and talking to new people, but don’t pitch your work or yourself to everyone you meet. That’s a sure way to turn off potential fans. Ask questions, listen to answers, or in other words be an active listener. Hand out cards to people who ask for them. Or, as I have often done, flip your card over to take down contact info for a new friend who may not have one.

What tips, recommendations, or suggestions do you have for conference goers?

Check out what Dawn Allen has to say about attending conferences.

11 comments on “Conference Prep – Are You Ready?

  1. lytlem says:

    Great advice. Keep reminding me when we get there so I don’t get flustered or do any of the no nos.

  2. I don’t go to conferences, because I can’t afford them. However, these are great tips. Always good to know, just in case.

    • Natasha Hanova says:

      I’ve been saving all year. My suggestion find a conference that fits your work, figure out how much it cost, and spend the next year saving for it. $10/paycheck will get you $260 at the end of a year. That’s a whole year to hone your work and get mentally ready.

  3. dawnall says:

    I’m excited!

  4. lbdiamond says:

    Nice tips–good luck at the conferences!!! 🙂

  5. Madeline says:

    I’ve never been to a conference, but I have my fingers crossed I’ll be lucky enough to go to one someday! I’ll have to keep these tips in mind, thanks for sharing.

    By the way, I’ve got two awards for you on my blog!
    Take one, take both – whatever, they’re all yours. 😀 You deserve them.

  6. LM Preston says:

    I’m actually coordinating the editors, agents, and publishers for an upcoming Maryland Writer’s Conference. I asked the pub professionals what they wanted and if they were willing to take a query letter and first five pages before the conference. They actually said yes. But the author still has to come up with a verbal pitch, which is difficult and even more challenging to give in person. I encourgage authors to finish their pitches. You would be surprised how many show up unprepared. Also, authors should have business cards when they come to these events.

  7. This is great advice. Thank you. I have got to get some business cards!

    • Sometimes when other people give me cards at a conference, I’ll jot down notes on the back to help me remember details about that person. Such as, she has a boa, or writes paranormal romance.

  8. Great tips. Have fun at the conferences!

    I attend the same NESCBWI conference every year. I’d add to have fun – meet other writers. If you’re shy, you’re missing out on making friends.

    It’s nice to meet a fellow crusader.

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