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Tips from Industry Pros: Before During and After a Conference
Networking is so key to a writer’s career and conferences are a great way to combine networking with craft. Whether you choose to attend more craft-based programming like Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) nationals and regionals, Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), and Midwestern Writers Workshop (MWW) or more industry focused conferences like BookExpo America (BEA) and American Library Association (ALA)--most of attendees include publishing professionals and writers for anywhere from one day to a week of craft talk, industry news and awards, writing, and professional development. As someone who attends conferences yearly, both as a publishing professional and a writer, I’m always aiming to better prepare myself before the conference, during, and after. So, I thought, why not crowdsource some tips (ala Sona’s amazing fast drafting post) from industry professionals I know. Without further ado I present you with a collection of tips tailored for before the conference, during, and after that I hope will serve you throughout all your conferencing needs! Drumroll, please…
Choosing a conference. “There is nothing wrong with keeping things local. While it can be amazing to attend larger national conferences and events in major cities, travelling long-distance can be draining physically, emotionally, and financially. Start out with smaller conferences and events that are closer to where you live. There are even some conferences that are all online like The Manuscript Academy (founded by literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer, conference organizer and media professional Julie Kingsley) [and WriteOnCon, which is kidlit focused, says Patrice]! Use them as your jumping off point to get comfortable with meeting new people and getting familiar with the industry. Even better, making connections at this level can make it easier—and more exciting—when meeting up with others at the larger national conferences. Look for conferences that feature the books you want to read and write! Writers conferences are not one-size-fits all. While some are general, others are tailored to YA fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, romance, mysteries, and more! Look at lists of attending agents, editors, and authors. If they work on the books that inspire you and your writing, chances are they might be a conference that’s right for you.” -Norma Perez-Hernandez (@normajeanesays), Editorial Assistant at Kensington Publishing Corp. “Poets and Writers hosts a database of conferences and workshops that you can filter by price or location, which is a great place to start: https://www.pw.org/conferences_and_residencies. And of course, ask your friends for recommendations as well!” -Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba), Literary Agent at Talcott Notch Business cards. Business cards are useful but aren’t entirely necessary, in my opinion. I have a hard time keeping track of them, and I figure a writer who’s actually interested in working with me will email me after the conference — so remember to do that! If you still want to get business cards, I recommend moo.com — they have some fun designs and excellent customer service. Keep it clean — just your name, email address, [Twitter, if you have an account, says Patrice] and website should suffice. Add a phone number if you wish, but if your information is on your website, it’s not necessary. -Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba), Literary Agent at Talcott Notch Conference scheduling. “Have a plan. Whether it's a small one-day workshop or a big four day bash like BEA or AWP, look up all the panels, see who will have books for sale, plot accordingly. While wandering the floor can certainly be fun (and you should definitely make time to do that), having a personal schedule ahead of time will save you the frustration of scrambling madly to catch this or that.” –Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks), Literary Agent at P.S. Literary, Author of Inked and Branded, editor of Welcome Home “Make plans outside the conference: While writers may feel pressure to stay the whole time at the hotel, you should also try to leave the space at least once. When you're at a conference, there can be a lot of pressure to constantly sell yourself, but having a moment away from the con will help you enjoy it all the more!” -Diana Pho (@writersyndrome), Editor at Tor Books & Tor.com Don't do everything! It's not possible. What speaks most to you and the work you want to do/achieve at this conference? Highlight those, add them to your calendar so you get reminders on time/locale of said event, and see how it goes. Also allot for a couple events at a time so you have back up in case something you wanted to see got full really fast. -Jennifer Baker (@jbakernyc), Editor and Creator of Minorities in Publishing Podcast Pitching prep. “Be able to answer the inevitable question: what’s your story is about? Fellow attendees and even agents or editors will ask you about your book and you’ll want to be able to answer this in one to two sentences. If you have your pitch ready to go beforehand, then answering that question will be a breeze. Practice your pitch before the conference and try it out on friends just to see if your pitch is clear, concise, and understandable.” -Jalissa Corrie (@jmarcellecorrie), Marketing Assistant at Lee & Low Books, YA writer “I wrote a blogpost on how to pitching tips at conferences — it also has some great links at the end of it: http://sabasulaiman.com/#/blog/writing_conference” -Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba), Literary Agent at Talcott Notch
You’ve got this! “Be cool, like Fonzie! When you see someone you admire (be it your dream agent or idol author/illustrator) don't hesitate to say a quick "hi" and let them know you appreciate the work they do. This may lead to a start up conversation but it's also okay if it doesn't lead to any more than that short interaction. If you pay your genuine compliments and slip away that's alright too. You may have made someone's day in that moment.” -Jennifer Baker (@jbakernyc), Editor and Creator of Minorities in Publishing Podcast “Go with an open mind. Talk to people other than agents/editors, and build your community of writers. Keep in touch with other attendees, and if you want to be critique partners with one of them, offer to read their work and be generous, so they understand you’re serious about building a relationship. And remember: boost your other writer friends and their work, and people will feel inclined to boost you as well.” -Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba), Literary Agent at Talcott Notch “Chances are if you’re going to a writer’s conference, everyone’s just as nervous as you. Don’t be shy and talk to fellow writers. If small talk isn’t your forte, make a small list of questions to break the ice ("What do you write?" is always a good starting point). You don’t want to miss the opportunity to find critique partners, potential friends, and of course future readers. So get out there and chat! Relax and have fun.” -Jalissa Corrie (@jmarcellecorrie), Marketing Assistant at Lee & Low Books, YA writer Networking. My advice is for during conferences and is advice I would give about networking in general. When you’re at a conference, it can be tempting to look at every person you see (especially the faculty) as a potential opportunity for you. But instead of thinking about what they might be able to do for you or your career, think about what you might (now or in the future) be able to do for them. Approaching people from a place of generosity and giving, rather than a place of wanting to take from them, will set them much more at ease and allow them to open to you. They are certain to remember you more favorably if you contributed to making their day better, helped them in some way, or simply showed a kind spirit. –Kendra Levin (@kendralevin), Executive Editor at Viking Children’s Books, Writer Coach & Author of The Hero Is You: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be “You shouldn’t come to a conference with the mindset that you’ll land a book deal. Whenever you converse with someone (whether that be an agent or fellow writer/illustrator), make sure to jot down what you discussed, which will come in handy for follow-up!” -Jalissa Corrie (@jmarcellecorrie), Marketing Assistant at Lee & Low Books (&Writer!) No-nos. “Don't conference-stalk the professionals: We are certainly invited resources, but that does not mean attendees can push boundaries in order to promote their writing. So, no pitching in hallways, bathrooms, during meals alone, in the elevator etc. And needless to say (but I'll say it anyways): verbal, physical, and sexual harassment is never okay anywhere, by anyone, and a conference should have a code of conduct to make sure everyone is treated respectfully.” -Diana Pho (@writersyndrome), Editor at Tor Books & Tor.com
Following up. “Follow up with people you met ideally 24-48 hours after the conference.” -Jalissa Corrie (@jmarcellecorrie), Marketing Assistant at Lee & Low Books, YA writer “Thank you notes are always nice — keep it short and genuine. You may not get a response, but it’s still worth the effort in case you do.” -Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba), Literary Agent at Talcott Notch “Be patient. Remember, after a conference, all these publishing people have a lot of emails to catch up on from work and from the event. If you don't hear back right away, that's okay. Give it a little time.” -–Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks), Literary Agent at P.S. Literary, Author of Inked and Branded, editor of Welcome Home “Give feedback to the conference! Especially if you loved a panel, workshop, or presentation done by an invited guest. Feedback helps us professionals out, and good word of mouth will help enable us to return to your conference in the future.” -Diana Pho (@writersyndrome), Editor at Tor Books & Tor.com Submitting your work. “Read the submission guidelines. Don’t be so focused on getting published that you miss the right connections because you’re focused in on a “dream editor” who may or may not publish what you’re writing. Conferences often make this very easy with including editors’ submission guidelines in the packets, so always look through the packet and follow the directions. :)” -Stacy Whitman (@stacylwhitman), Founder & publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books “If an editor or agent requests pages, that's great! Be sure that you ask what formats they prefer, and for a time frame for submitting. When you submit your pages to them, also don't forget to mention that you had spoken at the conference in your query letter.” -Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba), Literary Agent at Talcott Notch "When sending material to an editor or agent after meeting them at a conference, mention a small detail from your conversation that might strike their memory. I.e., 'We talked about our mutual love of Twilight, and I loved hearing you were also #TeamJacob.' (LOL, Patrice says a Twilight reference would totally work for me)" -Brent Taylor (@btaylorbooks), Literary Agent & Subsidiary Rights Manager at Triada US Do you have any advice for writers attending conferences and conventions? I’d love to hear more in the comments below or via Twitter at @whimsicallyours + @pubcrawlblog!