Wednesday, January 25, 2012

So you're attending your first writing convention!

It's quickly becoming what in the industry is known as "conference season." Oh, sure---conferences and conventions occur year round, but it's really in the spring and summer when they're at their peak. You can find a convention nearly anywhere in the country (or world). Some are big, others small. Some are genre specific, some are multi-discipline. Some have agents and editors, others are geared just to readers. They're terrific places to not only meet your favorite authors, but to meet other people who love the same books as you!

At a convention you're allowed to be serious or silly, to learn and grow as a writer and hopefully to meet that special person who will put your book (and you) on the map!

For the purpose of today’s blog, we’re going to assume that you’re attending your first convention in the hope of finding an agent or publisher to look at your book. What are some of the do’s and don’ts of taking your book idea to a convention to interest someone?

Of course, every writers conference is a bit different, so a lot depends on whether you're going to a general conference that would have all sorts of different kinds and styles of writing, or a more specific genre (mystery, romance, horror) conference. They are quite often a lot of fun and very informative. The larger conferences are much more grand -- with lots of different topics, speakers and events. Smaller conferences can be a good place to start, because they're not so fast-paced and confusing. But there are a few tips:

1. DO NOT take copies of your books. This has been the bane of many an editor/agent and you will be remembered for doing it, just not in a good way. Do take along a short synopsis of each book in case you get the opportunity to meet with an agent/editor. If you are lucky enough to meet an editor or agent you should have two things memorized in your head.

First is the "elevator pitch." The premise is that you get in an elevator on the ground floor of the hotel and the only other person in the elevator happens to be a major publishing house editor or your "dreamed-of" agent. You have five minutes to get to the top floor and nobody is going to interrupt you. The agent/editor turns to you as the doors close and says, "Oh! You're a writer? So, what is your book about?" You should have a brief speech already in your head so that by the time the doors open at the end of the time, the editor is nodding, handing you a business card and saying, "Sounds interesting. Why don't you send me a synopsis and a couple of chapters? Nice meeting you!" Make the effort to actually TIME your speech, so that it's no longer than five minutes. This can also work if you meet someone in the bar or get placed at the same lunch table. The elevator pitch is a terrific thing to have with you.

Second is the "formal pitch." This should be a bit more involved (but you can always fall back on the elevator pitch if need be.) The editor/agent will want to know: 1) the GENRE of the book; 2) the TITLE of the book; 3) the PLOT of the book (not the subplots, not the prologue, just the general plot. Try to sum it up in a half page pitch); 4) the CHARACTERS of the book (basic information like names, nationality/species, basic description, basic background). You normally have ten minutes, which is why I'd consider the five minute pitch. You can use the other five minutes for a Q&A session. Don't be afraid to actually READ the information from 3x5 notecards or a notebook. The editor doesn't expect you to be a polished speaker. They just want to know about the book.

2. Take the classes that actually seem interesting and, if possible, ALWAYS attend publisher spotlights. A publisher "spotlight" has an editor of a particular publishing house tell the audience about the various lines at their house and what sort of books they're looking for in the next couple of seasons. You'll learn the names of the various editors, and quite possibly can ask questions about things in their guidelines which confuse you. NEVER be afraid to ask questions, but honor any request to not duplicate if someone else asks something similar, or if they don't want to be interrupted during their presentation.

3. ALWAYS attend any free breakfasts/lunches that are part of the price, or if not, then try to budget for at least one of the scheduled lunches. Steel yourself at the door and then sit down at a table with a bunch of strangers. You never know who you'll meet and sometimes you'll wind up meeting your next critique partner or future best friend. You might also wind up meeting your next agent or sell your book on the spot. Really. It's THAT important for you be brave and outgoing. The best ice-breaker that I've found is: "So, what do YOU write?" Just ask any person at random, and then really listen to the answer. Ask questions and you'll get asked in return about yours usually. You might not like the genre they write, but you never know until you ask.

4. Ask for business cards when you meet new people, and then make sure to drop them an e-mail or handwritten note when you get home. Writing is a very close community, and knowing just the right person can sometimes make the world of difference.

5. Attend any book signings that are part of the package. You don't have to buy anything if you can't afford to, but watch how the authors interact with the fans and think what you would do the same or different when you're behind the table signing someday.

6. Wear comfortable shoes! I can't stress that enough. Fashion is nice, but those conferences are often HUGE and spread far apart (sometimes in different towers or in different BUILDINGS.) Get blisters on the first day, and the next one or two will be miserable.

7. If you can take a friend with you, more the better, but don't forget to meet new people. That's the whole point of the gathering.

Hope this helps a bit, and have fun at your first conference!

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