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How to Get Noticed at a Writers Conferencein a Good Way
by Kelly James-Enger
Planning to attend a writers conference this
year? With the hundreds of conferences throughout the U.S. and internationally,
youre bound to find one that will meet your needs. In addition to helping you
improve your writing skills and increase your chances of getting published,
conferences provide opportunities to make valuable contacts with editors,
agents, and other writers.
The problem is that its all too easy to make a
bad impression that hurts your chances with a potential agent or editor. Read on
to learn the difference between professional and pushyand what you should
doand definitely not dowhen attending a writers conference.
Do Dress like a Grown-up
Okay, I know what youre thinking. Im a writer!
Its my words that matter, not how I look! Thats true
to some extent. But at a
conference, youre meeting with agents, editors, and others who can literally
makeor breakyour career.
"If youre trying to break in, pitch meetings
are not the place to let all your quirks and ticks reign supreme," says former
conference coordinator Elaura Niles, author of Some Writers Deserve to
Starve (Writers Digest, 2005.). "The pros want someone with a great
product who can go the distance through contracts and rewrites and revised
editions, book signings, readings and maybe even the BEA [Book Expo America.]
When you get those precious opportunities to make a first impression, make sure
they remember your project more than you. Dazzle them with great craft, a
professional attitude and a tidy appearance. A killer pitch doesnt hurt
Do Prepare your
Youre spending time and money to attend this
event. If youre planningor hopingto make a connection with an agent or
editor, youd better think about what youre going to say in advance. Practice
what some agents call your "elevator pitch." Thats your book or screenplay or
idea, summed up in a line or two that you could spit out in the time of a brief
elevator ride. If you find yourself rambling past 20-30 seconds, work on it
until its smooth, tight, and practiced.
Do Speak Up
Chances are that the person you most want to
connect with isnt going to seek you out during the cocktail hour to ask about
your writing background. That means you have to make the first move. Dont be
afraid to ask a question of a presenter during the Q-and-A period after a
session or introduce yourself afterwards. (Just dont become a stalker or editor
hog as discussed below.)
Dont Go Overboard
While you want someone to remember you and your
writing, you want that memory to be a positive one. "Writers are usually
enthusiastic when it comes to pitching their stories to agents and editors,"
says Niles. "But there are some who are overly enthusiastic. At one conference I
recall a couple, with matching haircuts and neon overalls, who tag-teamed the
pros by acting out their story as their laptop played background images and
music. It was pretty bizarre and any novelty their show might have had wore off
quickly. So while they were memorable, they werent remembered in a positive
Dont Stalk Your Prey
Elfrieda Abbe, editor at The Writer,
enjoys meeting potential contributors at conferences. "I think it's just fine if
a writer comes up and introduces him or herself," says Abbe, who has attended 20
conferences as an editor and presenter. "If they have ideas for articles, it's
better to just say something like, I'd like to send you a query."
That doesnt mean you should pursue your target
throughout the day until you can force him or her to listen to you. "Unless you
have an appointment to pitch an idea, it's not the best time to pitch a story if
you have just introduced yourself to the editor," she says. "You can, however,
ask what the best way to submit an idea is, and give the editor your card with
the gist of the idea written on the back. Don't follow editors or agents into
the bathroom and pitch ideas or interrupt their meals. Believe it or not, this
Dont Hog Someones
Editor hogs! Every writer hates them. Theyre
the writers who glom on to an agent or editor and refuse to let the person go,
even while others are waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for their turn.
Dont monopolize someones time. Its better to ask if you can follow up after
the conference. Then do it.
Dont Snub the Organizers
Finally, consider the people who made the event
possiblethe conference organizers. Make an effort to thank and meet them
throughout the eventtheyre spent the last six to nine months planning and
working to make the conference a success. And they may also be able to help you
make a valuable contact.
"If youre not having any luck meeting a certain
agent, and a coordinator sees that youre trying hard to network, you can often
wrangle a personal introduction," says Niles. "I know this because I later
became the agent and editor chairperson of the Willamette Writers Conference and
got to help dozens of attendees this way. Remember, the organizers are writers,
too. We want to see you succeed."
© Copyright 2005, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
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