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Conference 101
by Mary Ann Powers

There is more to a writing conference than showing up and taking a few notes. It’s an opportunity to promote yourself that you should use to your advantage. Do a little research and choose one that will further your career without breaking your budget. With a careful planning you can get a big return for the dollars spent.

Make a list of all the conferences that interest you and are within your means to attend. Find them by asking other writers, contacting local writing groups and searching the Internet.

Now is the time to do your homework. Study the list of speakers for each conference. Go to their websites. Find out what genre they handle. If they deal with your genre go to the library. Check out the books they have most recently agented/published. Their website should contain this information. Google them. Read interviews and gain some insight into their personality. This research will give you everything needed to make a good decision.

Once you’ve registered for the conference of your choice, you must prepare for it. Have business cards printed. At minimum, they should contain your name, contact information and website address. No website? Then it’s time to get one. You’ve got to take yourself seriously as a writer. Serious writers have websites.

Perfect your pitch. The elevator pitch, one or two sentences, needs to be especially smooth. Practice it on any unwitting soul who asks what you write. An example of a bad pitch would be: I’ve written an 892 page memoir about my life. My husband/mom/cat really likes it. A better pitch is: I was an Army nurse in Korea and I’ve written about my experiences.

Once you’re at the conference, remember, you’re not only selling your writing, you’re selling yourself. It’s a package deal. Appearance and personality count in the publishing game. Be confident and personable.

When you talk to a speaker/agent/editor make yourself memorable, but not in a bad way. No need to discuss the changes your doctor made to your psych meds last week. Relate something unusual or interesting about yourself. Can’t think of anything? Make it up, you’re a writer. When you send follow up emails mention it again. It’ll help them pick you out of the crowd.

Some conferences encourage you to take a speaker to lunch. If you don’t get that opportunity because three hundred other people were ahead of you, don’t give up hope. Speakers are people who are away from their homes and families just like you. They mill aimlessly in the atrium, eat complimentary breakfasts and hang out in the bar. Invite a speaker/editor/agent to join you. They don’t want to drink or eat alone any more than you do. Have that smooth elevator pitch ready.

Network, network, network with other writers. There’s nothing better than being around a few hundred people who are interested in the same thing you are. Hand out those cards. At worst you’ll get a few more hits on your website. At best you’ll gain a new friend. Gather cards or at least names and emails from other writers. You can use them to build your mailing list. Publishers love it when you have a mailing list.

When you get home it’s time for more work. First mail out any manuscripts/synopses/queries/articles that were promised. Then read back through the conference notes and fill in any blanks while you can still remember.

Write thank you notes/emails to all of the speakers/agents/editors at the conference. Put the conference name in the subject line to keep from being deleted. Don’t forget to mention that unusual or interesting thing that made you stand out.

Last, email all of those charming writers whose information you gathered. Just a little nice to meet you note. This should get you on their contacts list. When you send out a big mailing about your new novel, you won’t be sent directly to the junk mail folder.

Now you have business cards, a website, a perfect pitch, invaluable contacts, and a mailing list. Not to mention all that you learned during the actual sessions. That’s a bargain in anybody’s book.

© Copyright 2007, Mary Ann Powers

Mary Ann Powers is a part time freelance writer. Her award-winning story "Hawks" is featured in the Writing On Walls Anthology available at awocbooks.com. Visit her website at maryannpowers.com

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