On Wednesday I talked about getting into the right mind frame for a writing conference. Armed with the proper attitude, you’re sure to have a good time. Get even more out of the conference by planning ahead.
If you're new to the biz, read books to learn the basics—how the publishing industry works, standard submission guidelines, the genres—so you won’t be confused when speakers throw around industry terms. You can also direct your questions better, to take advantage of a particular speaker’s expertise.
Next, investigate the conference speakers. Review editors’ submission guidelines and study the books they’ve edited. Read books by the other speakers. Be prepared to offer honest compliments of their work or to ask intelligent questions. Then you won’t go blank when you’re suddenly faced with your idol.
The web is a great place to find articles by or about the speakers. You may even find photographs of them. At one conference cocktail party, my friend Cora Goss-Grubbs looked at a man standing by himself and said, “That’s Agent ___.” Because she recognized him from his picture, we got in a nice long chat before anybody else realized who he was.
Prepare for such opportunities by practicing one-sentence synopses of your manuscripts. You don’t want to ramble and stammer when someone—especially an agent or editor—asks what you’re working on. If they don’t ask, don’t be pushy, but try asking them what they want. According to children’s book author Shirley Raye Redmond, “I sold my very first juvenile novel (Grampa and the Ghost) by simply asking the editor what she was looking for. She told me and I said, ‘I think I have something you might like.’”
When you meet someone, it’s nice to have an official way to exchange information, so make business cards. I print color business cards on my home computer, with the cover of my novel on one side and contact information on the reverse. Even a simple card with just your name and e-mail is useful. When you exchange cards, jot notes about the giver on the ones you get. You might write something like, “2011 SCBWI LA. 40s, short brown hair. Writing sci-fi for teens.” Then when you get back from the conference with a handful of cards, you’ll find it much easier to remember who gave them to you.
You’ve studied the speakers and practiced your synopses. You have a notebook, a pen, and a pocketful of business cards. Arrive early and practice your networking—or friendship—skills. Smile, say hello, and ask a simple question. Take an interest in people. Ask what they write. Offer compliments, ask questions, and listen. When I’m feeling shy and alone, I find someone who looks even more shy and alone. I walk up to them, smile, and say, “How are you enjoying the conference?” They are always delighted to talk.
It helps to pair up with a friend for the conference. When we met the agent, Cora told him about my published novel, The Well of Sacrifice. From me it would have been bragging, whereas she just sounded complimentary. At another conference party, I told an editor about my friend Molly’s project. When I introduced her to Molly, the editor asked to see the manuscript. It’s easier to rave about someone else’s work than your own. But be careful not to spend your whole time with just one friend. After all, your goal is to make new connections, so work together to meet people.