Sunday, May 20, 2018

Four Ways to Prepare for a Conference

For many years, I've been attending and teaching at conferences. Many of the articles that I've published and the books that I've written have their beginnings with someone I met at an event. If you have never been to a writers conference, I encourage you to make plans and attend one this year.  It will boost your writing life to a new level and help you on a number of different fronts. A number of the people at each conference have never been to a writers event and it is their first time. If you are holding off going to a conference because you've never been, do it. It will change your life and propel your writing forward.

Editors and agents work with people that they know, like and trust. Yes we get tons of pitches and proposals on email and online and in the mail. But if you have met an editor or agent at an event, maybe even eaten a meal together or sat in one of their classes, the relationship goes to a new level of depth. Many of those relationships begin at conferences.

As an editor, I've been preparing for several events, updating my handouts, critiquing a few manuscripts for people I will meet and gathering my business cards and other materials for the events. I always bring plenty of business cards to handout.  Numerous times at conferences I've asked an editor or an agent for a business card. This person forgot their cards and had two or three and they've already handed them out. I do not want to be one of those types of editors so I make a point to bring enough.

For the person attending the conference, I want to give you several ways to prepare for the conference:

1. Study the conference program ahead of time. Make some initial choices about the classes you will attend. Also notice who is coming from different publications and publishers. Be aware of their names and positions so when you run into them in line or in the dining room, you can begin a conversation with them.

2. Prepare pitches for particular editors and agents. You will see some of the faculty are more relevant to your writing than others. Create a small list of people you want to set appointments or sit at their table during a meal. Because of the weight, editors and agents are some times reluctant to take a full manuscript but they will often take a “one sheet” (where you summarize your idea on a single piece of paper with your contact information—including email and phone). I always like to see as much as someone wants to show me. I will often take full proposals or manuscripts home with me (if available). Or some authors bring their material on a flash drive to give to editors and agents.

3. Create and bring business cards. Even if you have never been to a conference, create a business card with your name, email and phone number. Also I like to include a mailing address so I can see the time zone where you live. Also if you have a current photo, include it on the card. Bring plenty of cards and hand them out generously throughout the event. In my view, it is always best to trade cards. You give the editor one of your cards and you get one of their cards.

4. Bring an attitude of learning and listening and taking action. Throughout the conference, you will learn new things, write them down in a little notebook. Ideas and requests should go on a separate page that you can cross off as you handle them when you return home. As a writer, you have invested a lot of time and money to attend these events. One of the best ways to get your value from the event is to follow-up and send the requested materials. If you take these actions, you will make a positive impression on the agents and editors that you meet at conferences.

Some people wonder how my writing has been published in more than 50 magazines and I've written more than 60 books. There are many reasons but one of the main ones is my follow-through. If someone asks me for an article or a proposal, I send it to them after I return home. You'd be surprised at the lack of follow through from others at the event.

Are there other keys to prepare for a conference? Tell me in the comments below.  


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