How To Maximize the Writer’s Conference Experience by Cherise Fisher

A writer’s recipe for success in publishing is 20% talent, 40% preparedness, 35% networking, and 5% luck. This is an unscientific conclusion, but true nevertheless. A strong writer’s conference is designed to improve preparedness and create an environment for networking. So if you want to make the leap from writer to author, attending a good writer’s conference is money well spent. So how does a person go about maximizing the writer’s conference experience?

Look for a conference that suits your needs.

Self assessment is a key life skill. Where are you lacking? Are you an MFA student who has spent years working on your novel with prestigious writing mentors but have no clue as to how to market yourself? Opportunities to network with editors and agents will be important for you. Are you a lawyer by day and an avid romance writer by night? You might want a conference with workshops that can help develop your talent. Are you an expert in your field but know nothing about publishing? You might need basic information about first steps. The ideal writer’s conference for you will be one that suits your needs and fits your interests.

Know what you bring to the table.

Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you might have a full manuscript, a cover letter, a proposal, a synopsis, or some combination of all of these. Just be clear about what you are prepared to share. But do share something. I never understand why a person will come to a conference, sit down with me, and then tell me that they will send something to me in a couple of months. You should have something to email an editor within 24 hours (provided he or she has asked for it).

And now I’m going to contradict myself: it’s also okay to not promise anyone anything. Your first conference might just be one where you soak up as much info as you can. The conference will be there next year and you can pour all of what you learned into your work and presentation for the next go round.

Know who is at the table.

Look at which presentations, panels and workshops you want to attend and research the participants. It’s flattering (and a smidge creepy) when I meet someone at a conference who can quote me from an article I wrote four years prior. In addition to the ego massage, the research time they put in makes it clear to me that they believe I’m the right person for their work.  When I’m sitting in front of someone whose work is not at all aligned with my interests, it’s a pitiful waste of time.

Be memorable.

You will meet many people at a writer’s conference. I risk sounding like your mother here, but first impressions are important. Dress smartly, give a good handshake, smile, sit up straight and/or lean in when we’re talking. Present your best self.  Bring business cards. They can be simple: name, number, email, perhaps website, title of your book, or your area of expertise.

Also, get your elevator pitch together. You have ninety seconds to communicate what you have and what you need. One time after a stimulating panel, a man came up to me to introduce himself. He explained that he had sent me a query a week before and then proceeded to tell me the plot of his novel, minute by minute. By the time I got through the third verse of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go” (in my head, of course), I decided to relieve the long line behind him by gently putting my hand on his shoulder and asking, “Are you planning to recite the entire novel?” Don’t be this guy. Be succinct.

And finally, Breathe. You are in a community of like-minded people doing what is best for your journey. Enjoy the experience.

-Cherise