Getting the Most out of Writer’s Conferences

As long as we’re getting in deep with the nerdy writer stuff, let’s go for it. Yesterday, I blogged about pitch conferences, and what you can expect to get out of them. So, I thought today I’d talk about general writer’s conferences and how they differ from pitch-oriented conferences.

Last year, I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference, which has the clunky acronym of SCBWI, which is pronounced “Squibby,” even though that doesn’t technically make sense. I’m also familiar with Wordharvest, the Tony Hillerman writers conference here in Santa Fe. Often, these type of conferences offer opportunities to pitch your story to agents, for a price, but that’s not their main purpose, which is general writer education and, of course, networking.

At the SCBWI conference, I asked one of the agents why she attended. What’s in it for her? She didn’t seem hell-bent on acquiring a new writer, but rather just kind of there to casually dole out advice to writers and hang out with the other agents.

She said yeah, that was pretty much true. She attended because it’s a fun, tax-deductible vacation for her. That doesn’t mean she’s averse to acquiring a great new writer, if one happens along, but it seemed plain to me that she wasn’t expecting a miracle to occur. Her attitude was casual and non-committal.

I asked her this question during a post-conference pitch session I had paid extra to attend. Since I always have a book in the works, I consider it worth the money to attend these, because you never know. Often, I’ll get an invitation to email a query, and that might not sound like much, but it’s a lot. And remember, a writer’s conference is also a fun, tax deductible vacation for you as a writer, so that’s reason enough to attend.

Many agents don’t take unsolicited queries. Even if they do, the solicited queries will always take precedence. So, going to a conference is how you get your query to be solicited. This puts you in the upper echelon of the agent’s over-the-transom, to-do list.

But you don’t have to pay extra for the post-conference pitch session (if any) to accomplish this. What you do is attend the various workshops during the conference, but, and here is the important trick to getting the most out of a conference: DON’T SELECT YOUR WORKSHOPS BASED UPON WORKSHOP CONTENT. Instead, select your workshop based upon who is teaching it.

Research the lecturers, and if any of them are agents or publishers whom you think would be a perfect match for your latest book, attend their workshop, then approach them afterward, and briefly introduce yourself. Don’t take up all the person’s time. Just say something to show you really listened to the lecture/workshop, and ask if he or she would be willing to receive your query.

Typically, the agents or publishers will say yes, unless they don’t deal in your genre. They appreciate the effort and money you spent to attend the conference. So now, hopefully, these agents will remember your face when they get your query.

That, to me, is the main point of attending a conference. Even if the agent doesn’t want to read your manuscript, they will typically give you extra attention on their reply, perhaps even a suggestion of another agent who might be a better fit.

The point of a writer’s conference is, again, networking. Meeting important people face-to-face is just plain different from meeting them online or seeing their profile on Linked-in. Agents, publishers, and fellow writers really do appreciate the effort you put in to know them and be known by them.

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