Writing Conferences – Why Attend?

Another writing conference. Another bunch of authors trying to sell their books, and another group of workshops touting the same old teachings. Right? Wrong. If that’s how you feel about writing conferences, you’re not realizing their true potential. A writing conference is all about advertising yourself, your book, and about having fun.

Self-promotion, promotion that has nothing to do with your book, is one important reason to attend a writing conference. This is the venue where you meet people whose dreams are the same as yours. It’s an opportunity to make friends and find out what other authors in your genre are writing. When you attend the same conference each year and people get to know you, it becomes easier to identify yourself as an author, whether published or not. Attend the workshops. They’re geared to your needs. Often you’ll be asked for input into next year’s workshop topics. Conference sponsors want the conference to succeed and so they are happy to receive suggestions. And, most authors giving workshops care about their subject and their audience. They encourage people to ask questions, not just in the workshop but during the conference as well.

Pitch sessions. Most conferences have a session where you can pitch your book to an agent or editor. In some cases, you can send in pages of your work ahead of time to be read and critiqued, followed by a face-to-face at the conference. Jumping the slush pile and speaking to an agent or editor in person is invaluable, and you’ll often find workshops on pitching the day before the actual sessions.

My pre-pitch group

My pre-pitch group

Those pre-pitch sessions help. You work in groups with either an agent or an editor who leads the group. I’ve availed myself of that help a few times at the New England Crime Bake conference (November). One agent asked for my first three chapters. At the RWA conference (May), I was asked for the full manuscript, twice! The first time, I hadn’t finished the book and never sent it in. Rookie mistake. The second time, the editor politely declined although said she liked my writing. Ah, well. Pitching your book to someone with the power to change your life can be terrifying. I have no trouble registering for a pitch session months before the event, but when it comes to the actual encounter, my insides revolt.

Pitch Line Crime Bake

Pitch Line
Crime Bake

It’s somewhat comforting to know that I’m not alone in the pain. My white-faced comrades confessed to similar reactions as we stood in that long, long pitch line waiting for our turn. The good news? We all made it through alive. Some lucky (change that to talented) writers even got book contracts.

This year I’m adding the ThrillerFest conference (July) to my calendar. Thinking about it makes me nervous. Not only do I have to travel out of state (NYC), but I signed up for their pitch session which is a whole lot different than any I’ve previously attended. I’m told it’s like speed dating with over 50 agents and editors in the room. You move from one to the other, getting in as many as you can. Ugh. Five months out and thinking about it has my gut twitching. Imagine what I’ll be like on the day of the pitch!

Meet famous authors. You’ve read their books and marveled at their manipulation of the written word. Now, you get to hear how they did it, how they made it to their goal. A conference is the place where you can talk to them. Tell them you like their work. Ask them questions. That’s why they’re there. Two years ago, I had breakfast with Nancy Pickard (http://www.nancypickard.com), award-winning author of novels like The Scent of Rain and Lightning. We happened to be sitting next to each other, got talking, and she invited me to join her. Guess what! Acclaimed authors are human.

What you get out of a writing conference depends on what you put into it. Go expecting to have fun, but go prepared. Choose your workshops ahead of time. Have your elevator pitch ready. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. No one will bite. Read something from the authors who will be attending. Listen to those who’ve gone before, who are happy to impart their trade secrets. And buy some books. Next year, you might be the one selling.

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