Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Conference Etiquette & Expectations

by Paula Matter

Conference season is upon us. Namely the Pennwriters annual conference is right around the corner. (Annette, don't panic. You still have two whole weeks.) Some of us have attended this conference dozens of times; some have been once or twice; others have never attended. This post is for all of us.

Before the conference

*Spend time researching the agents who will be there. Not sure what agent represents your genre? Think she does, but you're not sure? Is she currently open to submissions? What are her submissions guidelines? Who are her clients? What was her most recent sale? Find out as much as you can beforehand, and you won't be wasting anyone's time. Especially your own.

*After you've learned as much as you can about the agent(s), don't query before the conference. Sign up for a pitch appointment instead. Go to agent Jessica Faust's March 31, 2008 post on why.

*Go over the program schedule. Plan now what workshops/classes/events you'll attend. Have a plan, and then be flexible. Schedule changes happen. Know that now. It's no one's fault.

*Internet weather maps are useful tools. Know ahead of time what the weather will be like. Pack and dress accordingly. Of course, you'll be spending much of the time inside the hotel and you'll want to be comfortable there as well. Some hotel Web sites have floor plans available–how much walking will you be doing getting from one room to the next?

*Give yourself plenty of travel time, especially if you're driving and this is your first time. You don't want to arrive frazzled!

During the conference

*Afraid of the crowd? Does it seem like everyone else knows each other? Lots of hugs and kisses among all these strangers? Once upon a time we didn't know each other. We've become friends because we were brave enough to introduce ourselves. You can and will meet lifelong friends. Old-timers, reach out and meet that new person.

*Network. This ties in with the above, but I'm keeping it separate to expand a bit. There are times and places when it's just not appropriate to approach an agent or editor. Let common sense be your guide. Have you heard the story of the idiot who shoved her manuscript under the bathroom stall? Don't become the next new idiot. Be polite. Don't barge in on what may be a private meeting. Ask before joining in on the conversation.

*There are no stupid questions. However, don't hog any Q&A period seeking the answer you want to hear. For Pennwriters Read & Critique sessions, agent/editor appointments: there are set time limits. If you're given ten minutes, use them wisely. Don't abuse the schedule. A lot of work has gone into planning these events, and in order to run smoothly it's imperative they run on time.

After the conference

Ready to dash off that query to the willing and seemingly interested agent you met? Slow down. Take another look at your manuscript. Is it ready? Is your query the best it can possibly be? Have you looked over your copious notes from the conference? What little nugget did you learn that can be used to improve the manuscript and/or the query?

If you're still not prepared to send the query, do what you love. Start reading one of the many books you bought at the conference. You did buy some books, right?

Most important tip: Relax and have fun.

Annette, that goes double for you.


Annette said...

Great advice, Paula. As for that last part, we'll see. ;-)

Joyce Tremel said...

Excellent advice!

Another good thing to remember about the pitch sessions is that you're not going to get an agent from the pitch alone. The agent will still want to see your writing. If you're too nervous and stumble over what you planned to say, just follow up with a letter.

Many agents say that instead of using the whole 10 minutes to talk about your book, give them a quick one or two sentence summary, then ask them questions. Or let them ask you questions.

Joyce Tremel said...

For more on pitch sessions, read this.

Jenna said...

Excellent post. Makes me want to go to a conference.

My biggest problem - apart from the money it costs - is seeing all the people who seem to know each other squeal and hug in the hallway when I don't see a soul I know. Very daunting. I'm fine one-on-one, in pitch sessions, or even on panels, but ask me to go up to a stranger and introduce myself, and I start hyperventilating and getting hives.

You guys are gonna have a wonderful time, though! Wish I could be there!

Joyce Tremel said...

Jennie, I'm not good in big groups either. I usually just sit or stand there and listen to everyone else.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

All the advice is spot on, especially this, "Most important tip: Relax and have fun." I know, you've spent a lot of money and you're there for business reasons. But if you're not relaxed, your nervousness will shine through.

The most relaxed conference I had was just after I signed the contract for my first book. I still had a lot of work to do and it was still business, but it seemed like I had crossed that barrier.

Breaking the ice and meeting new people at a writers conference is as simple as approaching somebody and asking what they read, or who their favorite author is. It's a writers conference, people like to talk about what they read and write.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Oh, and Jennie, if I ever get to a conference you're at, I'll squeal and give you a hug.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Thanks for the link. I'd also suggest taking notes and bringing your writing. You won't remember everything so a notepad and pen are your best tools (and yes even during pitch appointments) and the best thing about a conference is that you'll be inspired and all you'll want to do is write.

Have a great conference!

--Jessica Faust

Working Stiffs said...

How many days until it's over, Annette?

Joyce, thanks for the great additional advice and the link!

Jennie, two things: Several Pennwriters make it a point to welcome new attendees. We remember too well our first time. And, regarding costs--at my first conference I declined joining others for dinner at the hotel's expensive restaurant. Instead, I ordered a small pizza, side salad, and two beers and ate in my room. Spent about $10. (It was a long time ago!) Later the restaurant people complained about the prices, the cold food and the lousy service. I felt smug and full.

Great tips, Wil! That's an excellent way to break the ice.

How cool to have Jessica Faust comment! Thanks for permitting me to use the link, and I'm honored you stopped by.

Annette said...

Just let me say that the restaurant food at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott is EXCELLENT.

And 18 days until it's over, Paula.

Anonymous said...

This is great. I had a friend who was kind of on the shy side, but with a bowl of candies to hand out without being aggressive in the least, he was able to interject himself into the crowd, become known, and able to later approach the same folks with project in hand. We've all seen those authors sitting behind a stack of their books working the crowd seemingly without effort. It has never hurt to ask THEM how they're doing, and ask 'em HOW they do it.