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.