Friday, April 23, 2010

The Pennwriters Conference

By Laurissa
The Pennwriters Conference is less than a month away! Where did the time go? When I excitedly registered to attend this conference, back in January (on the first day of registration, I might add), I also signed up to meet with an agent to pitch my manuscript. In January, May seemed like the very distant future, and of course my first manuscript would be finished, and I would be ready to start my search for an agent. How na├»ve I was. My first draft isn’t done, and the conference is now less than a month away.

As I was organizing my desk a couple weeks ago, I came across a copy of my Pennwriters Conference registration form, and I noticed for the first time a statement that read, “You should have a completed manuscript before making an appointment,” Ah, I had overlooked or glossed over the crucial word, “before,” when I eagerly scheduled my agent appointment. Apparently the conference organizers already knew what I’m just now learning, and that is the best intentions to complete a manuscript by a certain date aren’t always met. Of course, as soon as I realized this, I cancelled my scheduled appointment.

Which leads me to my question: as a writer and a first-time writing conference attendee, what can I do, both in advance of the conference and while I’m there, to help make the conference, a great learning experience and a worthwhile endeavor for me? Especially as a writer who hasn’t yet completed her first draft? I’ve posed a similar question to my local Sisters in Crime chapter, and have been given the following advice: to not be shy or insecure, be prepared to answer the question, “What do you write?”, bring business cards, and ask questions during workshops (thanks, Ramona!).

Any additional thoughts or suggestions for me? Also, what have been some of your memorable or favorite conferences? What made them stand out?


Jennie Bentley said...

Gosh, honey, just relax and have fun. Don't fret about having to meet the 'right' people - you'd be amazed at some of the connections you can build sometimes, often in ways you don't expect - and don't worry about what you're learning and not learning, doing right or doing wrong. Just have a good time and enjoy the experience. (And for the record, I would have pitched the agent/editor anyway, without a completed manuscript. It's good practice, and besides, a request makes for wonderful incentive to finish.)

Joyce said...

Personally, I don't like the formal pitch appointments. I always get tongue-tied and freeze. I find it much easier to chat with agents/editors who are seated at the table with me at meals, in the elevator, or in the bar. I also signed up to be a "Penn Pal" to one of the agents--a great way to get to know them.

In these cases, though, don't bring up your manuscript unless they ask. And they probably will. Talk to them like you'd talk to anyone else.

Like Jennie said, just have fun--especially if this is your first conference. Soak up as much as you can, but don't fret about it.

See you at the conference!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Jennie is right on on all points. RELAX! Easier said than done, but take it from experience.

Don't be shy, but don't be pushy. I'm not sure how the Pennwriters will be set up, but in my experience writers tend to hang out in the bar and that's where you can make good connections.

By the way, "What do you write?" is a good opening line. At fan conferences, like Bouchercon, a derivative of that is, "Are you a writer or a reader?" A good second question is, "Are you published?" Be a good listener. You'll get your turn.

I would also have kept the appointment, as long as you have three chapters completed and workshopped. Unless maybe you had an appointment with Janet Reid. And even then, if you were honest with her, I'd still have pitched. I would check when you get there to see if there are any open appointments, that way you won't feel like you're taking a slot from someone else.

Practice an elevator pitch for you WIP. One or two sentences. Learn it. Know it. Be able to recite it in your sleep. Make it enticing.

Last year I went to Bouchercon without a current book, I only had one small panel and nothing to push or fret about. I was going to just have fun. I went to a handful of panels in 3 days and hung out in the lobby and bar. I had a riot and came home with short story sold and a potential home for my second novel.

You just never know.

ramona said...

Laurie, you were very gracious to give up that appointment. You have already mastered one important writing lesson: You can't write faster than you can write.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Oh, and if you're in a situation one on one with an agent, like Joyce mentioned, don't be pushy. But before you part ways, you might ask, "Are you open to submissions?" The agent will probably ask about your manuscript and maybe hand you a business card.

Mission accomplished.

Laurissa said...

Oh my gosh, you all are giving me such excellent advice. I'm so glad I asked this question.

nancy said...

I agree with Ramona on giving up the appointment. It was good manners and a good deed. You'd have wasted the agent's time and deprived someone else of needed opportunity. But that doesn't mean you can't casually chat up and agent or editor and bluntly ask if your book idea is marketable. If they don't think it is, you can go home and revise your idea or start something new. Better to hear that before you've spent a year writing something nobody can sell.

Have a great time.--That's the best advice. And participate. Go to as many events and workshops as you can. Talk to lots of people. Sit with strangers at meals. Don't be afraid to talk about yourself and your work. Buy books, talk books, ask what books others are reading. Enjoy!

Gina said...

Laurissa -
I agree with everything that everyone has said so far, but don't forget to attend the lectures, too. They offer information and insights as well as the opportunity to bond with fellow participants - or make an utter fool of yourself in front of them, like I did when I got the giggles in Tim Esaias's Bobblehead presentation and couldn't stop laughing. He was talking about descriptions of moving body parts and mentioned, "Her eyes went to the bathroom."

Laurissa said...

Now, this is interesting, I just received an email that the schedule has been set up for the pitch appointments for the conference, and guess what? I'm still listed as having an appointment, even though I cancelled. Is this the correct use of the word, "irony?" Oooh, boy.

Laurissa said...

Okay, I emailed the coordinator and my cancellation had just been overlooked, now I'm "officially" cancelled. :-)

I really appreciate all of the wonderful suggestions and input. If you can't tell, I'm really looking forward to the conference and the chance to meet other writers, editors, agents, etc.,

I can't wait!

PatRemick said...

I think everyone has given great advice -- and I'd add, people also go to writing conferrences because they want to be around other writers -- and you are a writer so you belong there just as much as everyone else. I couldn't agree more that you shouldn't be afraid to talk to ANYONE at the conference. If there's an opportunity to volunteer, do that -- it's a good way to meet people, too. And if you feel like you're not sure what to say to someone -- ask them if they blog and what they like to write about -- or read about on blogs -- which will help all of us too! LOL.

Lisa said...

I'm a newbie at the conference thing as well, only having been to two. But I'd add not to be hard on yourself if you don't attend every session on your list.

You will definitely hit a saturation point, so be flexible. Also, some of those times when I skipped a session resulted in some great conversations with speakers who were also trying to catch a break in the lobby.

On a very practical note, I'd also tuck a little snack in your purse, dress comfy, and bring a cardigan for when AC gets too much. :) Have fun!

Laurissa said...

Haha, Pat. I will definitely ask people what they like to read about on blogs, good idea!

Lisa, Thanks for your good advice, and for reminding me to bring snacks. :-)

Oh, and Gina, thank you for your good advice and, I will try to make an "utter fool" of myself at least once while I'm there, lol!

Ayleen Stellhorn said...

For my first conference, someone told me I should physically pack all the qualities I thought I'd need at the conference. For example, I don't consider myself very good at making small talk with strangers, so she suggested I write "Be confident when talking with someone I don't know" on an index card and pack it in my suitcase. Sounds corny, but it helped. I've got three or four that will go into my bag this year.

And I agree with Jennie. Relax and enjoy yourself. Then make a killer plan for next year!

Looking forward to meeting you there!

Laurissa said...

Ayleen, Thank you for the wonderful advice about the index cards. I like it!

I'm so appreciative of everyone taking the time out of their busy schedules to provide me with such thoughtful advice.

Thanks everyone - Jennie, Joyce, Will,Ramona, Nancy, Gina, Lisa, Pat, and again, thanks, Ayleen!