Thursday, April 11, 2013

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CONFERENCE by Rita Karnopp



     If I’m going to commit to going to a conference, spend my hard-earned money and give of up precious time, you can be sure I’ll want to want to get the most out of it!  Let’s discuss some of the pitfalls that happen at conferences.

APPROACHING EDITORS/AGENTS  - I put myself in an editor or agent’s shoes and ask myself, ‘what would annoy me the most?’  Can you believe a woman cornered an agent in the bathroom and pitched her book?  It’s true, I was in a stall listening to the whole thing – asking myself, what is that author thinking?  Another time I was chatting with an editor when an author approached, apologized for interrupting, but said, “We have to take advantage of opportunities and this is my opportunity to pitch to you my hysterical thriller, Killing Ain’t Funny.”  I would guess neither author received a ‘request for submittal’ either. 
     The best way is to approach editors and agents is when they are not in a session or a private conversation.  Ask an agent or editor if they have time to meet with you at social settings, after conference panels, or right after workshops.  You might even offer to buy the editor or agent something to drink (coffee, tea, pop are also acceptable drinks).  Be sure to find a place where you can talk briefly without interruptions.  Never expect to pin them down for an hour or more. Be courteous and take fifteen or twenty minutes max and show you are a professional.

A BAD ATTITUDE ISN’T AN OPTION - Don’t even consider coming to a conference with an attitude.  It will show in your body language if you feel that a conference is biased against you or if you think others authors have an inside track that you don’t have.  Leave your arrogance and defiance at the door.   The reality is everyone is treated alike and most conferences are on a first-come, first-served basis.  Also you should know that when you meet with an agent or an editor you will not get a complete critique of your work. This meeting is merely an opportunity for you to pitch your book and if the agent finds it interesting, he or she will ask you to send more for review.

COME PREPARED – You wouldn’t go on vacation without planning, right?  You wouldn’t stand in front of the boss and pitch an idea without being prepared, right?  Why would you take the time and spend the money only to squander a wonderful opportunity to meet with an agent or editor unprepared?  Check out the agenda for the conference you’re attending and counter their subject matter with what you have to offer.  Practice what you will say, over-and-over, until you’re comfortable with your pitch.
     Do your homework and know which agent would be a perfect fit for your book.  Pitching a Si-Fi manuscript to an agent who works primarily with Indian historicals will not get you the all exciting, “Please send me the complete manuscript.”
     Conferences provide speaker bios, agent, and editor background information for a reason. Read them. Go online and read old interviews, blogs and podcasts featuring these agents and editors.  The website is full of useful information. Writing a book takes commitment, time and exhaustive research. Give the same consideration to choosing the right agent to query or pitch to.
     Remember to give the agent or editor your business card, a bio, even a listing and blub of your published work.

KNOW YOUR GENRE AND WHERE YOU FIT IN THE MARKET - Be professional and prepared.  Know your genre’ better than an agent or editor.  Know where your book fits in and how it will be at the cutting-edge of that market.  What books is it similar and know why it’s different – because you can be sure you’ll be asked. 

DRESS FOR SUCCESS – I’ve seen people interview for jobs in jeans – why?  It’s like shooting yourself in the foot!  Why should it surprise me that people go to agent or editor appointments dressed like they’re going to a football game?  Let me tell you, jeans and a catchy saying on a t-shirt does a professional not make.  Even a t-shirt with a mock-up cover of the book you are pitching will spell disaster.  Attend conferences dressed for success and you will be surprised at the respect it earns you. 
     Also, conference rooms are usually cold, bring along a sweater or dress jacket.  If you’re comfortable you’re able to concentrate on the speakers and what great information and tips they have to offer.
     A clever tip I learned recently is if the conference is handing out tote bags (they all look alike) - tie a piece of ribbon or attach a silk flower or your favorite sports team logo to the handle, and your bag becomes instantly yours.  Don’t lose all your notes or contacts by picking up the wrong bag.  J

NETWORK OPPORTUNITY – Remember to bring lots of networking items; business cards, brochures, and books to trade and give away. This is a gold-mine to interact with other attendees, speakers, agents, and editors.   as much as possible. … Writers attend writing conferences for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is to network with editors, agents and fellow writers. Having a card and/or brochure is just one way to build a network of contacts and supporters for your writing.”

GO FOR THE GUSTO – If you go to a conference with a friend(s) make it a point to agree you will NOT ‘cling’ together as a group.  You are going to this conference to meet people!  Be friendly in the coffee line or while taking breaks in the lobby. Don’t miss out on ‘new’ and interesting conversations and connections because you’re chatting with your ‘old’ friends.  Make a point to sit next to people you don’t know at workshops and lunches.  Strike up conversations with those sitting next to you while waiting for sessions to begin. You can catch up with friends when you get back to your room or after the event is over.

FOLLOW UP SO IMPORTANT - Think about it – if you don’t follow-up – why did you bother in the first place?  You need to make an impression editors and agents, so following up in a timely manner in imperative.  Don’t wait weeks or months to get back to that agent or editor – the week you get back is the time to take action.  Your conversation is fresh in your mind – and could be fresh in their mind, too.  If you can quickly deliver a submittal they requested, they will correlate that to how you will respond as one of their authors.  Set the example right away and prove you are the professional they need on their team.  When sending in a submittal
be sure to reference the conference and your appointment as well as what he/she requested you to submit.

CONTROL THE ENVIRONMENT – Every conference has the bragger, the know-it-all, the person that wants everyone to notice and feel intimidated by.  Don’t let them.  Control your conference and the people around you.  Distance yourself from the people to suck the energy out of a room!  Don’t buy into the gossip around these people either.   Surround yourself with positive, friendly people whom you would enjoy having for friends.  Be supportive of others.  You should leave the conference feeling inspired, thrilled you spent your time and money going, and raring’ to get back home so you can write!

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