How to Make the Most of a Conference Without Talking to Anyone Important
Blogger: Michelle Ule
Filling in for Rachel Kent
The American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference (ACFW) begins tomorrow in Dallas, Texas, and I, unfortunately, will not be in attendance.
I had a great time last year at the ACFW conference in St. Louis and learned an important lesson about attending conferences–particularly if you don’t get a chance to talk to your desired important person.
You know how that can happen–you miss speaking to the editor you’ve dreamed of pitching. The table talk at a meal never seems to get around to you, you can’t summon up the nerve to address someone you believe could change your publishing life, or somehow you can never get close to an agent, editor, or even a famous writer.
When that happens, it’s easy to feel like you’ve wasted your time. Even when you have daily access to agents like I do but are trying hard to get published, conferences can churn up all sorts of fear that your efforts are for naught.
That doesn’t have to be true.
At the ACFW conference last year, I could hardly see the editor at whose table I sat for lunch. A noisy hubbub of conversation made it difficult for me to garner attention without standing on my chair and waving. I decided to accept this situation as God’s will and turned to the gentleman sitting next to me. “So what are you writing about?”
He surveyed the same situation, shrugged and told me about his project.
It was fascinating.
I switched off my writer hat and put on my administrative assistant hat and took his card. (I didn’t tell him about my day job.) I asked him questions, discussed my reaction to his idea, and we were off on an engrossing conversation that barely could tolerate the introduction of our lunch plates.
The editor noticed our animation (possibly because my Italian hands were moving) and wanted to know what we were talking about.
I gave my lunch pal the floor–he had an idea significant for the Kingdom of God. It certainly was more important than mine.
I don’t know what happened after that other than I felt very good about the meal.
At several meals over the course of that conference, I found fascinating people sitting at the table. More than once I took cards from writers who had expertise in my subject area. The writers assured me they were happy to discuss any questions I might have about their experience.
Since I was writing a diplomatic tale that fall, I interviewed a table mate who had worked in embassies around the world. She even graciously answered a few questions I came up with off the top of my head. “I’d love to help you with your story,” she said and passed me her card.
I also took cards from writers with whom my critique partners might like to chat.
Keep in mind you’re spending time with clever, witty people who love words and know how to use them well. If all else fails, listen to the sprightly dialogue going on around you and pay attention to how folks from different parts of the country speak.
It’s also important to make contacts with fellow writers–because you never know who they might really be or know. One introduction can lead to something totally unexpected, even if it’s just a new Facebook friend.
One contact I made after an innocent comment on a friend’s friend’s Facebook wall gave me the line that set my proposal apart from the myriads of other proposals and gave me a new slant to a story. I obtained a publishing contract because of an innocent comment I made to an interesting person.
Don’t overlook the opportunity to make a new friend–even if that person isn’t “important.” Because you never know what God is really up to–especially at a writers conference.
Who is the most fascinating “unimportant” person you’ve met at a writers conference?