Blogger: Mary Keeley
I just returned from the Write-to-Publish Conference, which takes place at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. As the conference progressed, some observations formed. The information writers reveal about themselves at these events might surprise you.
Knowledge of the Industry. It was easy to spot those attendees who are new to writing and perhaps attending a conference for the first time. With no previous writing experience but an idea for a book and a desire to learn what this writing world entails, they were taking this first step. Good for them! I cheered them on and encouraged them. Who knows what valuable message God may have put on their hearts to reach future readers for his kingdom? At the same time, it would have been a disservice to them if I didn’t offer a realistic view of the expectations and hard work involved in the journey to publication.
It’s true that a conference is a prime place to learn about the industry, but what new writers often aren’t prepared for is the amount of work involved beyond their publication-ready manuscript: the business side of the author world. Platform, brand and genre planning, networking, speaking engagements, list of possible endorsers—all those vehicles that communicate to an agent or editor that you have a significant number of potential buyers for your book. I saw quite a few faces with deer-in-the-headlights expressions at this point in our conversation.
RECOMMENDATION: Do your homework before attending your first conference and before you submit a proposal to an agent or editor: visit publishers’ and agents’ websites, familiarize yourself with their submissions processes and publishing terms, and follow author, agency, and industry blogs—commenting with your questions. You’ll have access to a wealth of advance information that will provide context for what you’ll experience at the conference. You will be better equipped to get the most out of the conference. And what you’ll reveal about yourself is that you are savvy about the industry. This in turn will communicate that you’re professional and committed to your writing career.
Level of Craft. In an appointment with an attendee, agents and editors try to discern a writer’s knowledge and experience. We agents and editors learn a lot from listening to the writer answer questions like, “Where did you learn how to write fiction?” and “What books have you read on writing?” or “What experience do you have that qualifies you to write about this topic?” If we don’t hear the writer accurately use terms such as plot construction, character development, creating a powerful hook in the first few paragraphs of the first chapter, and so on, yellow flags pop up no matter how much he or she elaborates.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Be prepared for such questions and do the advance work that will enable you to respond knowledgeably and with confidence. You can read many excellent books on writing and preparing proposals before going to a conference. Don’t overstate yourself. It’s far better to say you are not ready to present your book project but to learn and seek guidance than to try to promote yourself beyond your present ability. We agents and editors can spot that right away.
Which leads to the next revelation . . .
Teachability. In an appointment with a conferee, I pay particular attention to how well he or she listens. After hearing about the book project, the first—and fun—part is to affirm all that is promising and positive about the writer and the book. But if questions surface, for example, about the target audience or the assigned genre, does the writer appear to be listening with an open mind? If I suggest adjustments that would make the book more marketable, how does he or she respond? Immediate defensiveness shows a lack of understanding about the industry as a whole. It also reveals something about how easy it would be to work with this person as a client.
RECOMMENDATION: Remember that, in our hearts, agents and editors want writers to succeed and that these industry professionals have a current knowledge of marketability. Understandably, you are personally invested in what you’ve written—it’s become a part of you. We get that and wouldn’t want to see anything less from you. If you aren’t passionate about your book, no one else will be either. With these things in mind, be open and willing to learn.
Friendliness. One of the most gratifying things about conferences is observing writers who are encouraging each other. Strangers before the conference become friends—perhaps even critique partners—by the end of the conference. This openness to meet and mingle with other attendees doesn’t always come easily for the typical introverted writer personality, so when I see it happening—attendees helping other attendees, rooting for them—it reveals how pleasant they would be to work with, and beyond that, how well they would present themselves as they market their books.
RECOMMENDATION: Relax! If God has given you a message or story to tell, let him be in charge of it. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you” (Psalm 37:8). Recognize that other conferees are in the same place you are. By giving help and encouragement, you will surely receive it in return. Consider this an important part of your growth as a writer and practice for future marketing opportunities.
What surprised you about my observations? What are your thoughts on my recommendations for preparing for a conference? What writing resources have been most helpful to you?