I’m sitting at my gate waiting for my overnight flight to take off from the Seattle Airport back home to Ohio. This is a perfect time to get this post written!
For the past few days, I’ve proudly served on faculty at the Cascade Christian Writers Conference, hosted by the Oregon Christian Writers (OCW) Association. This is my fourth writer’s conference this Spring and now that in-person conferences are back, I’ve noticed a healthy and exciting contingent of first-timer attendees. I’ve also talked with countless numbers of past attendees who’ve expressed renewed gratitude for the comraderie and opportunities that define the writer’s conference experience.
Writer’s conference are an important investment in your career. Today, let’s revisit some important do’s and don’ts to maximize your writer’s conference experience. Even if you don’t care to maximize your experience but these do’s and don’ts can increase your overall satisfaction with the energy and sacrifice that you put into attending the conference.
Ready? Here we go!
DO: Determine flexible conference goals.
Taking time to think intentionally about what you’d like to accomplish at a writer’s conference is important. Whether or not you want to use the word “goal” is up to you. However, no matter if you determine a goal or anything, give yourself permission to adapt or adjust your aim as the conference unfolds.
If you’re determined to present to three agents, that’s fine. Just remember that there’s nothing written in stone that you have to pitch to all three. Stay flexible. You may discover that you’ve gotten everything that you need from one or two appointments.
Along the same lines, I encourage you to keep a wide-open definition of success beyond getting a greenlight on your proposal or agent representation.
It’s quite possible that your “win’ for a conference might be an unexpected, but crucial connection with another writer. Another “win” can be a well-placed word of encouragement that you’ll savor for months to come. Don’t underestimate other “wins” like a workshop or a mentoring session that provides an a-ha moment that transforms your writing journey or skill.
Sometimes, our best takeaways from a conference come in unexpected moments. Stay flexible so that you don’t miss them!
DON’T: Avoid comparing your writing journey to others.
One of my favorite slogans is: Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Hoola Hoop
It’s human nature for us to measure ourselves against others. If we’re not careful, a writer’s conference can feel like a return to junior high, complete with the insecurities and angst that we thought that we outgrew and left behind.
It’s real tempting to keep score. Coach, pray or ask others to hold you accountable so that you don’t get caught up in that self-sabotaging behavior.
Instead of competing with others, compliment and cheer your fellow authors! This seems counter-intuitive, but it actually works! As you celebrate those who’ve received what you wanted, it paves the way for them to cheer you once those good things happen for you.
DO: Prep your pitch in advance.
Two common errors that authors make during an agent pitch appointment is what I call “kitchen sink pitching” or “roaming to the point.” The former describes what happens when an author attempts to tell me all of the details about why they wrote the project as well as the three related projects they want to pitch, too. The latter tends to happen when the author isn’t organized so he or she rambles in hopes of hitting on something that captures the my interest.
Both approaches are well-meaning, but ineffective.
Can I offer a friendly reminder that agents are mere humans? This means that most agents cannot absorb dozens of details about your project. We need your details to be clear and concise so that we can engage with you and determine next steps.
Help us help you.
After we sit down to begin your pitch appointment, be clear about what you’d like to pitch and what you’d like to accomplish. If you rehearse your pitch in advance, you’ll feel much more confident about knowing what you need to share and how much.
Once I have the basic information during your appointment, then I’ll ask for more information about your book and then ask questions to help me understand your project more. That’s what agents want to do.
We want to understand your project to find out where we might be able to join you in that dream of publishing or make helpful suggestions if you’re not ready yet.
DON’T: Make appointment with an agent just because everyone else is.
It can be tempting to sign up to pitch to the most well-known agent at a conference. I’ve watched attendees jockeying for a coveted spot with popular agents. There can be many reasons, but I think that it’s usually because hopeful authors believe that a well-established or popular agent can sell anything and everything, including their project.
Prioritize pitching to the agents that not only represent what you’re writing, but their current clients, projects and even what you find out about them on social media looks like a fit for you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t pitch to the popular agent, but keep healthy expectations if you do.
WHAT DO YOU THINK: This is my quick list of do’s and don’ts for a successful writer’s conference experience. What are some of your do’s and don’ts? List them in the comments below.