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.
I will go unto my meeting
with literary legend-star
prepped to give a happy greeting
with a wave of big cigar,
and to show I really care
before you, agent, think to ask
I will offer swig to share
from my ever-present flask.
You will listen to my pitch
with, perhaps, a half an ear,
the other half is hearing which
envelope is sliding near
that will soothe my plotline’s ills
with some non-sequential bills.
Ha!!! “non-sequential bills” – that’s hysterical. I haven’t had anyone try to bribe me, but I’m thinking that someone out there has some stories about that.
This is a great post, Barb!
I would also add “Don’t make appointments, period, just because everyone else is.”
One year, I went to a writers conference exhausted and eager to be filled up. I didn’t plan to pack my schedule with appointments–until a friend asked, “How many editors and agents have you met with?” When I told her I was trying to focus on learning instead of appointments, her reaction immediately caused me to second guess myself. So of course, I started making some appointments. Nothing came of them. By giving into pressure, I lost my original focus for the conference and used up time that I could have spent connecting with other writers or with God.
I tell writers of all levels that it is completely okay to NOT make appointments. In fact, some of my best conferences were been those that I attended just to get filled up–when I didn’t have it in me to pitch, submit, or impress anyone.
I guess my story can double as another piece of advise: “If a fellow writer has a conference plan that is different from yours, support them instead of trying to talk them out of it.”
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes! Such a good reminder!!! I make sure to go to more craft sessions than marketing sessions for this very reason. I do force myself to pitch at every conference, just to practice and to be less intimidated by professionals and to gain some wisdom from even their rejections. Don’t forget to pitch to magazine editors! But this is not the strategy for everyone. I LOVE that you have pointed out the wisdom of just soaking in the comradery and the learning. Also, to respect other writers and their focus and journey. This is a must. Thank you so much!
YES! Your advice at the end is so, so good! Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom. I hope that others will take your advice in the future.
Kristen Joy Wilks
It was such a delight to get to meet you at the Cascade Christian Writer’s Conference, Barb! You were very patient with me while I talked your ear off about a genre you do not represent, ha! Thank you for your thoughts and insights about my questions. While I did slog my way through several disappointments at the conference, I was bolstered by much encouragement as well. Encouragement at the sessions, new ideas that formed from the very furnace of a story rejection, and new writer friends to move forward with after the conference is over. One writer friend is even focusing on my genre! The Lord even prepared me ahead of time during one of our worship sessions for both the disappointments and for finding joy in different places than I expected. Do not distain the beautiful fellowship of sitting in prayer with another writer or of helping each other along on the journey.
Kristen, it was a joy meeting you in person as well! Congratulations on your award and thank you for sharing your “do” at a writers conference. Getting encouraged for the writing journey is such a hug key to our perseverance in writing.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oh … I didn’t win. But being a finalist is a reward in and of itself, so that works! Thank you!
Writers Conference is very serious, and I think the above methods really work
Christina Suzann Nelson
We were blessed to have you at CCWC. Thank you!
Reading through a piece that provokes thought in its readers is one of my favorite things to do. In addition, many thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts here!