The first key to making any conference experience an enjoyable one is pacing. Yes, there are lots of activities going on at the same time. Know that you cannot attend everything, so pick and choose wisely. When reviewing the schedule, highlight or circle the workshops that interest you the most, leaving blank moments in your agenda. You can use this time to re-organize your thoughts, visit with friends, practice your pitch, freshen up your makeup, relax in the hospitality suite or retreat to your room for a well deserved nap. You will be surprised how easily those blank hours in your schedule will fill up.
Leave all non-essential items in your hotel suite when you attend the conference rooms. You will usually receive a bag of goodies upon registration. When you get a chance take it back to your hotel suite. Lugging around a notebook, laptop, goodie bag, paper and pens, purse, additional makeup, etc., is way too much for one person to keep track of all day long. You can always go back to your motel, unload and restock the necessary items you might need for the various workshops you plan on attending. Remember, returning to the privacy of your hotel suite every so often will allow you to rest, change clothes and recharge your batteries, especially if you are in overload.
Attend the conference with a friend, commonly called, a side-kick. If you are going alone and don’t know anyone visit the hospitality suite and strike up a conversation with another newcomer or solitary attendee. Remember, they are just as nervous and lonely as you are. You would be surprised how many great friendships are formed at conferences. If there are two workshops going on at the same time that you want to take, having a friend with you works in more ways than one. While you enjoy one, she can take the other. Swap notes between sessions – it is a win-win situation.
Eat and drink small amounts through out the day. This will keep you hydrated and energized without causing sleepiness or giving you stomach problems.
Consuming alcohol at conferences is quite common. While a cocktail or glass of wine can help you relax, too much at any given time might result in adverse effects or a reputation you don’t want. Save the heavy drinking for after hours when you are safely tucked into the confines of your room, but be warned, attending the second day with a hang-over can be detrimental.
I think the idea of pitching to editors and agents can cause the most experienced conference attendee to become nervous. Why shouldn’t it? In reality, it’s a job interview. The only difference is, instead of having thirty minutes to talk to someone, you have three to ten minutes to sell yourself and your work to an experienced professional. That alone is enough to scare the pants off of any of us. I’ve learned a lot in my years, especially when it comes to pitching and I’m happy to say that most of my pitches have been well received, usually with me walking away with a smile on my face and a request for my work from the agent or editor in question. I’m not sure if I have a magic formula or not, but what I can tell you is what I do.
See how that opened the door and engaged the agent into asking questions? If the agent doesn’t like what I have to say about the paranormal series, he or she may ask about one of my other stories. I never forget to ask the agent question regarding who they represent, average sales, etc. I want to know if this is someone I can trust with my work. Is this someone I can build a relationship with. Remember, I’m not looking for a friend, I am looking for a business partner.
If you are a beginning writer and only have one piece of work under your belt, you can pitch in the normal method, “My story (name) is about….” or you could say something cleaver like, “I recently finished a dark paranormal romance entitled (name). It’s the story of Satan finding true love with an angelic creature…. (bla, bla. Bla.) Keep it short and allow the agent to ask questions about your work – don’t unload everything expecting him or her to remember every little detail about your story. By stating you just finished, the agent does not know this is your first completed written piece, which may inadvertently have them view you as too inexperienced.
Introduce yourself to the agent or editor and sit down. When they ask you what you write, you can simply tell them you don’t have anything to sell them right now, but you wanted to meet them. Of course, you can also tell them what you are working on. Enjoy your time with them, ask questions and chances are (if they handle what you are working on) they will tell you, “when you are finished with your WIP, feel free to send it my way.”
I hope this article has helped you in some tiny way. Although writing conferences can be intimidating, they can also be fun. Conferences are a time to share your work with others, a time to learn, and a time to pitch. What other place can you find so many great and talented people in our industry than a conference?