Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 11, 2012

Conferences - Part 2: Where The Editors and Agents Are

by Jenny Hansen

On Monday, Laura Drake gave us amazing tips on How To Improve Our Pitching. I've got to admit, I was totally impressed.

As extroverted as I am, I'd almost rather get a root canal than go to a group pitching session. I've been to them and hated it. The best thing you can do is prepare and read Laura's post!

I haven't figured out if they are harder on the editors or the writers, but it's tough to pitch in front of strangers. But I have a secret for you: I've never, ever seen or heard of an editor in a group pitch that didn't give his or her card to all the participants.

You WILL make contacts at a conference, just by strapping on your titanium panties and showing up! Is that groovy or what? A conference is a chance to meet publishing professionals you'd never normally come in contact and start forming real relationships with them.

Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.” That's certainly true for conferences of any type. Just the act of attending says you take your writing career seriously enough to invest in it.

How do you make the most out of your conference investment?

The real success formula for getting what you want out of a conference is to "show up" long before the event by doing your research. For example, I'm going to the DFW Conference in Dallas next month and the work has already begun.

The five main tasks I'm working on NOW - 37 days before conference - are:

  • Agent / Editor research
  • Author workshop research
  • Hotel research
  • Reaching out to everyone I know in the area, whether they're going to DFWCon or not.
  • Fashion Review

Am I working on my book? Yes.
Am I working on some courses I'll be launching around conference time? Absolutely.

But the other five items will make an enormous difference in the success or failure of my book and my new teaching endeavors. Trust me, I've been to conferences unprepared and you spend the entire time running to catch up. You don't want that.

My honey played football for fifteen years and had numerous coaches drill the "7 P's" into him. I'm sure my daughter will have them memorized by the second grade.

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Let's take my five prep areas, in no particular order...

Agent / Editor research

a. Find a list of the agents and/or editors who will be there and research which ones are currently acquiring what you write.

I don't care if you spoke to them 3 years ago about your paranormal time-travel, if they now acquire contemporary YA they are probably not going to be your first choice this time around.

b. Agents are on the lookout for a great writer who fills a niche in their current author list. They are dying to meet you and your perfect book as much as you and your perfect book are dying to meet them. BUT! No stalking. Just act natural. In fact, the worst thing you can do for yourself when you meet your dream agent at lunch is to pitch. Editors and agents are people too, with hobbies and dreams and the need to eat their lunch. That being said, if they ask you what you write, the door is open for a discussion.

Note: Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary caught this post on Twitter and sent me this link about Why Agents Attend Writing Conferences.

Do I have tips for meeting your dream agent and editor?

Oh, Mama, do I have tips!

  • Know whether any of their authors are at the conference. Most agents have a client list on their website. They are extremely proud of their authors and want to support them. So go where the authors are. If their author is giving a workshop, it's a pretty safe bet that the agent will be there. The goal is to find out more about THEM to see if they might be a good fit for YOU.
  • Go to the publisher workshops. At RWA's National convention each year, all the big publishers have a "Spotlight on..." workshop. The editors get up and talk about what they're looking to acquire, and who their new authors are. The Spotlight workshops give golden information...and they are PACKED with agents, who want to know what to pitch to these editors. I saw three of my dream agents in the audience at the Spotlight on St. Martin's workshop. Did I turn around in the front row and stare at them? No!
  • VOLUNTEER. Every chance you get at a conference, volunteer for something. Not only are you giving back to the overworked event organizers, but you might get to do something nifty like moderate a workshop for your dream publishing house, St. Martin's. (It was a definite SQUEEEE! moment in my life.) I've also net Julia Quinn, Joan Johnston and numerous other NYT authors . . . just because I volunteered.
  • Don't hide hang in your room unless you're sleeping or freshening up. I know that writing conferences are terribly wearing for the introverts - you're surrounded by people for several days and you need to be on ALL the time. Still, you must get involved in whatever way you are able. Ex: Find one of your favorite extroverts to help keep your nervousness at bay and pal around with them. Attend any parties or outings your chapter is throwing, trade notes on workshops with your tablemates at lunch. But get out there and mingle.
  • #1 mingling spot at every writing event is the hotel bar. I've been at this conference thing for 12 years now, and I can unequivocally state that the bar is where you meet a ton of people. This is where friendships are born or renewed, where pitches are practiced, and where deals are discussed. I'm not recommending that you have more than one alcoholic beverage every several hours, but DO make time to hang out in the bar. You'll be glad you did.

You remember at the top of this post, when I talked about hotel research? That's actually pretty important. For one thing, it directly affects your fashion choices. I check Weather.com for a 10 day forecast for the exact same reason.

  • What if the event is spread across TWO hotels as it was when I attended IBM PartnerWorld in Vegas?
  • What if we had to hike a half-mile or more to find any food under $20 like we did when I went to the RWA conference in D.C.?
  • Don't even get me started on the long lines you will stand in whenever you go to a hotel restaurant at mealtimes or to the potty between workshops.

Note: I highly recommend that you find some protein bars that you like and bring a case of those. Or do what I'm doing, and stay with a friend.

My last bit of advice on the fashion front: Read this excellent post by Virginia Kantra. This gal KNOWS how to pack for a conference!

I've got my fashion-conscious friends window-shopping for me since I hate to shop myself.  (It takes a village to keep me from looking like a fashion disaster.)

Last, but not least, reach out to everyone you know in the conference area. We have so many friends online nowadays that live in far-flung places. Conference is the perfect time to get together with them, even if it's only for a coffee and a hug.

Or, you could do what I do, and arrange a meet-up in the bar...

What writing events do you recommend? Do you pitch? What's your best tip for stalking meeting the agent or editor of your dreams? We'd love to hear your tips!

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at jhansenwrites and here at Writers In The Storm. Every Saturday, she writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

0 comments on “Conferences - Part 2: Where The Editors and Agents Are”

  1. Great post. You covered two of what I consider to be the absolute best tips and they involve food--bring snacks and research an affordable place to eat ahead of time. My go-to is Subway because you can get a healthy, filling sandwich (unless you're gluten-free, which makes things much more difficult), and their prices tend to be standard across the country so what you pay in Michigan is what you pay in D.C. is what you pay in New York. When Lisa and I went to NY in January, our first day there we ended up having to share a Ceasar salad at Applebees for lunch because that's all we could afford.

    1. Oh yeah, hotel food is crazy pricy. I highly recommend you bring the aforementioned protein bars, some oatmeal (Glutenfreeda has fabulous gluten-free options) and some disposable cups. The cups can be used for the oatmeal, or for drinks in the room. 🙂

  2. This is a great post. I've yet to go to any conferences, but I'm hoping once my book is out, I'll have the chance next year. Unfortunately, Chicago is about the closest to me. I haven't decided if I'd like to pitch to an agent or not, but I can only imagine the education that comes with the experience. Conferences are likely something every writer should do at least once, even introverts like me.

    1. Here's a link to the Poets & Writers conference database in case there's options across your entire area: http://www.pw.org/conferences_and_residencies

      I'm VERY blessed by geography in terms of writing conferences and chapter, but I do think that everyone should go to a conference at least once. For the introverts, the smartest thing is to go with a friend, preferably one who's an extrovert. 🙂

  3. Thank you for these timely blogs about conferences. I will be attending my first writers conference - the DFW Conference as well - and I am extremely nervous and excited at the same time. I really want to make the most of the experience. I won't know anybody which immediately puts me out of my comfort zone. I have researched the agents (but not their authors who may be attending), but after reading this I may want to research even more. On a brighter note, if the bar is the preferred gathering spot, well, that it a comfort zone. Thank you for the great advice!!

  4. Great ideas, Jenny! And I clicked on the fab links as well. I did okay my first time around, but I expect to make more of my second run at DFW Con. I'll see you in the bar, girlfriend! (I'll be the introvert breathing into a bag. LOL.)

    1. You're not gonna be breathing into a bag! You're gonna be belting out "I Will Survive" with a karaoke/margarita machine in the corner. We will all dance and pay homage to you. 🙂

  5. What a great post. I received much of the same advice when I went to my first conference last fall. I'm going to another one in the next few weeks. No more pitching as I have an agent, but I'm still volunteering and arranging to meet up with friends I've never seen.

    1. Ella, congrats on your agent! I'm excited for you to get to enjoy a conference with agent meetings, as well as meet-ups with writing friends. 🙂

  6. Great blog Jenny. As you know I'm a terrible introvert. I might make the bar scene but then sit there like a bump on a log, looking for someone--friends I already know. But hey, I get kudos for showing, right?

    1. You do get points for showing up, and you're a fabulous listener. I always hear that the best conversationalists are those who listen, so there you go. Instant bar popularity!!

  7. Fab post, Jenny! May I kidnap you to me my conference buddy? What? I promise to feed you whatever you want and do really cool dance moves if we have to walk anywhere far. 🙂

    I'm a blend of intro and extro and find my intro likes to jump out at writing events and make me a wallflower. I've been so far only to more workshop focused events (and have gotten squirrely at those around agents and other industry peeps), but do want to try a more networking focused event this year. I will keep these tips in mind, especially the volunteering one because I'm great at chatting when doing a task.

    1. Barbara, are you coming to DFW??!! OMG! We are gonna cut a rug, sister...you and me and the Cupid Slide. I've got to brush up on my Fred Sanford before next month. 🙂 Unless you're planning RWA in July...which one are you going to?

      1. Nope, can't swing DFW this year since I'm going to a writers' workshop in June. Glad to hear of all the other WANAs that will be able to go. Take some pics and video if you can. Whee! 🙂

        I was talking kidnap like ping over your way bearing gifts and music, then drag you east. *giggle* I've thought about attending stuff like Thrillerfest or AWP (Boston next year I think), but felt I'd be a lost sheep with no direction or plan. Now I'll know how to craft a plan.

  8. Thank you for these tips. What to pack was a great link. I am name challenged and don't recognize people very well - I was thinking profile pics with names is not a bad idea. I'm not going to RWA for that is not my genre - hoping sometimes there will be a MWA - memoir writers conference. Have a blessed day.

    1. You are welcome, Heather! And how awesome would a memoir conference be? WOW - I'll admit it...I tingled at the thought! I'm going to a memoir workshop next month and I'm excited. 🙂

  9. Thanks for this! I'm gearing up for DFWCon as well, and will be doing my best not to be the wallflower I normally am at these things. If you see me...please slap me and tell me to snap out of it? Thanks lol

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