5 Tips For Your First Writer’s Conference

So you’ve signed up for your first writing conference and are all sprinkles and glitter about the upcoming event. Then, directly after you register, you fly into fits of panic because you realize you have no idea how to prepare for what’s to come (at least that is exactly what happened to me.) Fear not my friends, it’s not that hard if you do a couple of simple tasks ahead of time and cultivate a certain mindset before you present yourself to your literary peers. This is what I recently learned at my first writer’s conference (Hippocamp 2016.)

1. Memorize your pitch!

You don’t want to whip out a note card when an editor or agent summarily asks you to pitch your work. The pitch itself should be somewhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes long. Yes, this is an elevator pitch, and, yes, you can do it! I stumbled with my first pitch, apologized, and kept moving along. The agent didn’t mind and the pitch was a success. Remember, the agent/editor needs content and that’s exactly what you provide. Think of it as a conversation between two colleagues, because, in essence, that’s really what it is.

2. Bring a query letter, the first chapter of your novel (or sample pages), and a business card with your face on it with you.

This is your ‘packet.’ If you need to learn how to write a query letter I firmly suggest picking up a Writer’s Market and using one of the successful query letters in the book as your template (that’s what I did.) Of course you need sample pages, and if it’s for a novel they should be from the first chapter. If you don’t think your first chapter has enough ‘zing’ or ‘hook’ to it, then maybe your not ready for this yet. A business card is a must, and if you put your face on it you have a better chance of being remembered by that so sought after agent/editor. I used Vistaprint where I spent around $15 for 500 of those suckers.

3. Introduce yourself after the opening keynote.

There will certainly be an opening keynote speech at the conference, and the Q/A session afterwards is golden. This is your chance to get on the microphone and ask whomever just presented that burning question that has pestered you for months.  Your question should be formatted like this; “Hi, I’m Don. I’m writing a memoir about my experiences in the military and was wondering if you ever asked permission to use certain people in your memoir?” So the event I went to was for NF, but the same would apply for fiction. I’ve accomplished three things here: I’ve introduced myself to everyone in the crowd, I’ve let everybody in attendance know what I’m working on, and I’ve got my question answered. This takes the pressure off going up to people and meeting them face to face right of the bat. After I did this, four or five people came up to me and introduced themselves. Mission accomplished.

4. Ask questions in the breakout sessions.

You never know who is listening. An agent was sitting in on one of the breakout sessions I attended and heard me ask a question. Again, I said who I was and what I was working on and asked my question. She liked what she heard and approached me about my project. Enough said.

5. Write about your experience!

Get on your blog and post about it, quick! Tag the people you met, the presenters, and the keynotes if you can. Follow up with emails thanking people for their presentations/speeches/time. It’s just the courteous thing to do.

So again, here are my 5 tips for a successful first writer’s conference:

1.Memorize your pitch!

2. Bring a query letter, the first chapter of your novel (or sample pages), and a business card with your face on it with you.

3. Introduce yourself after the opening keynote.

4. Ask questions in the breakout sessions.

5. Write about your experience!

So how’d I do? Are there any tips you would share for the newbie at the conference?

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Writer, veteran, adult student, husband and father; life is busy! I love it though, and my hopes are to share with you my insights into these different roles, as well as to provide some experience-based tips on how to cope with the chaos they can bring. If even one of these different areas of life piques your interest then this might be the place for you. Welcome!

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