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Tips for Going to a Conference

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There is a discussion over on the "Moderator's Only" board (yes, there is another set of boards that is invisible) that has been going on for a couple of days because one of our moderators is attending a conference this weekend.  We were all giving her hints and tips.  Els posted about HER first conference and when I responded to els' post, it created a veritable hysteria amonst the moderators.  I decided it wasn't fair to leave all of you folks out of the fun, so I'm double-posting and putting it here so you can all see it, too.  I don't understand what they found so darned funny about it though.  I think my right thigh is FINE.  Just the way it is....

That said, here's the post:

I was so scared about going to my first conference I bought a business suit (dress and jacket- heck, even nylons!).

Okay, els.  This calls up a story from my past.  Many, many, many, many, many, many, many years ago, when I was a District Manager for House of Lloyd Toys & Gifts, I earned a free trip to Portugal on my group sales.  It was a "training" trip, taken with others who worked for the company that had also reached their sales goals during the previous year.  We had a number of sales meetings during the trip, in order to learn new procedures, company policies, and the highlight of the meetings was when we all got to SEE (and touch and feel!) the new toy line for the next year. 

I'd done very well with my sales that year.  In previous years, I'd gone on several of these big trips, but I always looked (and felt) totally out of place - an unkempt housewife amonst sharp-looking business women.  This year I had not only earned the trip, I even earned some money to go along with the trip!  So I decided to treat myself to a beautiful suit to wear to the main meeting.

The suit I found was incredible!  It was hot pink ultra-suede - a brand new product in the early 80's.  And it cost me a veritable fortune - $500!  (Back then, you could buy a HOUSE for $500.  Well, not quite, but it was the down payment on a house!)  This, from a frumpy housewife who'd never spent more than $20 on ANYTHING to wear in her entire life!  I just knew I'd be making my first "grand entrance!" 

The day of the meeting, I felt SO good!  So sharp!  So smart!  With my head held high with pride, I started down the (luckily carpeted) stairs into the meeting room, and... you guessed it... tumbled head over heels down the entire length of the long staircase, landing at the bottom on my back, feet spread wide and pointing UP the stairs. 

Everyone gasped, and several people rushed over and tried to help me up... but with my feet UP the stairs, I couldn't get up.  Laughing and crying in humiliation, I gasped, "Please!  Let me do it myself!"  As they let go of me, I spun myself around so my feet were hanging down the stairs, and was then able to stand up. 

So much for my "grand entrance."  It was grand all right.  But it certainly wasn't the way I intended to make a splash with my beautiful new suit! 

SEE what you did, els?   You brought all that humiliation back to me again.  And yes, I've been laughing about this for years, now.  :dr  :dr  :dr  Got a lot of laughter mileage out of that hot pink suit with the mini-skirt.  And I still have it.  Today, I think the skirt will fit my right thigh.... 
#1 - September 11, 2004, 05:31 AM
« Last Edit: September 11, 2004, 05:35 AM by Verla Kay »
Verla Kay

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What an image, Verla!  Hope you didn't get hurt!!!  Did you ever take a picture of you in it?  It would be fun if you could post it.  (I'm sure it's in storage if you have it.) 

Lisa  (who still keeps clothes that no longer fit.  I'm just sure they will one day soon)  :faint:
#2 - September 11, 2004, 06:42 AM

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:dr Lisa.  The only thing that got hurt was my pride.  (And it definitely took a tumble!)  I honestly don't know if I have any photos of me in that suit or not.  I'd have to dig through six hundred thousand boxes to find it if I did.  (Well, when you keep digging back into the storage units - we have two of them in order to fit all our stuff in them - it FEELS like six hundred thousand boxes....)  And after searching through both units TWICE, I STILL can't find my Civil War research books that I NEED in order to finish writing the book I'm contracted to write for Putnam.   :fury
#3 - September 11, 2004, 07:06 AM
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Only you, Verla, only you................

Mel

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#4 - September 14, 2004, 12:57 PM

Margherita

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You all seem to know a lot about these things, so I have a dumb question I want to ask.

I have the opportunity to attend a fiction writing conference in a couple of weeks (the attendance is a perk from my job).  The conference will have authors, experts and most important to me, agents.  (I'm one of the legions of unagented writers out there...)

My question is this: How should I comport myself?  How does one approach literary agents and other experts?  Is it gauche to have writing samples/business cards/resumes on hand?  I want to know how to make the most of this conference without being a doofus.  I live in a rural state and opportunities like this don't come up often at all.

Any advice would be much appreciated!  :EmoticonHelp2:
#5 - May 26, 2005, 07:20 PM

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Margherita,
I'll pass on to you advice given to me before my first writers conference.
1. LISTEN CAREFULLY to what the editors agents say (don't be star struck) they are people - each has their own taste and agents have different ways of doing business - i.e. some one ms at a time, some children's only, some only fiction - so listen carefully.
2. Consider if you have any ms / proposals that are a match and then chat with the agents / editors at the appropriate time (most conferences have mid day or post day gatherings).
3. Be able to sum up your ms in a sentence or two and say why you think that editor would like it. (I.E. "I notice you have three nf historical pb on your list. Would you be interested in a manuscript about my grandfather who invented .... ") If you get a friendly nod, continue... "it takes place in the Amazon where the invention is still being used today."
4. My friend advised me to ask all the agents and editors "What exactly are you looking for?" or "What type of ms would you find exciting?" I got up my nerve and tried these lines and they didn't work for me (maybe it was obvious they were rehearsed or maybe these lines are used a lot. Then Kent Brown (Highlights) said in an ICL chat "An editor will never be able to tell you what they are looking for because all editors are looking for something new and amazing - something they've never seen before." (I'm paraphrasing here - you can probably find the transcript on-line). But, the point is it didn't really matter what my 'opening line' was, the point is to start the conversation.

I wouldn't bring copies of my mss. But, before you go make a list of all your ms with one / two sentences descriptions and take it with you for your own reference. After you hear the speakers you can glance over your list and see if there is a 'match'

Have fun!
Good luck!

And let us know how it goes!!!

-Angela
#6 - May 26, 2005, 11:10 PM
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Harrietthespy

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That's funny.  When I was new I asked Kent Brown the same question.  He said, "I don't know - I publish what I like and that happens to be a lot of different things.  So don't write a story that you think I would like, write a story that you like and send it to me."

I did, he liked it.

So ditto everything Angela said.  One addition - network with other writers.  Often registrants focus so much attention on the editors or agents that they miiss the most valuable part of the conference - their peers.  I have a number of friends who were unpublished when we met at a conference back in 2000 who are doing very well now.  We can trade tips and advice and marketing news.  We can critique each other or just sigh and comisserate over long waits for editor responses.  One friend is now coaching me through revision notes (what to negotiate, what to stay firm on).

I can give you some feedback from my most recent conference.  We offered private sessions (for free) with any of the faculty with slots offered on a first come first serve basis.  99% of the attendees wanted only the agent from the Writers House or the editor from Randomhouse.  That's a classic newbie mistake.  They were pitching their manuscripts before they were ready to take that step.  Given that most of the editors from regional publications had many open slots, as well as the published authors, a better solution would have been to go to those people first and get advice and help with polishing.  A friend of mine who as a faculty member said the same thing happened at a conference she attended - everyone rushed to see the "star" editors/agents and ignored the award winning authors who were ready (and willing) to coach and mentor.

So don't underestimate the value of networking with the people sitting in the audience next to you.  You'd be surprised how many long-lasting relationships you will form from the experience!

Print up some business cards on your computer so you can pass them out (if asked).  That will help you stay in touch with the other writers you meet and form a connection with.

Oh - and have fun.  This is a job but it supposed to be fun!!! So remember that is the number one ingredient!....Christine
#7 - May 27, 2005, 04:40 AM

HB

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Ditto.

Plus, take a bit of time to research the speakers ahead of time. I like to read books by authors that will be speaking and get a better idea of what the editors have edited and agents have sold in the past.
#8 - May 27, 2005, 06:57 PM

Cana

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Ditto what everyone else has said. Take copious notes. Get a feel for which ms might match a particular editor/agent. If the opportunity presents itself, by all means mention your ms to that editor/agent. (Without being a 'stalker'...grin.) Dont' take copies with you to give to them. They won't want to take it back for reading material on the plane. These conferences give you the opportunity to send it to them at a later date when your fairly certain it's polished to a gleaming finish. Takes you out of the slush pile to their desk. No guarantee of acceptance, of course, but at least you'll know the editor will see it. Mention that you attended the conference in your cover letter and consider putting it on the outside of your envelope as well.
Take copies of you ms with you if you wish. Not for the editor/agent, but to share with writing buddies you'll have a chance to make at the conference. Many spontaneous critique sessions form at conferences. Networking and learning from other writers is more than worth the cost of attendance. Most of all, have fun. Happy writing. Cana
#9 - May 28, 2005, 05:15 AM

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I love conferences and am already signed up to attend the SCBWI National conference in Los Angeles this August.  Verla Kay will be one of my roommates (we love to share and cut expenses).

This will be my 16th year for this big conference and I've learned lots of tips to make conference going easy.  I posted a list of conference tips on my alternate website: www.LJSingleton.com

Enjoy!
#10 - May 29, 2005, 12:48 PM
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Margherita

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Thanks, everyone, for the tips.  Your advice is extremely helpful and definitely appreciated.  I am such a conference novice and rather shy to boot, so this is going to be a trial by fire.  Plus, I'll be there in a professional capacity unrelated to my fiction-writing aspirations, so that might be odd. :eh:

At least I'll be forarmed with a lot of good info (that will at least minimize my typical idiot-factor)!  ;D

Thanks again.
#11 - May 31, 2005, 07:29 PM

mhdavis

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I'm attending my first conference and wondering if any of you have advice on how I can get the most out of it? I've put in the first ten pages of my YA for a critique.

Thanks!
Megan
#12 - March 04, 2008, 01:17 PM

ghoulinpajamas

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I've found that one of the most important aspects of a conference is networking. Not only because you can meet great people and make friends who really GET you, but also find out great resources and connections. As a naturally quiet person, I had to sort of force myself to not be that girl reading a book by herself at lunchtime. Through my first conference I met someone who referred me to a published YA writer who did a paid critique for me which transformed my novel from readable to submittable. At my third conference I met fantastic friends, and heard about this website (among other great pieces of advice). Good luck and have fun.
#13 - March 04, 2008, 01:24 PM

talk to everyone you meet and don't be afraid to approach groups or singles
take lots of notes
thank speakers AFTER they are off the stage, don't approach right before they go on
don't hover around editors/agents and act stalkerish, it's okay to be normal and chat :)
drink a ton of water
wear comfortable clothes and shoes
bring a sweater/jacket because the rooms can get cold
have a 3 sentence description of your book ready (elevator pitch)
HAVE FUN!
#14 - March 04, 2008, 01:28 PM
Stephanie J. Blake
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Here's a few DON'TS:

Don't feel overwhelmed - everyone there is not writing the same genre or way you do, so your writing can make it to print.

Don't think for a minute that you, or your writing, is insignificant.

Don't worry about sleep. You'll catch up when you get home.

This is a fantabulous learning opportunity - ENJOY!
#15 - March 04, 2008, 01:52 PM
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Here's a few DON'TS:

Don't feel overwhelmed - everyone there is not writing the same genre or way you do, so your writing can make it to print.

Don't think for a minute that you, or your writing, is insignificant.

And if you're going to the SCBWI National conference (aka the Lin Oliver memorial Love-In's for Jane Yolen and Arthur A. Levine), BOY will these two self-esteem anchors be under assault 24/7.     :stars

Used to be a ritual, but now I've tried switching to a Regional conference (10 pages...Let me guess, New England, right, mh?  ;D) , just because I got tired of putting up with the hassle, pressure, and unintentional psychological hammering.
Seeing as I pretty much only go for the pro-critiques in the first place, and Regionals might offer a little more small-scale attention.
#16 - March 04, 2008, 02:12 PM
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 02:19 PM by DerekJ »

Cozy_Writer

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 :hearts  Megan, you might also consider having cute but inexpensive business cards made up.  You will be meeting so many people, it's nice to have a card to hand to people with whom you would like to stay in touch.  I recommend including your name, phone number, web site address, email address, mailing address - whatever you would normally jot down for someone.
#17 - March 04, 2008, 02:49 PM

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You've gotten great suggestions already. 

Not to be negative, but it seems that when I'm at conferences, people all too often ask inappropriate questions, or that they should know the answer to or should be able to find an answer to elsewhere.  One example is that an editor might mention in a workshop that they only take agented submissions.  Someone often stands up and asks "how do I get an agent?"  This drives me crazy, because then the editor will spend 5 minutes answering a question that should never have been asked, because the author should already know the answer to that, or should realize they could find the answer elsewhere, and that the question isn't specific to this editor. 

Not that you'd do that, of course.  If you're reading the BB, you've read a lot about this business. 

I know no question is supposed to be stupid, but sometimes they just aren't asked at the appropriate time or place.

 Have fun!

anita
#18 - March 04, 2008, 06:32 PM

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Great suggestions, but let me add my two cents . . .

If you're not in a critique group and you're attending a regional conference, then you might want the goal of finding a critique group.  At my first conference, I stumbled upon one that has now been meeting for nearly four years!  That was an unexpected benefit of my first conference.

I'm a shy-ish person, so I found it helpful to be upfront about being a newbie.  I said, "This is my first conference."  As a result, folks were really friendly and encouraging. 

Later, as a newbie at a particularly intimidating (so I thought) conference, I sat in the parking lot watching people (many editors, 'cause it was near NYC) stream in, I said to myself, "Well, they all look like kindergarten teachers!  I can handle a conference of kindergarten teachers!"  and in I went.  I told myself never to be intimidated by a conference of children's writers and editors ever again!  And I haven't!  (Well . . . maybe a little bit every now and then. . . )

An easy, great question to ask when you're waiting in line or when you sit near people is, "So what do you write?"  Or, "Have you been to this conference before?" 

Have fun! 
#19 - March 04, 2008, 07:08 PM
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You have some super suggestions here.  I strongly support the notion of NOT being an introvert at a conference.  The only way to get your money's worth is to network and mingle and converse.  Speaking of money, I also want to add that it's a good idea to keep track of your conference expenses for tax time.  Keep registration, travel, and hotel receipts, as these can be deductions at tax time.

One more thing, bring along paper to take good notes, money to purchase books (as there is often a book sale at conferences), and bring some representative samples of your work.  You just never know what circumstances might arise at a conference.

Enjoy!

buglady
#20 - March 05, 2008, 04:15 AM

cynthea

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Hi Megan, how exciting! My very first conference was like a historical moment for me!  You can really get a LOT out of it, if you put yourself out there and meet people!  You've gotten lots of great suggestions already.  I wrote up some conference tips that talks about what to wear, business cards, and all that. HAVE FUN!

http://www.cynthealiu.com/2007/07/29/250/top-dos-and-donts-attending-a-childrens-writer-and-illustrator-conference/

How I met my lovely critique partners:
http://www.cynthealiu.com/2006/05/22/30/how-i-found-my-critique-partners/
#21 - March 05, 2008, 05:56 AM

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The biggest thing about conferences for me is that you're surrounded by other writers -- what a great feeling!  Definitely share, chat, listen -- enjoy :)

I usually attend conferences around here that are for all genres (rather than just children's) -- and the workshops/seminars have been invaluable.  But the people are the best -- I met CC last year :D  I also met Victoria Hanley (I think that's how you spell it), and we had a lovely talk one afternoon.  Hillary Bell was there, as well (she's pretty quiet and reserved, but had a nice smile).  Meeting local authors is one of the real joys, imo.  Lets us know that we're all just people on our paths!

Have fun!!
#22 - March 05, 2008, 07:12 AM
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Well, you've got loads of great advice so far. (If you're at the NESCBWI Regionals, I'll see you there!)

So, let's review:

- Be open to possibilities, people and inspiration
- Have a notebook, pen and business cards handy
- Don't be shy & be honest (everyone really is so helpful and welcoming!)
- Be comfortable, but be willing to pop out of your "comfort zone" to make those important connections
- Drink water, eat appropriately, listen to the pearls of advice and experience
- Have fun! Be inspired! Meet your fellow authors!

To this I add: talk to EVERYBODY! Seriously, some of the best contacts I made were in lines for book signings, waiting in the bathroom, sitting at a table. Don't leave empty chairs next to you -- sit close to people and join-in conversations. The critiques are perhaps the best avenue for getting a look into the professional world: write down everything, be open to the advice and most of all, know that by being there, you are in the top echelon of your chosen field. You have stepped up to the plate, you are taking this seriously and so you should remember that you DESERVE to be ther and have good things happen!

Kudos & live it up!
#23 - March 05, 2008, 07:23 AM

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Yup, yup. All great suggestions.

But my strongest advice is to let your first conference be organic. Certainly, go prepared and maybe even organize your WIPs in a binder or a summary sheet. Sign up for the sessions that most interest you. And then let it flow. If you go in feeling like you have to sell yourself or your book or that you have to meet loads of folks or editors, your stress level might hinder your "absorption" of everything else you might learn at the conference. Soak it all in. Collect all the info you can in hardcopy - handouts, publisher's catalogs, editor information - then you can review it on your own time.

And then commit to your career that this will not be your one and only conference. Be on the lookout for others in your area.
Jean
#24 - March 05, 2008, 09:44 AM
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SproutQ

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Did someone already suggest keeping notes on the people you meet so you can drop them a note to follow up after the conference is over?
#25 - March 05, 2008, 11:15 AM

mhdavis

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 :wow

You are all awesome! Thanks so much for the Dos and Don'ts. I wouldn't have thought of most of these suggestions, especially business cards.

I'm in Nor Cal so I'll be at UC Davis on April 5th... And definitely not eating lunch alone!

 :thanks

Megan
#26 - March 05, 2008, 03:00 PM

Chris_YAandFilm

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My first conference was LA in 2002, but my first regional chapter was based in Davis. I also went to Davis for college. The local public library quickly became a second home; I still have my Yolo County library card. Attending the conference helped me realize I really wanted to be a YA writer.

Definitely take some business cards or at least make a note of who you meet. Even today I'm still in contact with some of the people I meet there - I think I even met Verla, but was probably too shy to say much.

You might also think about taking extra copies of your MS to have an personal MS exchange with other writers. I can't remember if its scheduled for Davis or not, but sometimes conferences have informal critiques between attendees.

I'm jealous, I'd love to be in Davis in April. But I gotta graduate first and to do that I have to finish my thesis.

Have lots of fun.
#27 - March 05, 2008, 11:21 PM

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Great advise so far! Have fun.

Soak up as much as you can, but don't worry about missing a session if you are oversaturated and need a break (this is more for the longer conferences, but you never know). You pay a lot for conferences and you should try to go to all the sessions that you can, but if you really need a few minutes to yourself (to rest, jot down a new story idea inspired by a session, etc.) then take those few minutes and then rejoin the conference.

Network with other writers and illustrators.

Hope your first conference is an awesome, inspiring experience!
#28 - March 06, 2008, 07:37 AM
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Estee

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I'm going to this conference too, and it's my first!  Can someone define "dress comfortably"?  Like business casual, or levis and a sweater, or sweats and a ratty t-shirt?  I hate being wrongly dressed.
Estee
#29 - March 27, 2008, 12:54 PM

Gabby

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Business casual. Nice slacks or skirt and a top, or a non-fussy dress for women. Nice slacks, polo, or button down shirt (no tie needed) for men...see cynthea's tips for dressing which she earlier posted.  Choose something you feel both comfortable and confident in. Layers are a good choice.

I do want to say that if being "extroverted" even for a short time, really, really REALLY stresses you out .... don't push. Don't be someone you aren't. Be polite, talk to people, but don't feel stressed if you don't want to work the crowd ... especially if the energy spent being "extroverted" is going to keep you from absorbing and enjoying the conference. Years ago, I let this get under my skin, but it so happened that one of the presenters, an accomplished author and my friend, told me not to sweat it. You don't want to crawl under the rug, but you don't have to feel like you have to force it either. Be comfortable, have fun, take what you need and want from the conference at your own speed. I personally know how draining it can be to be surrounded by extroverts for several hours, so if you need to pull back and be quiet during a break or two to regroup ... do so.


#30 - March 27, 2008, 01:57 PM
« Last Edit: March 27, 2008, 02:21 PM by BirdyWords »

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