Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing Conferences 101

What I learned from my first writer's conference...

There's a lot of misinformation out there.
I'm not sure if it's because of the mass of information on the internet or because so many people in publishing, be they authors, editors, or agents, have different opinions on aspects of the industry, but a lot of writers out there seem to be confused. One thing I've decided I really like about conferences is that it's a place where writers and agents/editors can meet face to face and actually have a conversation and hopefully dispel some of the misinformation.

There's a fine line between being confident/assertive and scary/aggressive.
Meeting agents and editors is a great opportunity for writers, and they should definitely try to take advantage of the situation. A friendly and approachable writer who makes a great connection with agents and editors and gets good feedback on their writing is obviously going to fare better in the search for representation and publication than a writer who doesn't talk to anyone. Learning to promote yourself is important.

But
agents and editors don't like being pitched to all the time. There needs to be boundaries. I heard stories about writers following agents into the bathroom to pitch to them and even following them into their hotel rooms while they were trying to pack up to leave. The best thing for writers to do is try to strike up a friendly conversation at lunch or dinner or in passing and wait for the agent or editor to ask "So what's your book about?" Everyone knows why writers attend writing conferences.

This past weekend I met many writers, but two stand out to me because when I met them we talked about more than just their writing. I got to know them and I felt like they were interested in knowing me, not just getting an agent. (Hey, even if it's not true, it still felt like we could be friends not just writer-agent.) I also remember a few writers for the wrong reason, like thrusting a 300+ manuscript at me and saying something like "read this, it's YA" without asking if I wanted to see it or telling me what it was about or asking if I preferred paper to electronic.

Business Cards are a Necessity for Agents but not Writers.
When I went to the writing conference, I had about twenty business cards on me. They were all gone before the last day, and I had to tear off scraps of paper and writer in writers' notebooks. But I came away with 22 business cards and one postcard - all given to me from writers. While some of them are designed very well and fun to look at, I'm not sure I'll really do anything with them. I'd much rather have the writer email me with a query that includes contact information and their blog address than look it up from a business card.

It might sound lazy, but it's just easier to stay organized electronically versus carrying around handfuls of business cards. Besides, I don't really want to spend the time looking up a writer only to discover they write a genre that doesn't interest me. I prefer to read the book first then check out writer blogs.

What is a necessity for writers - a notebook and a pen. Several writers who came to critiques had to borrow my pen - which was fine. I don't mind sharing, but a pen is much more important than a business card. And when I ran out of cards, it was much better to write my contact information in someone's notebook rather than hand them a scrap of paper or even a napkin.


I also learned things like Janet Reid got the best hotel room ever and Everyone loves having a minion and Conferences while fun are a lot of work and tend to drain your brain (um, I usually sleep in on the weekends, like late). But I had a great time, and I'm definitely going to be heading to more conferences in the future. I've already said yes to two of them for the spring!

17 comments:

Valerie Geary said...

Love the new blog look! Wasn't sure if I was in the right place or not at first. :) Also very good info re: conferences!

suzie townsend said...

Thanks :) I'm still in the process of fiddling with it a little, but it's coming together

M said...

There's a fine line between being confident/assertive and scary/aggressive

Amen! Oh, wait...

Business Cards are a Necessity for Agents but not Writers

What's hilarious about this is that I obsessed about whether to have non-lawyer cards made before the conference and decided, yes, I should. And I'm not a hander-outer so they stayed in my pocketses the whole time. *sigh* At least they're pretty? And because of the slick cardstock, I can shuffle them. Bonus!

I'm still kinda bummed that we didn't get to gush over Shiver. You were in super high demand last weekend, and deservedly so. But really, that book lived up to the high expectations I'd constructed based on your post. I cried. There's a reread in my near future, methinks.

I finished Generation Dead (awesome!) and started Madapple by Christina Meldrum- I think you would like it. Have you read Tithe/Valiant/Ironside by Holly Black yet, by any chance?

Congrats on being asked to more conferences next year- they'll be lucky to have you!

suzie townsend said...

Definitely a bonus if the business cards are pretty!

Shiver is a reread for me too. I totally sobbed. I let my mom read my copy and she sobbed too. Too bad we didn't get to gush over it together!

I'll put Generation Dead on my TBR list. I have Tithe/Valiant/Ironside (all three!) in the TBR room and plan on reading them soon :)

M said...

I think you'll love Tithe/Valiant/Ironside. All of the characters are very real and very flawed, which (I think) makes the romances that much more believable. I wasn't immediately infatuated with Tithe but knew it was true love when the book ended and I just *could not stop* thinking about it.

I had to run out to B&N and buy the other two, which were even better than the first.

Filing this away under #booksareanexpensivehabit.

Kristin Miller said...

Good info. I'm not a publishing guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm always amazed at some of the things people profess to be "the truth" about the publishing business.:)

I LOVE your new blog layout (I'm going to pretend I inspired it, hahaha!).

suzie townsend said...

No pretending necessary. You totally got me thinking about it!

Ash. Elizabeth said...

love the new blog : )

Nikki said...

Suzie,
Pretty new blog! Try to wangle a conference in Austin. I can show you the sights...

Sarah said...

This is great information. Did you speak/present at the conference?

I'm loving the new layout! :)

suzie townsend said...

I helped a few other agents speak and present but I didn't have to do anything on my own. It was a lot of fun though. I'll be ready to tackle a speech/class/presentation on my own next time :)

sherry stanfa-stanley said...

Your comment about conference attendees asking to borrow your pen made me laugh out loud. I had just posted the same thing this morning on Twitter--but to realize that someone had asked an agent for a pen is even more boggling!

What a great conference to choose as your first. Lovely meeting you there!

Rhiannon Hart said...

Writers without pens! The mind boggles.

Mechelle Fogelsong said...

Instead of business cards, I took bookmarks with me to the PNWA conference in August, which worked out great because most fellow authors are also readers. Next year, maybe I'll put my website & personal info on the side of pens as well as bookmarks! [winks]

I agree with the majority here. Webesite looks very cool.

Sarah N Fisk said...

I attended my first writer's conference recently also. I agree, there is SO much disinformation about the publishing industry out there and clueless writers are constantly spreading it.

This conference, I soon discovered, was not a very good one... I was disappointed. A self-publisher was one of the major sponsors but they did a session called "The Difference Between Self-Publishing and Independent Publishers," indicating that they were the latter. I was insulted. They also had paid 'pitch sessions' for this company. It was appalling.

I will have to disagree with you on the writer business cards, however. I'm not saying they are useful to provide to agents/editors but they are extremely useful for networking with other writers.

I also love the new look! It kind of makes me itch to change my own layout.

suzie townsend said...

Sarah, I agree with you about the business cards. I can imagine they'd be really helpful as far as networking with other writers. I hadn't thought enough about that.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?