Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First Writer's Conference? What To Expect...

Like me, many of you are getting pretty excited. Next week is the annual conference for the awesome, amazing group of writers that are American Christian Fiction Writers! Hundreds of us will converge on St. Louis for four days of fun, fellowship and food. Oh yeah, and learning about writing.
If you're planning to attend and this is your first writer's conference, you may be wondering what in the world you've signed up for.
Don't Stress!
That's my first tip. Remember, this is fun. Don't ruin your good time by worrying that you won't know anyone or that you'll spill your soup on the editor sitting next to you at lunch. Even if you have never met any of your fellow writers in person, don't worry. We all get name tags and you'll find we're a friendly bunch. In fact you may not be able to get a word in edgewise sometimes, but generally speaking, by the end of the weekend you'll be going home with a bunch of new friends. Well, not literally. I don't think anyone will actually offer to take you home with them. If they do, you might be at the wrong conference.
Oh, and if you spill your soup on an editor? Well, good luck with that.

But Seriously, What Do I Bring?
Okay, it's four days. You want to look good. Professional. Dress code is business casual. On Saturday night there is a banquet and most people jazz it up that night. Jeans with holes in them are probably not want you want to wear. Remember, you're trying to impress those agents and editors. Aside from having a great manuscript that they're going to want to snap up, you should probably try to look presentable too. It helps. However. You only have one suitcase. Figure it out.
I refuse to give any advice on packing lightly on the grounds that it may incriminate me.

Don't do it. Honestly, save yourself the heart attack. Just pretend like you're not there when an editor walks past. They're really scary people. Agents are just as frightening.
Ooookaaay...but this is a writer's conference and you're trying to sell your work.
Yeah. You gotta pitch. Well, you don't, but you should. This is your golden opportunity to get your work in front of people who might otherwise never see it. And really, what are the chances that the editor you're pitching to is the same editor you just spilled your soup on?

Be Prepared.
To Have Fun.

Perhaps you can tell by the tone of this post that I really don't take all this too seriously anymore.
My first conference was a terrifying experience. Sure, I made a lot of new friends, but I'm such an introvert that it was really hard for me to put myself out there and talk to a bunch of strangers. But after the first half hour, there were no strangers.
By the end of the first day, I knew I'd come home.
These people were as crazy as me!! Woohoo!!
Unfortunately, back then, (my first conference was in 2006 I believe, and I've only missed one) I really was a baby when it came to writing. I didn't have an agent yet, and the whole pitching process scared the life out of me. It still does but I do it anyway. I hardly got any sleep worrying over my appointments. Part of me was also setting my expectations far too high! I had this crazy idea that some smart editor was going to take one look at what I had to offer and sign me on right then and there with a three book deal. Well, that didn't happen. I have heard of offers being made at conferences, but I don't think it's the norm. Try to look at pitching as good practice for what's to come. You're connecting with agents and editors and that's a good thing. They may not ask for you to send them anything and if they don't, please don't be discouraged. This is a very, very tough gig. Maybe you're just not quite there yet, that's okay. And if they do ask for a proposal, that's awesome, but don't rely on that request being your ticket to publication. You just don't know for sure that it's going to turn out the way you want.
All this to say, if you love your book, know it inside and out and can sum it up in about three minutes, you're good to go. Being as I'm sitting here with absolutely no idea what I'm going to say at my appointments, you're way ahead of me.
But hey, I have a really cool one sheet. Wanna see?

Okay, don't freak out. I didn't do this myself. I used Yvonne Parks at Pear Creative. My excuse for spending money on my one sheets is that because I'm so terrible at pitching, it gives the editor something to look at while I babble on. Saves their eyes from glazing over.
So yes, it's a good idea to have a one sheet - basically a summary of what your book is about and who you are all on one page. People always ask about bringing sample chapters.
This is going to be my sixth conference and I've only ever had one editor look at my first chapter. So yes, I always make sure I have at least one chapter printed out, just in case, but I don't carry a suitcase full of paper. Anymore.

So remember, be presentable, be outgoing, be pleasant, be prepared.
And most of all, have fun! This is the one time of the year you get to be around hundreds of people that don't think you're nuts. Live it up!!

Any questions about going to conference?


Heather Sunseri said...

Love your one sheet, Cathy. Can't wait to see you again next week! I can't believe conference is already here.

Richard Mabry said...

Cath, Good advice. One of the things I stress to people attending their first writing conference is the importance of networking--with no thought of how they might help you in the future, just because you click. You may make some appointments with editors and agents, but God has already lined up the important ones for you...you just may not recognize them.

Catherine West said...

Heather, ditto!!
Richard, absolutely! When we go with the knowledge that God already has the plans for us...it does take the pressure off! Last year I didn't pitch at all and it was so much fun!! LOL. This year I'm sure I'll still be nervous at my pitch sessions, but I know God has it all under control, even if I don't!!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Top-notch one sheet, Cathy--and an intriguing story! Excellent advice too. Even better--I'll see you next week at the conference!

Pamela Mason said...

Hi Catherine,
What a wonderful one sheet.
Some day I hope to get to ACFW, but for now I volunteer for my local RWA chapter's writer's conference. We hold a Pitch Workshop there (won't spam, but full disclosure: yes, I run it) where published authors volunteer to coach the unpublished ones who will be pitching to the editors & agents attending.
But to tell the truth... I don't think there's any way to get past that First Pitch ... every year.

Great blog & post. And all your advice & information is priceless! Thanks for sharing.

Katie Ganshert said...

Great stuff Cathy! Love your sense of humor, woman. And I just can't get over how awesome your one-sheet is!!

Catherine West said...

Thanks Beth!! See you soon!
Hi Pamela, great to connect here. Hope you do make it to ACFW someday, it really is a wonderful conference!!
Katie - ha, thanks!! Yes, if this book gets contracted, I seriously think that should be the cover. Minus my face of course...

Wynne said...

Hi Catherine, following you now. I love conferences. I attended the Southern Christian Writers conference last year and it was awesome! We just had our Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Jackson last month and it was great, too! I learn a lot from the attendees as well as the workshop leaders. I am going to be a leader at the Mid-South Poetry Festival in Memphis on Oct. 1! My first time, lol

Heather said...

Excellent advice! Conferences can be so nerve-wracking if we aren't prepared and ready to have fun. I LOVE your one sheet. With your wonderful attitude and that in hand you're sure to do fantastic. :)