It’s almost time for Pikes Peak Writers Conference! Conferences are exciting, and for writers, they’re a great chance to meet other publishing professionals, learn more about the business, and make some new friends. It’s a way to show you are serious about this writing thing, even if your mother/best friend/fill-in-the-blank tells you it’s a waste of time. You’re a writer. Back off, non-believers.
Since I have a dozen or so conferences under my belt now, I thought I’d share my mistakes, and some conference myths I bought into. So you don’t have to go there.
Myth 5: My pitch needs to be perfect
My first pitch session went like this: I was pitching a women’s suspense I’d written to a nice young editor with Bantam Dell. Man, was I nervous. I practiced for a week, and then the day leading up to my actual sit-down appointment. When I sat down, I pretty much froze. It’s the nightmare pitch scenario, right? So this sweet editor asked me about my favorite books, we talked, and then I told her about my project. She requested the manuscript—despite my terrible pitch.
Reality: you need to know what your book is about, but don’t get too hung up over a rehearsed line. Answer this question: what’s your book about? Relax. Unless you’re a Hollywood scriptwriter, your pitching skills don’t have to be perfect. Just be nice, and show your passion for your story. Research the person you’re pitching to, so you can talk about favorite books in case things go south.
Myth 4: I should get as much face time as possible with these important agents/editors
Conferences mean lunches and banquets, so you usually get to sit with an agent/editor/famous author. Awesome opportunity to pitch, right? I used to think so.
You want to know the truth? The way to get the most from any time with a publishing insider is to shut up, and listen. Gather information, let them share their expertise. Ask a question or two, but don’t monopolize someone’s time, whether it’s at a dinner table, during a panel session, or at the bar for drinks.
Don’t start every sentence with, “In my book, my character Johnny…” It does the opposite of what you want—that in-your-face selling just turns people off. Listen instead. Then after the conference, you can still send this person a query, referencing your conversation. They’ll appreciate you remembering something they said rather than your pushy pitch, trust me.
Myth 3: I need to wear professional attire
True story: I was getting ready to pick up a NY editor from the airport, and wore my comfy jeans, sneakers and a black sweatshirt. I’m a casual person, what can I say. My husband frowns. “Shouldn’t you look a little more, you know, professional?” I studied my clothes, wondering if he had a point, and changed, just to be safe. So I found my editor in the arrival hall, and she was wearing…
You guessed it: jeans and sneakers. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look nice. But don’t think you’re interviewing for a job here, even if you kind of are. You’re a writer. Wear what you want, because the truth behind this myth?
The writing is all anyone cares about. Honestly.
Myth 2: I should pitch to anyone I can, no matter what their bio says. You never know, right?
After my slightly-botched-but-successful pitching session with the editor, I was on a pitch-high. And it became a bit of a competitive thing to tell other attendees how many requests for pages you’d gotten, so I pitched to a few more agents.
Bad idea. If someone is looking for science fiction and you wrote a romance, why pitch it? Not only are you wasting everyone’s time, you come off looking like an amateur.
Be professional, first and foremost. You want a good agent, not just any agent.
Myth 1: I will find my perfect agent at this conference, and (s)he will sign me on the spot.
No one will admit this out loud, but we all secretly hope that we’ll rewrite debut author history. You dream that you’ll shake that agent’s hand, and (s)he’ll ask for the whole manuscript (because you are that awesome), read it that day, and will sign you as a client before the whole event is over (again, because you are that awesome). Writers everywhere will tell your story in awe, because you are—well, you get the idea.
The truth? The odds of you signing with an agent at a conference are slim; it happens, but not often. And it will certainly not go down that fast. The good news is that there are hundreds of agents out there, waiting to land the next big thing—which is you, of course, because you truly are that awesome. That’s no myth.
Conferences are great opportunities to learn to think of your novel as a product, look at yourself as a professional, and make connections with other people who love books and writing. Don’t hang all your hopes on one pitch. Instead, listen and learn from that person sitting across the table.
Here’s a final bit of advice from the one who made all the conference mistakes, in case you’re still listening.
Connect with your peers.
Those other writers at the dinner table, the people you meet on the elevator on your way to a pitch appointment? They’re the real gems of a conference. Sure, the agents, editors, and famous authors are cool, but they meet hundreds of you over a weekend, thousands in a year, no doubt. You won’t be friending them on Facebook.
Your fellow writers are your strongest allies, the people who get what you’re doing because they’re doing it too. They’re your believers when everyone else says you should probably try accounting instead.
Guess what? When your debut hits the shelves—and it will, because you are that awesome—they’ll be high-fiving you in the halls, and showing up at your book signings. Take some advice from a conference veteran: make a friend, and keep in touch. Oh, and wear something comfortable.
About the Writer: F.T. Bradley is the author of Double Vision (Harper Children's, Fall 2012), the first in the middle-grade adventure series featuring Lincoln Baker and Benjamin Green. Find out more at www.ftbradley.com.
Her husband's Air Force career has F.T. and their two daughters moving all around the world, but for the moment the family lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.