Friday, January 18, 2013

Countdown to Conference: How to Prepare

By MB Partlow

To properly prepare for conference, you need to take a page from the Santa Claus playbook.

Namely, you need to make a list and check it twice.

What am I blathering about? Come with me while I walk you through the thought process.

For beginning writers, start with the keynote speakers. Have you heard of them? Read anything they've written? If the answer is no, read their books. This is the easiest and fastest way to find out why these particular writers are considered our keynote speakers.  If you want more background than we have on the PPW website, go to the authors' websites. See if they're on Twitter, if that floats your boat. If you don't go to YouTube and see Libba Bray in the cow costume to promote Going Bovine, you're really missing out.

Look at the agents and editors next. Find out who works in the genres you write in, and make a note so you can attend their sessions at conference. Then take a look at all the other authors and specialists. You probably can't read all of everyone's work, but you can familiarize yourself with which ones are doing something you're interested in.

For those of you at a more intermediate level, start at the same place with the keynotes. But when you get to the agents and editors, pay a little more attention. You might decide to sign up for a Read and Critique (R&C) session, and we divide those up by genre. Wait, you don't know what R&C is?

R&C Author is a closed-door session where a few aspiring writers sit down with a published author and read their first page aloud. The author then gives immediate feedback, and with this smaller session, there's time for some back-and-forth between the newbie and the pro. The other two flavors of R&C are open for any conference goers to attend. In R&C X, you stand at the front of the room and read the first page of your work aloud. The agent or editor in that session will give you immediate, first-impression feedback.  In R&C 123, a designated reader will read each first page aloud, giving the author anonymity. Then the panel of one author, one agent and one editor will each give brief feedback.

One note: you need to sign up for R&C when you register for conference. These are highly organized and meticulously timed sessions, run by skilled moderators. I repeat: sign up in advance. Play nicely. Follow the rules you'll receive when you sign up--the moderator isn't going to let you read a first page that's got 1/4-inch margins and is single-spaced with 6-point type.

More experienced writers, with completed manuscripts, have the option of signing up to pitch to an agent or editor. This means more research, because the last thing we want to do is waste the time of you or the agent/editor. When you visit their website, go further than the bio. Look at what authors they work with, what books they've had published recently. This pays a double dividend. First, it pays to be aware of what others in your genre are doing, what flavor of vampire is "it" this month. Second, it shows you exactly what type of books your targeted agent/editor likes to work on.

Are they on Twitter? Follow them. Run their names through your favorite search engine to turn up interviews they've done or industry news items. Remind yourself that you're a writer, not a stalker. Read their blog, and not just the most recent one. Not familiar with their authors? Go back to the library (or book store, your choice) and see for yourself what kind of work they like. One of the best pitch sessions I ever had resulted because I found out (ahead of time) that the agent and I had a favorite book in common, and it gave us something to talk about.

Oh, yeah, you read that right. A pitch session isn't you sitting across the table from an agent or editor and begging them to publish your masterpiece, this heart's blood that you've committed to paper. It's a small slice of time where you get to know each other. You're much more likely to be remembered (favorably) if you ask them a coherent question or two about their work.

The last suggestion I have for conference is this: practice. The question you will be asked, repeatedly, is "What do you write?" Have an answer. Practice saying it out loud. Say it to your mirror, your cat, your spouse or your neighbors.  If you're signing up for R&C, read your first page out loud. Not just in your head, cheaterpants. Really, out loud. Get the cringing out of the way in the privacy of your own home. Bonus: you'll discover in a hurry if something isn't right. If you're going to pitch, practice talking about your work. You should be able to cover the basic essence of the story, the log line, in a single sentence.

Now get out of my head. You've been here long enough, and you're leaving muddy footprints on my brain.

MB Partlow, 2013 Programming Director for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, is hard at work getting fantastic speakers and participants for the conference.  You can reach her at or find more information on the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference at