Friday, May 1, 2015

Writer's Conferences: What Should I Prepare to Take? What Should I Expect? What Should I Do There?

Colorado Christian Writers Conference
Estes Park, Colorado
A few weeks ago on my Facebook Author Page, we were talking about preparing for a writer's conference. If you've never been to one before, I bet you have a ton of questions. I know I did when I first started going to these, which was more than 25 years ago. I've been to at least one each year since then, so I've accumulated a lot of experience I can share from.

As "conference season" begins (if there is such a thing), I thought it might be helpful to give you some ideas of what to expect, how to prepare, what to take with you, and what to do while there. (Tweet that!)

What to Expect

You can expect to find a lot of like-minded people, writers who think they are the only ones with a passion to write. Writers who think they are not "really" writers, but everyone else in the room is. (Is that you too?) (Tweet that!)

You can expect to meet published authors and unpublished authors. There will be freelance writers (freelancers aren't on staff at any publication but write for a variety of them).

There will often be representatives of book publishing companies, editors from periodical publications such as magazines and web sites that take material from freelancers, and often literary agents will be there. Some or all of these may be on faculty teaching workshops or speaking at sessions for all the conferees.

You may be able to schedule meetings with these publishers, editors, and/or agents. (Tweet that!) If that's the case, you may want to pitch them a writing project you're working on or wish to write. We'll talk about how you might do that below when we talk about One-Pages. I'll also give some tips for these meetings below.

You should expect to have fun! So try to relax about it! Go expecting to make friends and to meet other writers with whom you can network and stay in touch after the conference.

How to prepare

Review all the material you find on the conference. The conferences I attend have a ton of information online and in their brochure and it's fun to go through it all.

Find out who is going to be on faculty. Read their bios and/or visit their web sites or the sites of their companies. Find out what they are looking for that they want to publish. Here's a HINT: Find web sites to other writers conferences where they were also on faculty and see what additional information you can find out about what they publish and what they are looking to publish.

You're looking for publishers who publish or are looking for (acquiring) the same sorts of material you are writing or want to write. Are you writing fiction? Romance? Sci-Fi or fantasy? Do you want to write nonfiction? What kind? Memoir? Self-help? Christian living? Who is acquiring that type of material?

Also check out the workshops. Circle on the brochure or make a note of all the workshops you'd like to attend. Chances are there will be more than one in a time slot and because even super-hero writers can't be in two places at the same time, you'll have to choose. (Tweet that!) But find out if workshops are recorded because at many conferences they are and you can purchase a DVD of the workshops you can't attend. This is a great way to take the conference home with you and keep the excitement and encouragement flowing long after the conference ends. Don't know which to attend and which to buy the recording of? Which workshop do you think will have the most value for you if you could listen to it more than once? Get the DVD of that one and attend the other in person. Or, is one of them taught by someone you want to meet? Or someone you want to see your face in their workshop so they'll know you're a serious writer? Attend that one and take the DVD of the other workshop home.

What to take with you

After you have an idea of who is going to be there, and you've matched that up with the projects you have written or want to write, you might want to prepare to talk to a publisher, editor, and/or agent about your project(s). So what do you prepare to take with you?

Project One-Pages

In the last decade or so, "One-Pages" have become popular and I believe they are awesome. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, books or short works like articles or short stories, it's a great idea to create a one-page to present that idea.

At most conferences you will have a limited time to meet with a publisher, editor, or agent. Most of these meetings are only 10 to 15 minutes. That's not a lot of time for chit-chat. So you want to have your idea organized so you can express it succinctly. That's where a one-page comes in. You have to be succinct to get all the important information about your project down on one page. It's a terrific exercise, even if you don't get to present it to anyone in person.

A One-Page is similar to a Query Letter and has the same information, just in a different format such with headings or bulleted items.

On your one-page, include the following:
  • Your contact information. You can create your own letterhead for your one-page.
  • Your project's proposed title.
  • A brief summary of your book, article, or story. Make it snappy and attention grabbing. This needs to be your best writing.
  • The audience for your project. Who will it appeal to? Who will buy it? How big is that group of potential readers? Use statistics or something to back up your numbers.
  • The length of your proposed project in word-count. For example, a feature article may be 1,500 words, a nonfiction book may be 50-60,000, and a novel may be 80,000. Make sure this is withing the numbers the publisher accepts.
  • Give an idea of when you could deliver the completed manuscript, if it's requested. An article which will require interviews and research may take you two weeks or a month. A book might take you six months. Or you may have a manuscript completed which you can submit "upon request."
  • Finally, give a short bio of who you are and what you have accomplished as a writer. Include what qualifies you to write this project. Do you have life experience? Education? Research?

Once you have your one-page put together, here are some more tips:
  • Keep your one-page brief and to one page. 
  • Make sure it's well edited and free of typos.
  • You may get to show it to a representative of a publishing house. They may not take it with them because taking materials from all the authors they meet with is just too much, especially if they are traveling by plane, so don't be disappointed. They may ask you to email your one-page to them, or to send a book proposal or your manuscript after the conference.

I suggest you make a template for your one-pages if you have more than one project in you. Set up all your headings on your letterhead. Then for your next project all you'll need to do is fill in the information for your next project.

First Pages

You may want to take the first pages of your manuscript. If it's an article, you can print the entire article and take it with you, but an editor may only read the first paragraphs or skim it. If they want to see more, they'll ask you to email the manuscript to them.

If it's a book, you probably won't want to take more than the first ten pages. There's no need to take your entire book manuscript. No one will have the time to look at that much while there at the conference. And don't expect an editor or agent to carry your manuscript home with them on the plane. If they want it, they'll request it be sent via email.

One-Page Resume

Similar to your one-page for your writing projects, you might create a one-page resume. This would showcase your writing accomplishments (if you have any). For example on my writing resume I have sections for a brief telling of my:

  • article writing, 
  • books, 
  • online writing, and 
  • screenwriting. 
Then I also share my "platform" which showcases my "reach" as an author. I include my:

  • social media platform, which means how many people I can reach through social media, such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook author page Likes. 
  • How many subscribers do you have on your email newsletter list? 
  • I also describe each of my blogs and how many page views I get per month.
All this information gives potential publishers an idea of the size of your platform, which means how many people you can reach if they publish your book.

Bookmarks or Flyers

If you have projects for sale, especially for writers, you might want to make up a flyer to put on the table where conference offer free giveaways such as writers guidelines from publishers. You might make a flyer if you have books or pamphlets for writers, or offer professional services such as editing or web site building.

I've written several #Kindle e-books for writers and am writing several more, so this year I’m hoping to get a flyer done to let others know about those.

Goods for Sale

If you have published books, you may be allowed to put them on the sales consignment table. These don't have to be for writers, they can be you anything you have written. People who are at the conference will be interested in your books and will be excited to buy from an author they meet, so be sure to bring some. But don't expect a lot of sales (at least from my experience). Money can be tight. There are a ton of other books competing for conferee's dollars there also. Plus many are traveling by plane and books can be heavy to transport in luggage.

A Sign Up List

Do you have an e-mail newsletter for your writing business? Do you have a blog people can sign up to receive via email? Why not take a sign up form?

When you meet and talk with new writer-friends on the way to workshops or at meals, the topic of your newsletter or blog may come up. Or you may simply ask them, would you like to receive my newsletter / blog in your inbox? You, or they, can record their email address. Tell them when you get home you'll sign them up, but they will receive a confirmation email that will require their response to complete their subscription.

When you get home, you can enter their email address in your email sign up form (like the one in the upper right corner of this blog) and they will receive the confirmation email.

Be careful you're not overbearing when asking for subscribers. Your conversation will let you know if they will benefit from being on your email list. This is not the place to ask everyone at the conference to sign up for your list. Workshop leaders might ask participants to sign up for their lists, but as a conferee you might be seen as irritating if you try to snare everyone in attendance.  And never sign someone up for your list without getting their permission in advance. (Don't use the business cards you take home for this purpose.)

Business Cards

If I could give only one piece of advice it would be this: BRING BUSINESS CARDS! (Tweet that!)

I'm amazed at how many people show up every year at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference and don't bring business cards. Most are simply new writers and say they didn't even think of it.

I don't care if you're just getting started as a writer and don't feel like you're in "business" as a write yet. You're there. Make some business cards. You still have time but you need to act soon. You'll want to trade business cards with people you meet.

If you'd like something unusual, I love the specialty cards made by: Shop MOO Mini Cards. I have my book covers on my Moo cards!

Now days most cards I get don't have street/mailing addresses on them, which might be smart for your safety. Still, put on them how people can contact you. Definitely an email address. Some put their cell phone. Put your web site.

Business cards are also a great way to share your blog, Facebook page, Twitter handle, Instagram, Amazon Author page, YouTube channel, etc. Use a URL-shortener like to create easy-to-remember and type links.

If you want to pay more and print the back, you can list your books titles or speaking topics.

A lot of people find it helpful if you'll put your (nice, professional) photo on your card so later we can match your face with your name.

When you get home, search out your new friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever social media you are on and send them a friend request, follow them, or invite them to Like your author page.

Snack, water, self-care.

Some conferences offer snacks and coffee and/or water but others don't. If you need these to get you through the day, you may want to pack some.

Casual or dress.

Find out whether your conference is casual or dress up. Even when the conference is casual, I try to look "business casual." You are, after all, making a first impression on publishers, agents, and editors. So dress for success. This is your business, not your vacation.

What to do while there

Here are some tips to help you with those scary meetings with publishers, editors, and agents:

  • Be on time.
  • Introduce yourself. 
  • Prepare a spiel – your introduction of yourself and another one about your project. 
  • Talk little, listen more. 
  • React nicely – even if they're not interested in your project and that's a huge disappointment to you. Remember this is business, not personal.
  • Don't take a book manuscript to leave with them. Take a one-page and the first ten pages at most. 
  • Ask, "Would you like my business card?" before leaving one.

Here are some more general tips for things to do while there:
  • Relax and have fun!
  • Sit by someone you don't know.
  • Respect faculty.
  • Sit at an editor's table at a meal, but respect if they're sitting with someone else. They may have planned a breakfast/lunch/dinner meeting with that person.
  • Befriend another lonely writer.
  • First thing in the morning, say a prayer. Ask God to direct who you meet that day, who you walk beside on the trail or in the hallway, and who you sit beside in workshops and at meals. (Tweet that!) This makes the whole conference an exciting adventure of supernaturally orchestrated divine appointments.

More than anything go to have fun. I know it's hard for some people, but you really don't need to be nervous. You're here to learn. You're here to enjoy. You don't have to speak up in class if you don't want to. You're not in the spotlight. Take advantage of every opportunity you possibly can. And know that this experience is going to be great for your writing career.


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