Writers Conferences

My article is the last stop on the Rolling Mystery Blog Tour. Sarah Wissman started off today on the subject of Writers Conferences. Her article can be found at
Sarah Wisseman http://www.sarahwisseman.blogspot.com
KT Wagnerhttp://www.northernlightsgothic.com
Mollie Bryanhttp://www.molliecoxbryan.com
Ryder Islington http://www.ryderislington.wordpress.com
If you haven’t already visited their sites, please stop by and have a look.
Ten Tips for the Timid
            If you are a Type A personality or an old hat at attending writers conferences, you probably don’t need to read any further. But, if you’re like me, and are shy, occasionally self-conscious, and shudder when you have to talk about yourself, then read on. I attend a few writers conferences a year, sometimes as a participant and sometimes as an author/speaker. It is never easy. I’d much rather stay home and write or meet with my writers group with which I trust and feel comfortable. Forcing myself from my comfort zone is necessary if I want to stay in the game and improve my craft. There’s a saying in the teaching profession; when a teacher claims to know all there is about teaching, then it’s time for her to retire. That holds true for writers. So, here’s what I do when I attend a writers conference.
1.  Drink.
            Just kidding. If I have an alcoholic beverage before 5:00, I might as well go back to my room, put out the Do Not Disturb sign and take a nap. I want to relax and have a good time, but I don’t want to be smashed by noon. So, I save that martini for social time in the evening and sip slowly.
            Let me start over and share with you what works for shy, little ol’ me.
The first four tips involve preparation.
1.  I might not have done this in high school, but before I attend a conference, I do my homework. Find out as much as you can about the speakers whose workshops you plan to attend. Read their websites and bios and take notes. Prepare questions ahead of time, arrive early, and set up front. If you contact them later, they might even remember you.
2.  I ask myself why in the heck am I doing this. I decide before I leave what I want to glean from the conference. If you are attending for the first time, set some goals. What do you hope to gain? Are you there to promote your books, find an agent or publisher, or hone your craft? The first conference I attended made my head spin. I didn’t know where to begin; it was all too overwhelming. Decide on your plan and stay focused.
3.  You can’t win, if you don’t play. Many conferences sponsor manuscript contests, which usually require a first chapter or the first ten to twenty pages of your novel. Give yourself enough time to prepare, and then enter the contest. Even if you don’t win, you will receive a critique. I’ve never won, but I’ve made it as a finalist a couple of times and have received a few honorable mentions. You can be sure I added those accolades to my resume.
4.  I take advantage of my anal retentiveness. If you are not an obsessively organized person, just pretend you are for a few days. As soon as you check in at the conference location, scope out the session rooms so you know right where to go. Many of the sessions fill up early, and you don’t want to be late because you spent time wondering around the convention center. Have a back-up plan in case a session turns out to be something different than you expected. I went to a session once that was advertised as “small press publishing.” It turned out to be a presentation by authors who were giving advice on self-publishing—a great topic, but not what I was looking for. Since I’d arrived early and had a back-up plan, I was able to attend a session more to my liking. Also, find out if there have been any last minute changes: room reassignments, cancelled sessions, etc., so you can turn to Plan B. Even if you are still unsure of yourself, at least you appear to know what you are doing.
Now that you are ready to go, the next four tips will help with your attitude while you are there.
5.  I remind myself that this is not 1926 and I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald.
So, what that means is, I have to sell myself and that requires having an impressive pitch ready and polished. Prepare one or two short sentences about your book that includes the genre, setting, hero and obstacle she is attempting to overcome. If you sparked the listener’s interest, you might have an opportunity to elaborate, but if their eyes glass over, you’ve lost them.
6.  I repeat over and over: take a risk, take a risk, take a risk. I attend as many social events during the conference as I can. This is my chance to make connections with agents and editors, and to meet other writers. Walking up to a group of strangers and introducing myself can be torturous. But I get over it by asking myself two questions: “What’s the worse that can happen?” Answer: they look me over and turn away. Then, “what’s the best that can happen?” Answer: they think I’m the neatest thing since laptops. Knowing that neither is likely to occur, I can relax and deal with anything in between.
7.  I put on my tart shoes and tell myself that I belong here. Actually, I don’t own a pair of tart shoes, but I dress professionally, which helps with my confidence. And above all, I guard against comparing myself to others. There will be bestselling authors, big-house editors, and New York City agents, along with writers who have not yet completed a manuscript. For the last two years, I have attended an annual reader/author weekend as one of the featured authors. The event is quite intimidating since at least half of the authors have the words, “national bestselling” in their bios. That first year, I gave myself a pep talk and delivered my pitch to the readers. I discovered later that I was one of the first authors to sell out during that weekend. Was it any easier the following year? No, but I spoke to the crowd, met new folks, and sold more books. Tart shoes or not, I’ve been invited back for year three.
Here are three important follow-up tips for when you return home.
8.  This is an easy one, since you can do it in your bathrobe and without make-up. Send follow-up emails. If you attended a face-to-face meeting with an agent, editor, or publisher, send an email, thanking them for their time. If you attended a session or met someone who you would like to submit to, mention this in the email subject line.
            I’d been trying to get my foot in the door of a certain magazine for years. Attending an event, I met the magazine’s editor, and the following week I sent her a query, mentioning that we’d recently met. She remembered me and bought my idea for an article. That was ten years ago, and I’ve been a regular contributor to the magazine ever since.
9.  The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.
I send invitations to those whom I meet to join my social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Good Reads. I’ve found that most appreciate it and accept the invitation.
10.  What goes around comes around.
This is my favorite universal rule. A smile yields a smile, a pleasant word, likewise, and those conference expenses that I turn into my account result in a few extra bucks on my tax return. That money is put into a savings account and used for another conference. This tip might not help with your shyness, but it will start you planning your next writers conference trip.
If you like what you read on our Rolling Mystery Blog Tour, remember that universal rule and leave us a comment. 
Our next blog roll is scheduled for Wednesday, August 10. Ryder Islington will lead off with the topic: Favorite Websites for Writers!