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Monday, July 9th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The Convention-Going Writer

Our theme this week:  What conventions and/or conferences do we attend regularly, and why?

I’m not convinced that attending conventions — genre-related or otherwise — or writing conferences is absolutely necessary for conducting a professional writing career.  It might help, but it’s possible to have a career without leaving your house, and there are writers who do so.  That said. . .

I like going to conventions because they’re fun.  Sure, I learn stuff and do lots of networking, and since I started publishing novels I reach a lot of readers at cons.  But really, it’s all about the fun.  My professional reasons for going and what I get out of them have changed.  When I started in the late nineties, I was trying to break into the field, going to panel discussions and gleaning whatever gems of wisdom I could, meeting other young writers in the same place I was, trying to get a feel for the publishing world.  Later, when I’d started selling stories and was about to sell my novels, I went to hang out with my friends (the ones I’d met at the very same conventions) and network with editors, looking for that secret handshake.  Now, some 14 books into my career, I go for promotional reasons, to woo new readers, to meet with my editors and agent.  And to hang out with my friends.

I go to a few different kinds of cons, with different agendas:

Literary Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions

Since I started out in the science fiction and fantasy reading community, most of the conventions I go to are science fiction and fantasy oriented.  This has worked out great for me, because over the last twelve years or so of regularly attending these conventions I’ve been able to build an audience and reach a lot of new readers by appearing on panels and doing readings.  Conventions are also the place where I’ve met lots of other up-and-coming SF&F writers, people who are now some of my best friends.  Secret advice:  these cons are some of the best places to get serious face time with authors.  George R.R. Martin is well known for encouraging fans to come see him at science fiction conventions, where they’re more likely to be able to actually sit down and have a conversation with him, rather than the thirty seconds of interaction they get at a book signing.

The ones I try to hit every year:

MileHi Con, Denver’s local SF&F convention.

Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s local SF&F convention.

The World Science Fiction Convention, aka Worldcon.  The location changes, and I’ll sometimes go to this one just for an excuse to travel.  I’ve made it most years, lately, and always have an exhausting wonderful time.  This is the convention that awards the Hugo.

The World Fantasy Convention.  I don’t get to this one as often as I would like, but if you write science fiction and fantasy this is, absolutely, the best place you can go for networking opportunities.  Geared toward industry professionals, most of the attendees are, in fact, professionals –  editors, authors, artists, agents, everyone — and in this setting they’re approachable.  (Also, your membership fee gets you a goodie bag full of books. WIN.)  Like Worldcon, the location changes every year.

Media/Pop Culture Conventions

Over the last five or six years I’ve attended one or two media/pop culture oriented conventions a year.  Not only are these great big geek-out parties, they tend to attract a different audience that the more literary SF&F conventions.  More potential readers to reach!  These are the conventions that feature lots of costumes and make the news.

StarFest, Denver’s local media-focused SF&F convention.  I attend this almost exclusively for reader outreach and publicity — and it works.  When my first novel came out, my publisher gave the convention 500 copies to hand out as freebies.  I still get people coming to me telling me how they started reading the series because of that freebie.  I come here, do readings and panels, am accessible to fans, have a grand old time — and thereby sell books.

Denver Comic Con.  This just happened a few weeks ago, for the very first time, and since it had double the expected attendance, I’m sure this will become one of the “must go” cons of the regional promotional circuit.

San Diego Comic Con.  The big one.  The granddaddy and crown jewel of them all.  125,000 (more or less) potential readers.  (And it’s happening this week!  And I’m not there!  Boo!)  My publisher also gave away copies of my first book here, in 2005, and again in 2007, when I was actually there to sign them.  I credit this con with giving my career a big boost.  I don’t attend every year — it’s a drain of energy and resources, dealing with a con of this size.  But boy, it’s like geek Mecca.  Everyone with an interest should make the pilgrimage at least once.  My plan moving forward is to attend every two or three years.

Dragon*Con.  More fan driven than the commercially driven San Diego Comic Con, this is another all-encompassing geek fest that has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve only been once — it often falls on the same weekend as Worldcon — but I’m itching to get back, because I reached a huge and enthusiastic group of readers here that I hadn’t seen anywhere else.  Next time I go, I’m definitely bringing costumes.  This is the only convention I’ve ever been to where I felt out of place not wearing a costume.  At least on Saturday night at the bar.

Writers Conferences

I actually just attended my first dedicated writers conference this past April — the Pikes Peak Writers Conference – as an instructor.  I’ve lived in Colorado since 1995, so it’s kind of hilarious that I’d never attended this one at all, even as a newbie writer.  Why not?  I spent a lot of those years living paycheck to paycheck, and the conference fee is a bit steep.  It just never occurred to me to try find a way to attend.  I was making progress, and getting lots of good writing advice from authors at MileHi Con.  Oh, and it’s usually the same weekend as StarFest.  I’m thinking of working out a plan where I attend PPWC one day and StarFest one day.  Because my life isn’t crazy enough already, obviously!

On top of all these, I’ll go to one or two regional conventions as a one-off, because I’m in the area or I’ve been invited as a guest of the con.  There’s also the World Horror Convention, which I’ve been to a couple of times but not recently, New York Comic Con, and a whole slew of mystery and romance focused conventions that are on my radar that I could conceivably attend.  Not to mention the huge publishing industry conferences like BEA and ALA.  But I’m trying to cut back, travel less, so I can stay home and write more.  But these are all just so much fun, it’s hard to say no.

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Writers Conferences: Editor & Agent Appointments

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Now that you have absorbed the lessons learned from Johnny Cash in the movie Walk the Line and developed your elevator pitch through the original idea you don’t need to worry about your editor or agent appointment. And really, you don’t.

Prep at Home

We often see writers who have well developed pitches, get to the conference, start having group ‘pitch practices’ and before they know it, they have no idea what they are pitching anymore or it has become so rehearsed the excitement has left the building.

If you have your original idea, you have the foundation for your pitch. Take that, sit down with your fellow writers and brainstorm it out. When you hit the perfect idea, the entire group will feel it.

Take a Class on Pitching

Many writing groups have monthly meetings where they bring in speakers. Jennifer often volunteers her time to a couple local groups right before the summer push for National Conferences to work on pitches. There are on-line groups, such as many of the workshops we offer at Write It Forward.

Bob spends a good portion of his Novel Writer’s One-Day Workshop and in his Write It Forward Workshop developing Idea and Pitch.

We also recommend that you attend a pitch workshop at the conference, although we highly recommend that you don’t go stressing over your pitch and start reworking it. It might be a good idea to take this workshop during a conference where you are not pitching.

Also, it doesn’t have to be a pitching class. Workshops on developing idea, character and plot can be helpful to developing the perfect pitch.

The Pitch is Really a Conversation

TNWIFConference(6)Remember, your editor or agent appointment is a two-way conversation. So, after the introductions are done, and you give your one-sentence, pause. Take a breath. The one sentence you worked so hard on with your group is meant to entice, intrigue and make the person on the receiving end want to know more. At this point, the editor or agent might have a question.

If not, you move on. This is where Jennifer’s idea of having at least five sentences that, while they are not a rehearsed pitch, they are a natural progression in the conversation comes in.  It’s also good practice for back cover copy writing and the foundation for the rest of your query letter. One thing always leads to the other.

For example:

  • What if your mother hadn’t been murdered, but she was alive and well and living sixty miles away?
  • Katie Bateman has spent her entire career finding lost love ones for other people, but she can’t find one missing body, her mother’s, and give her a proper burial.
  • Now the man accused of murdering her mother is out and Katie’s world is turned upside down by a rash of break-ins, threatening letters and a mystery woman who has the same red hair and green eyes that Katie has.
  • Could Katie’s mother really be alive? If so, then why did her uncle go to jail, almost willingly for a murder he didn’t commit.
  • As Katie unravels a legacy of lies she must choose between the mother she always wanted the uncle who gave up his life for her.

If Jennifer were pitching this story, she would start with the first sentence, and then pause. If the editor did not ask a question, she would continue, pausing after each sentence.

Nine out of ten times, we don’t have to go past the one-sentence because when we pause, the person to whom we are conversing with often asks us something. Answering a question is always easier than having to ‘tell’ someone about your book.

 

Know your Genre

Understand the type of book you are writing and which publishing houses would be interested. This not only helps in picking who to pitch to, but often editors and agents want to know you have a good handle on the industry and know your genre.

Have Questions

Often writers view editors and agents as the be all end all of publishing and they are an important aspect of the publishing business, but this is YOUR career. Bob has had 4 agents and Jennifer has had 2. The agent/author relationship is a business relationship and you have to make sure the person is the right agent for you.

Some of these questions might not be appropriate during the actual pitch session, but some will be. If they request material (and they most likely will) you need to know how to get it to them. Many have moved into the digital age and want only email submissions.  How long does it take to respond to a partial? A full?

Often you can find these answers on their websites, but it doesn’t hurt to discuss them face-to-face. While they are deciding if the book is something you can sell, you are deciding if this is a person you can do business with.

Nervousness

You are going to be nervous. That is a given. The editors and agents know and understand this and try to make you feel comfortable. They want to find the diamond in the rough. They want you to be the one they buy and say “I met this person during a pitch session at such and such a conference.”

When you are in line, waiting to go to your pitch session, help ease your mind, and the mind of other writers by asking other authors who they are pitching to and about their books. It will help you relax before your pitch. This is the only time we give you permission to practice at the conference.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Writers Conferences: More on Pitching

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Original Idea and Pitching

The original idea is also critical when it comes to pitching your manuscript. Guess what the opening line of your pitch is?  In fact, we think it might well be your entire pitch.  This is also the basis for your query letter and will most likely be the first thing an editor or agents reads.

The goal of a one-on-one with an agent or editor is to get them excited and asking you questions.

There are good questions and bad questions.  Good questions are:  That’s really interesting, tell me more about X?  A bad question is:  I don’t get it.  Tell me what you really mean?

We understand you may think this is terribly unfair. You may feel that taking four hundred pages of brilliant manuscript and trying to sell it on the basis of just a sentence or two is a travesty, but here is something to consider–how do you buy a book? Most people buy because they know the author and like reading him or her. But if you are a new writer, then you don’t have this option. So how do you buy a book from an author you never heard of? Do you stand in the bookstore, read the entire book, then go and pay for it?

Go to your local bookstore or even better, local supermarket. Stand near the paperback racks. Watch how long each person peruses the books on the shelves. How many seconds do they give to each book? Then, when they pick a book up, how long do they spend looking at it?
 Why should it be any different for agents and editors?

You have even less time to grab the attention of a reader during the on-line shopping experience.

Remember, this is just our collective opinion and experience, which is also what you are getting when you pitch an editor or agent, plus we try to take their additional issue of not only do I like it, but “Can I sell this?”

Tips for the Elevator Pitch

Have an anomaly for your protagonist

Often we give clichés.  You’ll see where we point this out below.  Give us something we don’t expect from that type of character.  Regardless of what you think of Twilight (Bob only saw first movie, sorry but Jennifer read all four books and she liked them) it worked.

The first book had two anomalies:  no sex despite intense desire, and sunlight doesn’t kill, it makes them sparkle.

Russell Crowe in LA Confidential is a thug.  But he always protects women in peril.  You want to know why.

Writing Series, Pitch First Book

We recommend you focus your energy on the first book.

TNWIFConference(6)You should know your common concept (for Bob—West Point, for Brockmann—SEAL teams, for Susan Wiggs—a town, etc) and common theme (for Bob—Honor vs Loyalty).  And roughly what the follow on books are going to be (for Bob’s Duty, Honor, Country, 1st book 1840 to Battle of Shiloh, Book 2 Shiloh to Vicksburg, Book Three Vicksburg to Gettysburg, etc).  Also, writing the second book in a series when the first hasn’t sold could be fruitless if the second book relies on the first book to have been sold.

Title

In 45 books, Bob had only one title changed without his consent.  Jennifer was asked twice to change a title. The first one had been because the publisher had another title come out the same week with a similar name. The second time the editor just didn’t like the title.

Bob also changed three titles after discussing it with his editor.  Bob secretly wishes he had changed a lot more following this advice:

  • Title should do one (or both) of two things:  Invite readers into the book by giving them have an idea what the book is about.  Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy.  Area 51 (by Bob—which was originally titled Dreamland which means nothing) has sold over 1 million copies with the Area 51 title, but would have died a quiet midlist death with original title.
  • Or the title should be a juxtaposition of words that don’t belong together and intrigues you:  Lovely Bones.  Bottom line, when your book is spine out in store, the title must make the casual buyer reach out and want to see what the heck this is about.

Don’t be a Secret Keeper

We sometimes believe that by withholding something we’re intriguing the agent/editor and making them want to know more.  Nope.  We’re just irritating them.  Flat out tell them the secret.  Let them know what’s at stake.  What’s at the core of the book.

Never tell an editor or agent they will have to read the book to find out what happens.

Focus on Protagonist Goals

What does your protagonist want to achieve?  A goal is an external concrete thing.  Motivation is why they are trying to achieve that goal.   You want to steer away from a protagonist goal where they are escaping, surviving or running awayFirefly was interesting, but failed ultimately because the people on the spaceship had no goal other than survival.  It wears on the reader/watcher after a while, because there’s never an end in sight.

Say Something about Character

Names mean little during a pitch session. Give the editor or agent something tangible about your character. Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? Remember the pitch should say something about your characters goal and their conflict.

Perfect the Pitch

A disjointed pitch is a problem.  If words are so far out of synch it jars the reader in a negative way, you’re disjointed.  The example, “love, mayhem, and possibly the apocalypse.”  The third is so out of the league of the first two, you might as well forget about them.

Book Goal

What goal is pulling the train?  Sometimes in the pitch there is a laundry list of goals.  You have ONE goal for your protagonist.  That’s the key.  Everything else is subplot so focus on the one main goal. Ask yourself who is your story about, what do they want and why can’t they have it? That should help keep you focused on main goal for your main character.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Writers Conferences: Your Elevator Pitch

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide:  Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Can you state what your book is about clearly in the time it takes the elevator to go from the lobby to the floor your room is on?

Even if you are not pitching at a conference, it is important to be prepared to say what your book is about in one sentence to anyone that asks.  Do this at home with your critique partners. Don’t practice it over and over again with other conference attendees. Yes, asking other writers about what they write is a great ice-breaker, and can help us feel more comfortable talking to editors and agents, but too often we see writers gathered in corners practicing their pitches instead of mingling where an agent or editor might actual want to hear it.

Make your one sentence an interesting sentence that would lead whoever you give it to, to ask questions about your project. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information.  Speak slowly so that the other person has the opportunity to ask questions. The one sentence is called the elevator pitch because people literally end up doing this in the time it takes to make it from the third floor to the first floor.  You get on, you see the agent of your dreams there, the doors close, and they glance at your nametag and ask you: “What’s your book about?”  Are you ready?  We’ve seen people get asked about their books during lunch, on elevators, at the bar, and the vast majority are not prepared and end up boring the agent/editor/writer and most importantly, a potential reader.  You’ve got less than 15 seconds to make an impression.

One Sentence Idea

We preach the One Sentence Idea as a mantra for writers. Much like the character Tim Robbins plays in Robert Altman’s The Player, Bob would tell writers they had to be able to say what their book was about in 25 words or less. Not only that, but it better be a sentence that sends a ‘shiver’ down the spine of the person who hears it.

As far as the one sentence idea, we think genre makes a difference. Thrillers, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, suspense: those type of books usually require a very strong plot. Literary writing and romance are much more focused on character. So we think the one sentence is more important for the former and not so much for the latter.

When Jennifer teaches pitching to romance writers she works on a three to five sentence idea. One sentence that says something about the Heroine’s goal and motivation. One sentence that says something about the hero’s goal and motivation. And one or two sentences that clearly defines the main conflict both between hero and heroine and the antagonist.

Regardless, it’s important to remember where you started. Every book starts with one idea—what Bob calls the Original Idea. While it’s your original idea, every idea has been done in one form or another.

Developing the Original Idea into the Elevator Pitch

TNWIFConference(6)Much of what we are discussing in this section can be found in the Writer’s Toolkit. However, we feel it is worth repeating here as pitching at a conference is one of the biggest reasons writers attend.

Your original idea can be anything: character; a situation; a setting; a premise; a theme; a ‘what if?’. When you write out your idea (and you MUST write it out because we’re writers and what’s in your head doesn’t count, only what you’ve written) you will see very quickly what kind of idea you have and the focus. Note the subject of the sentence. The verb and what action it means. Is it a positive or negative verb? We spend the entire first day writing this single sentence at Bob’s writers’ retreat.

Your original idea is the foundation of your story, but it is not story.  You have a lot of story possibilities off every idea.

Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” We would have four addendums:

  1. We would rephrase it to: “Write what you know and feel something about.”
  2. You will most likely write something in the same area you like to read in.
  3. Understand that some of what you know and feel something about, other people might not be particularly interested in, especially if they know the same thing. Unless, of course, it is written in a superlative manner.
  4. You can also write about what you want to know. Bob has written about myths and legends because they interest him and he’s willing to do the research to learn more.

Usually your background will dictate what your story is about. That’s not to say that since you haven’t ever gone into space that you can’t write science fiction, but it does mean that you know something about the physics of space flight if that is going to be in your manuscript. Bob has been abducted by aliens six times, so when he wrote about the mothership in his Area 51 series, he knew exactly what he was talking about.

That’s a joke, by the way.

Then again.  Maybe not.

By the way, Area 51 Legend is free today and tomorrow on Amazon.  That’s FREE!

Your background, if it applies directly to your book, is a direction to take not only in pitching, but in conversation.  If you have a unique platform, put that up front.  Sometimes make it about you, rather than the book.  After all, you are trying to start a business relationship with the person you’re pitching to.

And now some further words of caution. We’ve said you should write what you know and you should keep it as simple as possible, but be careful. A common problem with new writers is the misguided belief that their life story will be extremely interesting to the reading world– the fictional memoir. This is our third addition to Mark Twain’s saying. There is nothing inherently wrong with writing about yourself, but be realistic about the possibilities of someone else wanting to read it.  Frankly, many people at conferences are pitching either their memoir or their fictional memoir, and rarely are they that unique.

A critical question we often ask writers at conferences and workshops is: Why did you write this book? Writers tend to get lost among the trees once they enter the forest that is a novel. They forget why they started the journey in the first place. Something excited you at the very beginning, enough that you ended up sitting down and writing thousands upon thousands of words. What was it?

Another way to try to figure out what the core of your novel is this: What is the climactic scene? This is when the protagonist and antagonist collide to resolve the primary problem that is the crux of the novel.  It’s the scene the entire book is driving toward.

Ultimately, you should write what you are PASSIONATE about.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Preparing for a Writers Conference: The Pitch

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide:  Getting The Most of Your Time and Money

While we stress the importance of not making the entire conference about your pitch, we also understand that it’s a big reason why you are going to a conference is the opportunity to get your work in front of editors and agents. Before we get into some techniques of pitching, lets take a look at an example Bob uses during his Write It Forward Presentation.

Pitching the Johnny Cash Way

When Bob teaches Write It Forward the first film clip he shows is from the movie Walk The Line (click to watch on Youtube).  Here’s the dialogue below and an adapted excerpt from his book Write It Forward.  It’s the scene where Johnny Cash has a one-on-one with a producer (agent) and is, in essence pitching.  Here is the dialogue, with Bob’s comments in bold parentheses:

Johnny Cash singing a cover of an old gospel song—within 15 seconds he is halted:

Producer (read agent): Hold on. Hold on. I hate to interrupt… but do you guys got something else? I ‘m sorry. I can’t market gospel (read generic vampire novel, clichéd thriller, whatever). No more.

Johnny Cash: So that’s it?

Producer: I don’t record material (rep a book) that doesn’t sell, Mr. Cash… and gospel (a book like that) like that doesn’t sell.

Johnny Cash: Was it the gospel or the way I sing it? (was it the book or the writing?)

Producer: Both.

Johnny Cash: Well, what’s wrong with the way I sing it?

Producer: I don’t believe you.

Johnny Cash: You saying I don’t believe in God?

Bandmate: J.R., come on, let’s go.

Johnny Cash: No. I want to understand. I mean, we come down here, we play for a minute… and he tells me I don’t believe in God.

Producer: We’ve already heard that song a hundred times… just like that, just like how you sang  it.

Johnny Cash: Well, you didn’t let us bring it home. (you didn’t get to my hook, climactic scene, whatever)

Producer: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out in that gutter dying… and you had time to sing one song (write one book), huh, one song… people would remember before you’re dirt… one song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth… one song that would sum you up… you telling me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmie Davis tune we hear on the radio all day? About your peace within and how it’s real and how you’re gonna shout it? Or would you sing something different? Something real, something you felt? Because I’m telling you right now… that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothing to do with believing in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believing in yourself.

Johnny Cash: Well, I’ve got a couple songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?

Producer: No.

Johnny Cash: I do.

Bandmate: J.R., whatever you’re about to play… we ain’t never heard it.

Within fifteen seconds of singing the song he wrote, the producer knows he is looking at a star.

What did Johnny Cash do right in his pitch?

He Tried

We hear the scary statistics all the time about the slush pile and about the odds of successful self-publishing. You can’t let that stop you. There are people who won’t query because they’re afraid of rejection. In essence, they’ve just rejected themselves. We heard a very weird statistic: 90% of people who have a one-on-one with an agent at a conference and get a request to send in their material, never do. There are many reasons for this, but the #1 barrier is fear. Why even do the one-on-one if you are never going to follow through?

He Overcame Fear

Johnny Cash walked in the door even though he was afraid. Bob’s Write It Forward book and program focuses on ways to overcome fear.

He went even though his wife didn’t think he had it. There is a scene earlier where he and his band-mates are on the porch playing and Cash’s wife storms off and locks herself in the bathroom. She tells him he’s wasting his time and he needs to get a ‘real job’. Some of us have heard the same thing, haven’t we?

He Didn’t Quit

He stayed after being rejected. Most people think rejection is the end. It’s actually a beginning. Use rejection as motivation. Rejection is an inevitable part of a writer’s life. He stayed. He got hit with a double rejection: not only was the song not good, his singing wasn’t good. How would you feel if someone told you not only was the book not good, your writing wasn’t either?

He Was Respectful

Even though he was angry, he was respectful. You never know where and when you will meet that agent or editor again.

He Questioned

He asked questions. We watch people pitch agents at conferences and few ask questions. They’re so focused on pitching, they aren’t using the time as a valuable learning experience. When Cash asked what was wrong, he got a response that allowed him to focus.

He Listened

Earlier this year Bob got some a rejections on a manuscript. Looking back, he remembered his agent making a comment when Bob was first talking about the idea. Bob didn’t listen carefully enough to what she was really saying, because in retrospect, what every editor said in the rejection letter was what she had said two years ago.  Listening for the real message is a key skill successful people have.

He Mined His Platform

Cash used his PLATFORM and tried again. We’re always hearing the buzzword Platform. A lot of people feel they don’t have one. You do. If you watch the movie, note the look on Cash’s face when he’s singing the gospel song about his “Peace Within”. He’s not peaceful. He’s angry. That’s his character arc in the movie: finding peace within. So when he finally sings the song he wrote, he’s singing an angry song. Because his platform right then is anger: over the death of his brother; the fact his father blamed him for it; and he hated his time in the Air Force, being away from his girlfriend (and losing her). Basically, he used his real self and mined his emotions. That’s your platform.

He conquered his FEAR. He not only walked in, he stayed, he succeeded.

He CHANGED. He walked in with one plan, but when it didn’t work, he quickly changed that plan.

Bottom Line

TNWIFConference(6)Remember that the agent and editor is just a person like you.  They’re pretty much numbed out from hearing dozens of pitches.  Understand their point of view.  Give them something interesting.  Have a dialogue.  Don’t be nervous.  It’s a conversation, not the end of the world.

Also, being very honest here, most of them tell everyone they talk to, to send in a submission.  Several reasons for that.  One is the 10% factor mentioned earlier.  Another is they don’t want people to get upset with them with an outright, face to face rejection.  So you’ll get the chance, usually, to send your material.  Focus on making a personal connection.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
How To Prepare for a Writers Conference II

From The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Make sure your travel plans are set and you have copies of everything.  Again, a checklist helps.  We have a packing checklist at the end of this section.

Make sure you know how you are getting from the airport to the conference.  If the conference has a venue away from the hotel you will be staying at, coordinate transportation.  Again, conferences often have boards or loops where you can find others in the same situation. This is another great way to begin the networking experience. Remember, you never know who is going to help you move your career along…or how you can help them.

Going down the list of speakers, pick the primary ones you’d like to meet and network with.  Read some of their books so you can approach with a question about them, rather than pitching yourself.  Often, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’ll know more about their book than they remember.  Authors are usually focused on the book they’re writing, not the ones they’ve written.  Such as an approach shows a level of professionalism that most people don’t achieve.

Print out beforehand the list of presenters with their photos.  Even though people wear nametags, it’s good to have this handy.  Highlight the people you’d like to talk to.  One thing you can do is print out the bios and pictures, then cut them up and then scan/copy them on your home printer in a more condensed version, focusing on those you want to emphasize.  Go to their web pages and note their bios.  Google them.  Know more about them than is in the conference handout.  Know where they just were and where they might be going to next.  Do they have pets?  Hobbies?  All of these can be ice-breakers in starting a conversation.

If you’ve participated on social media with other people going to the same conference, make a plan for a time and a place to physically meet these people and get to know each other better.

Volunteer.  This is the best way to get out and meet other attendees. Most conferences need lots of volunteers to run the conference.  Being a volunteer is a great way to get on the inside and meet some of the presenters, editors and agents.  You might also get a discount on registration.  If you have a car, volunteer to pick up and drop off presenters at the airport.  It might seem like a pain, but it’s a great way to get some face time with them.

Workshop Selection

First, focus on the presenter, more than the topic.  Does the presenter have something you want?  This is why we lean toward going to workshops presented by a writer, not an agent or editor.  Not to say they don’t have something to offer, and if you’ve never listened to agents or editors speak before, it’s worthwhile to hear their spiel at least once.

Don’t get caught up in the ‘big name’ speakers.  Often their sessions are crowded.  By attending workshops where there are less people, you can have more interaction with the presenter.  Also, as mentioned before, big names might not have the time, while other presenters might be more approachable.

Don’t attend workshops where the material has no application unless it just interests you.  Terry Brooks did a workshop on how he wrote Phantom Menace at the Maui Writers conference.  You have to ask what application such a workshop has to a wanna-be writer unless they’re simply attending because they love Star Wars.

You should attend at least one agent/editor panel just to see how they discuss ‘standards’ and how they view publishing. However, we have found that the workshops where editors and agents are paired with the writers they work with offer a lot more about the publishing process than agent/editor panels. Often these types of workshop topics are about the editor/agent/author relationship while the panels are more about how to and what to query. One interesting side note, many of the author/agent/editor workshops will tell the story of how they came to work together, often sharing that the rules editors and agents set forth about submissions during the panels sessions were broken.

Balance out going to craft and going to business workshops.  Of course, this all depends on your goal for the conference.  If it’s focused on the writing, then you’ll do a lot of craft.  If it’s focused on selling and publishing, then it will be those.  Many new writers, though, focus too much on trying to sell and not enough on learning to write better.

Even with the changes in the publishing climate, we still see a disturbing trend.  Aspiring authors rush through the doors by the hundreds if there is an Agent Panel, while the published author who is teaching, let’s say, Developing Effective Characters, asks the five attendees to pull their chairs in a circle and do a group hug for support.

Attendees sweat over their ten-minute pitches to editors and agents, but don’t focus on craft workshops. They’ll sit in their room in the evening agonizing over their pitch, instead of socializing and networking.

Ever hear of the cart before the horse?

Reality check

The odds of finding an agent who will sign you or an editor who will buy your manuscript at a conference are low.  Very low.  Despite that, agents would love to find that gem in the rough and every once in a while it does happen.

But you have to have a gem FIRST.

Be honest with yourself (a tenet of Write It Forward).  How many of you have spent thousands of dollars going to conferences, pitching, networking, marketing yourself on social media, and still haven’t gotten published?  But you haven’t spent that much effort on LEARNING to become a better writer.  You keep rewriting the same manuscript, or even write new ones (pretty much a new version of the old one craft-wise), but you’re basically moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.

TNWIFConference(6)There are even people who go to conferences and pitch an IDEA, thinking if the agent is interested they can go home and knock the book out in six weeks.  Agents do NOT want to hear that for fiction.

Others think that the editor will probably want changes or make suggestions and clean the book up for them so why bother cleaning it up themselves? NOT.

Ever go to a museum and see students sketching the successful painters hanging on the walls?  Writers need to do this too.  Not only go to craft workshops, but study craft every day.  How?  Read.  Analyze.  Watch movies.  Analyze.  Shows.  Analyze.  Everything in them is done for a purpose.  We are always shocked when we ask audiences how many have read X book or watched Y series or seen Z movie and no one raises their hand.  Learn from the experts.

Now, we’re going to be very blunt and honest, a trait those who have attended Bob’s workshops can attest to:  In Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear & Succeed, he teaches a thing called the 5% rule.  5% of people are willing to achieve internally motivated change.  This is statistically born out in a number of different fields from getting published to becoming a Green Beret to getting a black belt in martial arts.  If you aren’t where you want to be YOU have to change.  Bob has had people pitch the same thing to him ten times, supposing, he guesses, that eventually he would change and see the brilliance in it.  Teaching writing, we have seen only about 5% of aspiring writers actually truly learn craft and change.  But when they do, it’s amazing how much better they get.

Bob has had workshop attendees who have gone on to become NY Times bestsellers, multi-published, and very successful as writers.  Not because he was a great teacher, but because they were great students who were willing to learn and CHANGE.

We could go on about this for a long time.  In fact, this is what Bob does in his Write It Forward Workshop, which is all about the author.  Learning the mindset and habits of a successful author.  And learning how to CHANGE.  Change is not just thinking differently.  It’s not just making a decision.  It’s SUSTAINED ACTION.

Bottom line for most conference attendees—focus on craft.

Conference Worksheet

Being organized at the conference can save you time and energy when time and energy are limited. Now that you know your goals, have researched various conferences, its time to fill out your conference worksheet.

Some of this is repetitive, but we have found the more we write out goals and align them with our efforts the more successful we become. They key is to know what you are doing and why you are doing it.

What is my overall strategic writing goal:

What are my conference goals:

List of workshops I want to attend:

List of presenters I want to meet:

Where are the conflicts between workshops and presenters?

Cheat Sheet of social media friends I know but have not met:

Tentative Schedule:

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
How To Prepare for a Writers Conference

From The Writers Conference Guide:  Getting The Most Of Your Time & Money

Every conference is a little different and every writer is going to approach their conference strategies from a different perspective based on their personal goals. The quality of your conference experience is in your hands, not the speakers, conference organizers, or other attendees. It’s important to go into each conference with a positive attitude and an open mind. Understand that your needs, desires and expectations will be different from every other professional attending the conference.

Expect to be Overwhelmed

No matter how well you planned and prepared for the conference, the moment you step foot into the conference center or hotel, the energy transmitted by that many creative souls is powerful and overwhelming. Make sure you have a plan on how to overcome this feeling. Slow your walking pace down and breathe deeply. This will help to calm you and gives you a chance to absorb the atmosphere.

You will need to go to the registration desk and sign in when you first arrive. The lobby is generally packed with other writers. The excitement is palpable. It can also be intimidating to the newbie conference goer.  Understand everyone else there is feeling or has felt exactly the same way.

The best way to combat this feeling is to take things slowly. Don’t rush the registration process. If you’re concerned about the information you are getting, or don’t understand the process for editor and agent appointments, or anything else, ask. That is what the volunteers are there for. Also, remember volunteers do so that they can meet other writers. They really want to help you.

Expect to Feel out of place

This seems like an odd expectation when you will be in the company of other writers, but often we all feel like a fish out of water when we are either stepping outside of our comfort zone (being social when we are introverted) or doing something new for the very first time. This is normal and will soon fade away the moment you say hello to the person either standing in front of you or behind you in line at the Registration desk.

Again, remember to breathe and to take things slowly. The best thing you can do is linger in the lobby for a while. Make a new friend. Sit down in one of the chairs and go through your packet.  The only way to feel comfortable is to stay in the environment. Eventually, you will feel right at home.

Expect to be Both Energized and Exhausted

Extroverted people tend to get their energy from crowds. Introverted people tend to be exhausted by crowds. If you’re an extrovert, you will assimilate into this environment quickly. If you’re an introvert, it’s important to push yourself to say hello to every conference person you sit or stand next to. You’ll be amazed at how invigorating this can be once you get used to it. A major part of conferences is networking with other authors. You can’t do this if you don’t put out the effort.

In order to help with the exhaustion, drink plenty of water. Often we aren’t as tired as we think, but are dehydrated.

If you’re pitching, really try not to focus on the pitch. Stress won’t help with the feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed. We discuss pitching the next section, but editors and agents are people just like you and they are there for one reason…to hear about your story. The more relaxed you are, the more energy you will have, the better the experience.

Expect to Learn

A big mistake many writers make is to focus on the editor or agent pitch and not the valuable information you can get from a conference. While networking is crucial, attending the workshops helps make for an invaluable experience. We’ve often see writers not attend workshops. They either spend all their time in their room writing or in the hallways practicing their pitches or just hanging out with friends. All of these aspects are important, but you’re missing out a wealth of information that could give help you move your career to the next level.

Later we’ll discuss how to pick the workshops you’ll attend, but it’s important to attend them, both craft and industry. The conference isn’t all about pitching, or all about networking, but a combination of elements that make up your future as a professional author. The moment you begin to think there is nothing left for you to learn is the moment your career and your writing become stagnant.

Every workshop is a chance to learn. A chance to meet someone who either you can help, or can help you. And it’s an opportunity to make long term connections.

Expect to be Disappointed

But then turn it around. How many times have you attended a class or workshop only to be disappointed it wasn’t what you expected? Before you get up and leave, try to change your mindset. You expected A, but your getting B. Can B help you? And did you say hello to the person sitting next to you? Sometimes our expectations get in the way of having a great conference experience. We need to learn to adapt and change to our surroundings in order to get the most out of it. When you’re feeling disappointed in a workshop, ask yourself what it is that is really bothering you. Often it is those things we need to focus on.

Sometimes we hear one simple sentence and it changes our world. Be open to new and different ways of looking at things. Focus on what the speaker is saying, not what you wanted to hear. The hardest part about being disappointed is often it isn’t because of the speaker or topic, but because of our own preconceived notions.

TNWIFConference(6)Perhaps the best thing to do when walking into a workshop is to have no expectations and open your mind to something new. However, if in the end, the workshop just doesn’t get any better, and there was another one at the same time you had been contemplating going to, it is okay to sneak out and into the other workshop.

Expect to be Confused

We’ve often gone to one workshop and then an hour later go to one where the information given is in conflict with what we just heard. Whether this be in a craft workshop or an industry workshop it is often a source of stress for the new writer or newly published author. Whom do you believe? It’s difficult to decide right then and there when perhaps both make sense.

We suggest you take notes during every workshop. Put a check mark next to those things that make you feel strongly one way or the other. If you are hearing conflicting information, write down the opposing points of view. Ask for clarification, without being snarky. You don’t have to say so and so said this and now you’re saying that.

You can also use the conflicting information as a way to strike up conversations with other writers either at the conference, or back home, as long as it is done positively and isn’t putting down the speaker.

When it comes to craft workshops, every writer has his or her own process. Some are plot driven, others character driven. There are plotters and there are pantsers. There really is no right or wrong way to write a book. There is also no right or wrong way to get published, to promote, or anything in between. Your path as a writer is different from everyone else’s. What works for one writer in promotion might not fit your niche or even your goals. Hearing two different points of view can help you understand your path, your goals, your needs and ultimately lead you down the path of success.

Expect the Big Name Speakers to be Busy

At every major conference, there are the big name speakers, keynote presenters and NY Times Best-Selling Authors that are the “draw”. While we are often star stuck by those writers we aspire to be like, many other writers wanting to get their picture taken, etc often surround them. These presenters enjoy being at the conference and appreciate you taking the time to be there, listen to them, support them and they in return enjoy sharing their experience and expertise, through their keynote or workshop, but remember their goals for being at the conference are probably very different. There is a very good chance they are on deadline and must finish the book.

We recommend to you that once you leave your room, you are not allowed to go back and hide, or even write. You are there to meet other writers, take workshops, and socialize with industry professionals, so why does networking with the big names seem a bit different?

Our perspective is that there is a wealth of experience at conferences and the newly published author is the next best-seller. We’re not suggesting ignoring the bigger names, what we are saying is there is talent all around you. Take advantage of the fountain of knowledge that you are being presented with. Don’t think a workshop given by a new author on promotion has nothing to offer you. If you want to know about promotion, hearing how a newly published author does it over an author who has the backing and powerhouse of a marketing team from a major publisher might be a better fit. Hearing how to revise from someone who just went through their first revision for their first contact might be a better fit than someone who can do it in their sleep.

Expect to Make Connections

Not all writers are introverts, but many of us are, therefore we tend to keep to ourselves. If we go in with the mindset that we are there to network and meet other authors, editors and agents, then often we will. The conference is about the business of writing on all levels. You are a part of that business. Make yourself known.

The key with making connections is the follow up after the conference.

Expect to Have a Good Conference

Attitude is everything. If you walk into a conference thinking it’s going to suck, then it will suck. Have a positive attitude and present yourself positively. A good vibe from a person goes a long way. Make yourself available. Do everything in your power to meet all of your conference goals.

In the end, the conference is about you and your career. These are basic expectations and as you become a conference expert, your expectations will grow and change as you grow and change. It is good to write out expectations before you go to the conference with the understanding that the overall experience is totally up to you.

Expect to Have a Good Time

Attitude is everything.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.