Whether it is your first writer’s conference or your twenty-first, there is a level of excitement and anticipation of the big event. Who will I meet? What new gems will help build my skill sets? And the big one…will I get closer to selling a manuscript?
After all, isn’t that what every writer is after? True. But learning from the process along the way builds strong writers with deep character who value the journey. The people we meet and how we present ourselves and our work is game changing. So it’s good to have a plan for each conference. The plan doesn’t need to be anything formal. Just some forethought.
It might take a few readings of materials to understand the flow of the conference day(s). If the selection of workshops or sessions is intricate, print the options in order to read through everything thoroughly and highlight or underline interests and choices. It helps to have a first choice and a back up choice. Learn the rules to know if it is acceptable to move between sessions during session time.
Plan your information management ahead of time. Decide how you’re taking notes. Whether it is recording notes in a notebook, laptop, tablet or phone. Often handouts are given and it can be helpful to take notes on the handouts or take a picture of the handout with a smart phone for use later.
If there are editors you know you would like to meet, make a list of them. If you are going to their sessions, you’ll know who to look for later. If you’re not, you might need the assistance of a conference volunteer to point them out to you.Have an exit strategy. There will be many people to talk to and it is important to maximize time.
Develop a “pitch” just in case anyone – whether it be editor or colleague – asks what your manuscript is about. Think of a pitch like a help wanted advertisement. Say just enough to pique the interest of the other party without giving it all away. It’s helpful to rehearse this and run it past other authors or a critique group to test it out.
Have an exit strategy. There will be many people to talk to and it is important to maximize time. Whether it is “Excuse me I need to find the rest room” or “Excuse me I need to locate an editor I’ve been wanting to introduce myself to,” all of these help the day run a little smoother and help accomplish goals.
Wear comfortable, but professional clothing and shoes. Dress in layers. Conferences often have issues with heat and cooling so it helps to have options.
And speaking of conferences, there are two biggies coming up for Children’s Authors. The first is the New Jersey Society of Children’s Book Author’s and Illustrator’s [SCBWI] conference coming up the weekend of June 13th. The Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature [RUCCL] One on One Plus conference is coming up a little further down the road on October 17th, 2015. Applications are now being accepted for this. To read more about these events, please visit their respective events pages online.
According to Leeza Hernandez, Regional Advisor for NJSCBWI, being prepared to ask questions that can help make your work better is key. She suggests avoiding questions such as “Will you publish my book?” Instead ask, “What do you consider my weaknesses or strengths to be within this story?”
“You’ll get the best out of your conference experience if you are gracious, appreciative of the faculty, mindful of your fellow peers and respectful of the schedule. Nothing can be gained by monopolizing a Q and A session, over-staying your time during a one-on-one critique or engaging in conflict of any kind.”Leeza Hernandez
Brian Schatell, Conference chair of the RUCCL, recommends that attendees research the mentor list that is posted online prior to the conference. “The great thing about the One-on-One Plus conference is that we provide a relaxed environment for networking, and for approaching editors and agents beyond the particular person you’re paired with for your one-on-one session. Our faculty of eighty industry professionals is one of the largest in the children’s book conference world! It is normal for people to be shy, but rest assured, these mentors are there specifically to meet aspiring authors; they are expecting to be approached! That said, this is not the sort of situation where one would shove a manuscript under someone’s nose, but rather where one can introduce oneself, get a business card, and lay the groundwork for submitting post-conference.”
There are many common themes in all conferences. This advice from Hernandez is a great summation. “Your conference experience is what you make it. If you go with an open mind, a smile and a willingness to learn, you’ll already be one step ahead to your ultimate goal— becoming published!”