At some point in your writing career, you'll probably find yourself indulging in a writer's conference. I hope you do: the experience is both dipped in Awesomesauce AND wrapped in bacon (yes, that's for you, Anthony & Doug). I've posted previously about conferences, but it occurred to me that I've never provided any "advice" on attending one. It's all well and good to jaunt through life with an adventurous and curious spirit, but it does ease the journey if you've a road map of sorts.
I do not pretend to provide the road map. But I do have some observations I'd like to share with you.
Things for the newbie to keep in mind:
1. Business cards: many conference attendees will have business cards. You can make your own or have them made for cheap or free through various on-line businesses. Tip: scribble pertinent details on the back of each business card as you receive it regarding the person you've met. After you get home, faced with a mountain of cards, you'll be thankful you did.
2. Prepare your pitch: Conference attendees are a friendly bunch, mostly comprised of people who hope you succeed. Success comes with practice in the field, and often you'll be asked, "Pitch me!" Tip: You may be asked for your "elevator pitch" -- which is about 30 seconds long -- or your two-minute pitch. Take advantage of the opportunity to practice; this way, if your pitch is unclear, your new friends can help you tweak it.
3. Network: The purposes of conferences are many. You can meet and pitch agents and editors; you can attend informative workshops; and you can meet many talented and knowledgeable writers. The friendships I've made through conferences, however, have been the most important part. I've learned so much from these extraordinary people, and it's awesome knowing people "in the trenches" who can critique a query letter or provide needed feedback. Tip: Avoid negativity or agent-bashing or whining about the industry. You never know who you will meet -- or how your attitude will impact their view of you.
4. Agents are human, too: Remember that if a conference has agents available, they've generally paid them to come and listen to your pitch. That being said, remember that not only are agents human, but they are not the enemy. They, too, want to discover the "next best thing," and they're not dedicating their lives to stopping you from finding success. Treat them with respect; give them the benefit of the doubt. Tip: Do not follow an agent into the bathroom or slip pages of a manuscript under his/her hotel door. It only marks you as an inconsiderate boor, and regardless of how brilliant your writing is -- you may well be written off completely.
5. Follow-up on manuscript requests: Oddly enough, after all of the hours dedicated to writing and all of the agony involved in pitching an agent, only 1 in 10 writers actually follows up on a request for pages. Sure, it's important to make sure you send in your best -- but darn it! Polish it, pitch it, send it! Tip: Make sure you mention in your query letter that you met the agent at Acme Writing Conference. Many times an agent will ask that you put the name of the conference in the subject line of the email; follow directions explicitly.
Conferences can be an exhilarating experience if you have a basic idea of what to expect. What positive or negative conference experiences have you had? Do recommend attending them? What are your favorite conferences? This is hardly an exhaustive list of tips -- what advice do you have to add to this list?