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Six Steps to Prepare for a Writer’s Conference

Part three of a three-part series on how to maximize your conference experience

Here are the last two steps for preparing for the Willamette Writers Conference or any writer’s conference.

Step Five: Polish your professionalism
The most important aspect of attending a writer’s conference is to present yourself as a professional. Being a professional writer has nothing to do with how much or how little you’ve published or how much money you’ve made as a writer. A professional writer is one who writes regularly and attends writer’s conferences! If you do everything described in steps one through four and have your business cards in hand, your research completed, and your pitch polished – you’ll be taken seriously by fellow writers, speakers, authors, agents, and editors.

Now complete the package with a professional look. Pick out three business casual outfits for the conference and have them pressed and ready to go a few days before hand. And if you are traveling to the conference, bring something that doesn’t need ironing. Conference days are long and the last thing you want to be doing is pressing when you could be practicing your pitch or getting your beauty sleep. Although it’s nice to look like a “creative,” going to the extreme will only distract the person you’re talking to and pull attention away from your pitch and you as a person. I find one outstanding accessory can add that creative touch to any outfit. Dress light as it will probably be a hot day, but bring a sweater or jacket in case the air conditioning is blasting.

Step Six: Pulling it all together

Here’s some odds and ends to help make your conference experience a great one.

Bring your materials
Remember I mentioned that some of the workshops will read the first pages of your manuscripts, or hear a pitch. Have those double-spaced and professionally formatted; and print out a couple copies of each. You may also want to bring the first five pages of your manuscript to show to a prospective critique partner. A simple exchange of pages can tell you instantly whether you’ll be a good fit.

If you are taking advantage of the free Manuscript ER (see my previous post) and I highly recommend you do, then bring printed copies of your opening pages, query letter, synopsis, or any part of your manuscript you are struggling with.

What you don’t need to bring is your entire manuscript. Never foist a hardcopy of your book at an agent or editor. Most are traveling a distance and don’t want to be saddled with a stack of manuscripts to schlep back to the office. If an agent/editor is interested in seeing your work, you’ll receive a business card and/or instructions on how to submit.

Notice for the Bulletin Board
If you’re looking for other writers to form a critique group, the bulletin board is a great place to connect. It’s usually in the main lobby of the Sheraton. It’s not too big, so best to keep your notice to the size of a 3 x 5” index card.

Tote bag
The conference doesn’t supply tote bags so you’ll want to bring something lightweight for carrying your conference materials.

Your laptop, netbook, or pad and paper
This is a personal choice. I brought my netbook last year and will again. It’s light, has hours of battery life, and fits in my tote bag. I can’t read my own handwriting, so taking notes is a waste of time for me unless I have my computer. If you need to plug in your device, outlets are usually available in the back of the room. Just remember to mute the sound on your computer before you leave home. Another benefit to bringing a computer is that many of the workshops have impromptu writing exercises. I find it faster and easier to write and edit on the keyboard than in a notebook. To each his own. Just be prepared in the style that suits you.

The conference offers a full breakfast, lunch, plenty of caffeine during the day along with water and juice and some type of satisfying and fattening yummy in the afternoon. So no need to pack any snacks, but if you have dietary restrictions and can’t eat those afternoon fresh-baked goodies, you might want to bring your own snack. The conference offers gluten-free and vegetarian meal options, but you must specify those options when you register.

Check back in a few days for “What to do when you arrive at the conference” and the advantages of arriving on Thursday night.

Six Steps to Prepare for a Writer’s Conference

Part two of a three-part series on how to maximize your conference experience

Wow, my todo list for the Willamette Writers Conference is growing. Now that I know what I want to accomplish at the conference and I’ve done my research, the real work begins.

Step Three: Gather your networking gear

Even if you haven’t finished your first book, it’s never too early to start networking. No matter what your objectives for attending the conference might be, you’ll need:

Business cards is a great resource for free and very low cost business cards. Make your cards memorable by including on the back of the card a description of your writing, a mini bio, a short summary or logline of your book, or details about the service you offer. Bring plenty to hand out. If you are offering a service to writers or promoting your book, you can place some of your cards on a table just for this purpose, usually located in the hallway outside of the Garden Room.

Elevator pitch
What are you going to say when the person next to you at lunch asks, “What do you write?” You need to be able to answer clearly and succinctly. Who knows, that person could be your future agent. Although she probably doesn’t want to hear your whole novel pitch, be ready with a one-line elevator pitch about you and your writing.

You might want to talk about what you’re seeking at the conference. For example, “Hi, I’m Sue, I write urban fantasy YA and I’d like to find others YA writers to start a critique group.” Or, “I’m Bill. I’m looking for agency representation for my steam punk novel, Derailing Victoria, about the queen’s plan to sabotage the first high-powered steam engine train.” Practice your pitch on everyone you can find, even your dog. Practice till it flows naturally and enthusiastically from your lips. If you’re a little shy, like me, you might want to practice asking “What do you write?” It’s a great ice-breaker at any conference and you just might meet the critique partner you’ve been seeking.

Step 4: Grip the ball and get ready to pitch

Whether or not you plan to formally pitch in one-on-one or group sessions with agents or editors, you still need to be prepared to talk about your writing. Even in the early stages of writing, condensing your story into its essence can help you see where your story needs to go.

Long Pitch
In one-on-one pitch sessions you have ten minutes with the agent and editor. Keep your pitch to around four minutes and this will give the agent time to ask you questions and vice versa.

Short Pitch
Most, but not all, agents and editors will be taking short pitches at the group sessions. Keep these to one minute. That means three short lines at the most. Check the agent, editor, film bios to see if the agent/editor will be accepting group pitches.

Print your pitch
Although it’s bad form to read your pitch from a piece of paper, I like to have it there as a security blanket. I never know when the fear factor will wipe out my memory bank and leave me gulping like a guppy out of water. I print out long and short pitches for each of my works in a large font so I won’t need my glasses. It also helps to refer to the paper as you practice one more time waiting for your pitch session.

Practice, practice, practice
Read your pitch to anyone who will listen. Practice your pitch until it rolls off your tongue effortlessly. See my previous post about pitch practice sessions offered by the conference.

The final steps will be posted on Wednesday: “Polish your professionalism” and “Pulling it all together.”

Next year in July, I’ll be teaching an online class on preparing for the Willamette Writers Conference. So sign up now in the top right box to receive this and other important announcements.

Six Steps to Prepare for a Writer’s Conference

Part one of a three-part series on how to maximize your conference experience

There are less than four weeks till the Willamette Writers Conference, August 5 - 7. It’s time to put my conference todo list together. This will be my sixth year at the conference and I find the more prepared I am going in, the more I take away from the experience. My six preparation steps are geared towards the Willamette Writers Conference, but most of these tips can be applied to any writer’s conference you attend.

Step One: Write down your objectives

Why are you going to this writer’s conference and what do you want to take from the experience? There are so many activities and choices at the conference; it’s important to determine your objectives upfront, so you’ll target the activities that serve you and not be distracted by those that don’t.

At this year’s conference my goals are to:
• Find writers who are working in a similar genre who can become critique partners
• Meet and pitch new agents and editors who will hopefully be interested in receiving a query letter and pages on my two novels
• Learn about the latest trends in traditional and self-publishing
• Discover new ways for fiction authors to market their work
• Promote my developmental editing and marketing services for fiction writers
• Find guest bloggers for a new online business I’m starting

You may be interested in:
• Finding writers to form or join a critique group
• Meeting and socializing with writers in your community
• Learning more about your genre of writing
• Gaining valuable tips on the agent submission process
• Increasing your understanding of craft
• Meeting authors and purchasing signed copies of their books
• Shopping for holiday gifts at the Silent Auction (this is one of my goals too)

The conference is only three days and it goes by fast. So prioritize your goals and prepare to meet them.

Step Two: Do your research

Review the conference brochure
Take another look through the brochure to be sure you take advantage of all the conference has to offer. Or review the conference website. I talked about two of my favorites in a previous post.

Check the website for updates
Speakers, agents, editors, and workshops change, so visit the Willamette Writers Conference website for the latest information.

Choose your workshops
With almost a hundred workshops and multiple sessions happening at once, it’s not always easy to decide which workshop is for you. Don’t waste time at the conference reading over the descriptions. Do this now. You may also want to read the speakers’ bios and look at their websites. I like to select my top two workshop choices for each timeslot. That way if one workshop is too crowded or isn’t what I expected, I can head to the other one. Workshops and presenter bios are listed in the conference brochure and are also on the website.

Another reason for planning your workshops ahead of time is that some instructors will select participants’ work to read: opening pages, query, pitch, or synopsis. This year I see two workshops requesting the first few pages, and one requesting your pitch emailed ahead of time. “Conference Basics” may let you pitch if time allows. It never hurts to be prepared. Have your materials professionally formatted (double-spaced) and print out two copies so you can be looking at it while the instructor is commenting.

Research agents and editors
No doubt you’ve done some reading up on the agents and editors you plan to pitch. You've selected ones who represent and/or are looking for your genre of writing. I urge you to dig a little deeper. Review their website; look at the authors they represent; see if the agent/editor has a blog. Sometimes a quick Google search can yield a wealth of information on the person. The more you know going in, the more prepared you’ll be to talk intelligently with the agent or editor, ask the right questions, and look like the professional you are.

Write out your questions
Agents and editors at group and one-on-one pitches will usually make time to address your questions, so have one or two ready to ask. This is your opportunity to get a feel for the agent and sense whether or not the agent and the agency is the right fit for your career.

Next steps will be posted on Monday: “Gather your network gear” and “Grip the ball and get ready to pitch.”