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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.

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