I’ve been thinking about my first post that contained five tips for making the most of a conference. I jotted down a few notes on adding five more tips, and I wanted to share them with you here.
1) Practice Your Pitch
If you’re going to be pitching your book to an agent or editor, then you need to know it inside and out. Depending on the conference, you only have a few minutes to “sell” the idea of your book to the person sitting on the other side of the table. They will have questions. You will have questions. Leave some time for those queries to flow across the table. As an example, my pitch takes roughly 70 seconds. That’s only a little over a minute, and I wrap it up by asking them what else they want to know about the book. Don’t get nervous about answering the questions. You’ve written the book. You know the book. It’s come from your soul, so you probably know it better than you own child. The questions are usually easy to answer. I’ve had a few people ask me if their manuscript needs to be completed before they pitch. I used to answer, “Yes, always,” but I’ve come to soften that stance a little. If you can finish the novel in a high quality manner in a professional period of time, then you can be close to done, but not quite done. If you can polish things off within a few weeks of the end of the conference, great. If you can send a full manuscript their way within a day or three of the agent/editor asking for it, all the better! Here are some resources from Linda Rohrbough and Delve Writing that may help. Check out the Delve Writing link sooner rather than later. It’s a class that happens very soon. What happens if you get a “Send It!” from the agent/editor? Well, I’ll cover that in the next day or two as it’s a large topic. It’s something you should be prepared for, so keep an eye out for that future post.
2) Plan Your Schedule
As soon as you can get your hands on the schedule of classes, look it over. Make plans. Combine the scant information in the schedule (the font can only get so small, and the boxes are only so large) with the expanded information in the conference program. Get the information online if you can. If not, get to the registration desk early. There will be lines. Plan on that. Once you’re through registration and have your hands on things, find a quiet corner to scour the schedule. Have a two different colored highlighters handy. Use one color (I usually use yellow) for the primary thing you want to go to. Use the other color (blue, for me) as a backup session in the same time slot. If you get to the primary and find all the seats taken or the doors already closed due to fire safety measures, hustles to your second pick. Near the end of the current session, quietly pull out your highlighter marked schedule and find out where your next #1 session is going to be. This will help guarantee that you’ll be one of the first in and will be able to pick a prime seat.
3) Don’t Bring Your Manuscript With You
There’s no need to have a copy of your manuscript with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a copy on a thumb drive or a perfect-bound copy you had made at the local copy store. People interested in your novel will want you to contact them via their already established methods. Agents/Editors at a conference already have enough crap to haul back to their home. Many of them are from out of state and will be flying home. They don’t want to haul more paper back with them. “But a PDF on their laptop won’t make it heavier!” Yeah. I know. But that inadvertent virus on your thumb drive can destroy everything on their laptop. You don’t mean to do it. You might be the most cautious computer person in the world, but they don’t know that. They can’t risk their laptop (which is probably tied to their livelihood) when they already have an established manner for you to get your novel to them. Just bring a notebook and jot down how they want you to send it and follow the instructions.
4) Get A Room!
While looking at the published schedule, you might notice that things end between seven and nine in the evening. You think to yourself, “Self. I can just drive home after things and come back in the morning. Ah, the joys of sleeping in my own bed.” What you may not realize is that there are unofficial, after-hours events going on. Some of it happens at the public bar. Some of it happens in other attendees’ rooms/suites. Some of it may happen in a semi-official (or completely official) “con suite” where drinking, talking, networking, and other socializing goes on. These after-hours events can go until two, three, even four, in the morning. Wanna lose some vital sleep while driving home and back again? I think not. Getting a room for the night is a vital way to snag another hour or two of sleep that night. When you’re only getting three-to-five hours a night, losing two hours (or so) can be a direct path to coming down with ConCrud. No one wants that.
5) Attend BarCon
As I’ve said above, there are some after-hours events. Go. To. Them. Hang at the bar. Chill out (if invited) in someone’s suite where the party (and, sometimes, absinthe fountain) is at. While you’re in sessions, you’re learning. Your brain is being filled, but that social animal in you is being ignored. There’s hardly any time between the sessions to truly socialize and network. Meals are a great time to meet people, but you’re at a table with (at most) nine other people. You need to expand the chain of people you know (and that know you!) more than those nine people. Hitting BarCon is the way to go. The most powerful words to get someone’s time and rapt attention at a conference are, “Can I buy you a drink?” It’s not a cheesy pick up line. It’s a ice-breaker. It’s a door-opener. Maybe that door that opens is the one that will lead to a great leap forward in your writing career. You never know!