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So You’re Going to a Writers Conference

Hacks for Hacks - Sense of humor requiredHacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

A writers conference is a chance to connect with your fellow writers while honing your craft in an atmosphere–naw, I’m kidding. It’s mostly about getting hammered with your favorite author and landing a six-figure deal. Here’s how to get the most from your conference experience.

First, it’s important to set expectations. What does success look like? Given that you’ll meet with editors and agents, leaving with anything less than a two-book deal in hand is a career-shattering failure.

Your journey begins at the registration table, where you can sign up for a weekend pass, or pretend to be one of the names you see on the prepaid nametags. Don’t forget to take your conference program and totebag (and if the attendant isn’t looking, try to grab one of those “Panelist” ribbons they stick to the nametags, too). If people think you’re a panelist, you’ll be on equal footing with publishing professionals. They still won’t recognize you, but they’ll believe it’s THEIR fault.

[pullquote]Handshakes and business cards cover most everything there is to know about networking.[/pullquote]

Be prepared for networking. That means bringing business cards. Yes, business cards–you have to treat your career as a business to succeed, so you’ll need to think like both an author and an entrepreneur. You might even say you’re a book-writing-preneur. Hand cards to everyone you meet, then shake hands with them. Tell them what you’re writing, then shake hands again. Handshakes and business cards cover most everything there is to know about networking.

Say you’re trying to get an agent. Research the list of agents attending the conference and pick the one you like best. Some agents even let you sign up for a one-on-one pitch session. If your dream agent rejects you, just remember there are lots of fish in the sea. And like Captain Ahab, forsake all those other fish in order to capture the elusive, mammalian fish you’ve set your heart on.

Hello, my name is guacamole [1]
photo by Laura Hadden

Your odds of winning over an agent or editor will improve if you create a compelling elevator pitch ahead of time. An elevator pitch is a quick summation of your book that’s short enough to spit out during an elevator ride. An actual elevator is not necessary, though it helps. For example, say you’re with a prospective agent when the elevator “accidentally” breaks down between floors four and five. You can legally keep pitching until you can see the eyes of the firefighter prying open the elevator doors.

The key is to understand the social contract. You have to know how to behave in public according to the customs and laws we all implicitly agree to abide by. That means you should do several things that I wish I didn’t have to mention, but apparently I do: bathe. Brush your teeth. Dress like a not-homeless person. Do not yell at or berate people. Do not sneak into the guest of honor’s room. And so on. Basically, it means be nice.

[pullquote]Give her a copy of your manuscript. Does she want it? Of course not! Who would? [/pullquote]

But the social contract can also work to your advantage. You paid to get in to interact with editors, authors, and agents, so their time is yours. Make sure you get your money’s worth out of them by telling them all about your novel. Say you meet a well-known editor, who you know would love your new book on artisanal paper airplanes. Give her a copy of your manuscript. Does she want it? Of course not! Who would? But here on the conference floor or the bar or the restroom, the social contract prevents her from saying no without looking like a jerk. Even if she throws your manuscript in the trash as soon as she gets back to her room, everyone saw her give you a half-hearted promise to read it, which is practically a publication credit.

This will all go easier if you buy some drinks for your targets. Buy somebody a Long Island Iced Tea and they’re obligated to pretend to listen to your idea for a book about a monkey mission to Mars. Buy a few more rounds just to be safe. Just one more round to buy their friendship. You’re likeable! Really! Hey, where are you going?

What are YOUR tips for maximizing writers conferences? Share your wisdom in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [2]

After college, Bill Ferris [3] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.