Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Is a Writer’s Conference Like the Olympics?

Just Me & Big Ben
It’s Friday, the world has all ears, eyes and cameras on the opening ceremonies at the 2012 London Olympics – a 3-week affair featuring 26 sports and over 10,000 athletes from roughly 200 countries – and I’ll be preparing for a Pacific Northwest writers conference which is a lot like preparing for the Olympics; okay, maybe that’s a wee exaggeration: It’s 3 days not 3 weeks, and there’s only one real sport involved; sprinting from class to class, and there’s well under 10,000 attendees (usually a few hundred) and usually only from two or three surrounding states, though often there are Canadians. And even with the Canadians in attendance you don’t see the hard bodies that will be on display at the Olympics, given that a writer’s sport involves sitting for endless hours. Nope, not too many hard bodies, pretty much the opposite (including me). Still, I’m excited and getting ready.
As a hopeful contender in the Literary Olympics (couldn’t help myself), preparing to attend a conference depends a great deal on what I want to achieve at said conference. Setting goals is critical – let’s face it, if you were training to be a triathlon competitor, practicing day and night on the Luge may not yield the results you hoped for on race day. Conversely, taking a children’s storytelling class may not help you with your erotic novel or hard boiled mystery.

For those of you who are new to the writing conference world, or those who are trying to get more focused on writing goals and conference attendance there’s a gazillion things to ponder and prepare for. Here are 7-basic issues to consider.
Before you go:
1-      Review the conference brochure and decide which speakers and classes address your current writing goals/needs. Do this early, as classes fill up.

2-     Visit the websites of the instructors to see if they are the right person/teacher/author for you to learn from. What topic will they be talking about? Are they really qualified to teach it? Have they written something that resonates with you? What books do they recommend reading prior to class? What work do they suggest you bring to get the most out of the class; outline of your book, scene list, or just blank paper, pen and imagination?
3- Research: Next to writing the manuscript, researching agents and editors is as important an author’s task as the right nutrition is to an athlete-
Gather agent/publisher/editor brochures and information in advance. Visit heir websites and blogs; what are they looking for? What/who have they represented int he past that is similar to you & your work? Thoroughly read their sites and blogs. Verify where and when editors and agents are available for conference appointments & pitches and sign up EARLY. These appointments fill up FAST and people get VERY disappointed when the can’t meet with the agent or publisher of their desire.


TIP: Publisher’sWeekly (libraries or online) and Writer’s Digest are great industry resources for researching agents and publishers.

4- Practice your pitch! If pitching to an agent or a publisher, polish and practice your pitch. (Holy Cow there’s a lot of ‘p’s’ in that sentence.) If there’s a pitch practice session at the conference, sign up. For example the Willamette Writer’s Pitch Practice. is always packed. These are nerve-wracking, white-knuckle-fun, illuminating and well worth the effort.
There a thousand sites with all kinds of advice on pitching. For example, check out this article I found; Tips for theElevator Pitch
5- Skip the cocktail lounge at night, or at least until after you’ve gone to your hotel room or a quiet place and made notes on everything you learned that day, write out the epiphanies, the new story ideas, the problems, the illuminations, whatever happened; capture it, lest it be lost. And believe me at the end of a 3-5-7 day conference when you head home with a bundle of books and notes, it seldom gets a good go through after that. So, I do this every day of the conference. Then hit the bar if that’s your scene, and take your business cards.
6-      Collect business cards from people you want to stay in touch with or who you think is a good contact for you/your work (whether your project is completed or not) and most importantly, drop them a note or an e-mail after the conference. Even if it’s just to say we met at the ?? conference and I wanted to say how much I appreciated your class/lecture. Plan to give and receive at least 5 cards. That’s called networking.

7-     Keep your energy up – Pace yourself. Get some good rest before the conference and don’t forget to get some during. If you’re at all like me you end up in high gear for 3 days and then crash. Better to take little rest periods; feet up, lots of water, in between classes. There’s plenty of quiet corners, nooks and crannies at conferences. Find one and plant yourself there for 10-20 minutes. Refuel for the long, long day into night. At a Surrey BC conference a few years ago I went from 7:00 AM to midnight and was too tired to make the breakfast (8:00AM) session I wanted to attend. So, nap… I’m just sayin’.  Oh, and take healthy snacks, nuts, fruit or power bars. Skip the yummy cookies at 3 pm and have fruit or yogurt (okay, maybe half a cookie) and feel energized instead of sugar rushing and crashing again. This way you can and will retain what the lecturers are actually saying instead of glazing over in your 4pm class. Remember, the conference and the money spent on the conference will all be wasted if you don’t recall what happened and who said what to whom.
Sure wish we were back in London!
Next week I’ll follow-up along the writer’s conference lines with conference recap interviews with some local authors. Bharti Kirchner has already chimed in with her answers after the PNWA conference last weekend. Read her comments next week.
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This entry was posted on July 27, 2012 by in 2012 olympics, agents, Bharti Kirchner, preparing for conferences, publishers.
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