A Writer’s Quick Guide to Attending Conventions
A guest blog post by Lucy A. Snyder
Why should a writer attend a conference or convention?
There are a whole lot of reasons to go to a conference or convention. Many people go for fun as much as they do for business. It really depends on where you are in your writing career.
If you’re new to publishing, you might want to focus on conventions like Context that offer a strong writing track and the chance to talk to small- and medium-press editors, who are often more receptive to new writers’ work. Steer clear of conventions that mainly focus on costuming or media; they can be fun, but they’re not so good for networking. Look for conventions that offer publisher-sponsored parties, teas, and other events. They are prime opportunities to get to know people in the business.
If you have been selling short stories and have just finished a novel, look for conventions that offer the opportunity to pitch to book editors and reputable literary agents. While you can make good contacts at regional conventions, be wary of the agents featured at smaller conferences. Some convention organizers don't do a good job of distinguishing between genuine professional agents and well-intentioned amateurs (or worse, scam artists).
And if you’re a working writer, you’ll probably be looking for larger conventions that offer the best networking opportunities with editors and other writers as well as a chance to expose new readers to your work.
How do you make a good impression at a convention?
First, focus on the fundamentals. Smile. Be pleasant. Make sure you and your clothes are clean and in good condition. Get some sleep. Don't emit a strong odor, be it bad breath or expensive cologne.
Wear the kind of clothes the other pros will be wearing. This will be business attire at most romance conferences, business or dressy casual at literary conferences, but it can be a casual shirt and jeans at an SF or horror convention.
Carry some attractive business cards, but keep them in your pocket until a new acquaintance asks how he or she can contact you. Be yourself and have fun, but don't show up for your pitch session wearing your entry for the costume contest (especially if you're going as Barney the Dinosaur).
If you've chosen writing as a profession or avocation, the chances are high that you're an introvert. Shy, even. Maybe the thought of going up to strangers fills you with anything from dread to panic.
Take a deep breath. Calm down. Networking isn't that bad, and like most other things, it's a learnable skill. All those editors and writers and agents you want to meet? Many of them are introverts, too. And while they're doing business, they're pretending to be extroverts, with varying degrees of success. (So keep this in mind if people seem weird. They're probably just trying too hard.)
Once you've pushed yourself past your comfort zone, your sense of social depth perception can suffer, and it's easy to inadvertently come on too strong and annoy the person you're talking to. Be mindful of personal space and avoid off-color remarks and jokes. Your risk of making a bad impression increases a thousand percent if you're drunk or flying high on your third Red Bull, so when you're in the bar and you want to do business, it's best to stick to tea or soda.
But by all means, if the editor's glass is dry and she's looking longingly at the martini menu, offer to buy her a drink.
Don't pitch your book at people unless you're in an actual pitch session. You're not looking to corner an editor, you're looking for a conversation; if you're doing all the talking, you're probably doing it wrong.
The best way to be interesting is to be interested. Ask the editor about her ongoing projects (provided she didn't just discuss them in detail at the Q&A panel you skipped out on). But don't make her feel she’s being grilled or being asked too-personal questions; the worst thing you can do is to come off as a potential stalker.
But if things go well, you can have talks that give you valuable information about who's looking to buy what (and who you perhaps shouldn't submit to). Furthermore, a good conversation with an editor or fellow author will make you feel energized and excited about your writing prospects. And the very best conversations may be the start of new lifelong friendships.
If you’re pitching a book to an agent or editor at a convention, what do you need to do?
Make sure you know the rules of the pitch session going in, and make sure you’re following those rules. If you find out who you’ll be pitching to ahead of tme, try to learn a little about the agent or editor and his or her tastes, and adjust your pitch accordingly.
Practice your pitch on friends, and prepare pitches of different lengths. For instance, it’s always good to be able to describe your project in 30 seconds or less, but you’ll also want an intermediate and longer pitch that you can use depending on the circumstances. And it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up pitch prepared in case the agent or editor says “I don’t think that project will work for us, but do you have anything else?”
Lucy A. Snyder is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, Switchblade Goddess, and the collections Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Hellbound Hearts, Chiaroscuro, GUD, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. For more about her, visit www.lucysnyder.com.