I’m continuing to answer questions on writing conferences this week, along with some help from my guest, Meredith Efken.
My question regarding your conferences is: if you don’t *need* a one-sheet (but maybe bring one as a nice-to-have) what else would you bring to carry around a conference? Would you have your sample chapters in hand or do you wait to send them to an agent/publisher when they ask for it?
Meredith answered this with more detail than I would have:
For Sam, about what you need to bring with you to the conference: I cover this in great detail in the Writers Conference Survival Guide, including a packing list worksheet. But for the pitch session, you do not need to bring sample chapters. Most pitch sessions are only 10-15 minutes long. That’s not long enough for an editor to read much of anything. Plus, editors/agents rarely want to take lots of paper on the plane home. If they want to see any of the actual manuscript, they’ll usually say so in the conference information. Otherwise, assume they don’t.
You may want to have business cards on hand, but don’t give one to the agent/editor unless they ask for it. They are more likely to hand you a card if they want you to send a proposal. But they don’t really have any reason to take your card. Remember, they’re in the power seat in a pitch appointment. You have to do the contacting if they ask for it. They don’t have any reason to contact you. Have a one-sheet, have a business card–but don’t expect or pressure the editor/agent to take either one.
Now, a critique appointment is a totally different thing. We have to remember that at most conferences, a pitch session and critique session are TOTALLY different. A pitch session is for pitching–you don’t go expecting feedback on your work. A critique session is for feedback, not pitching. If you have signed up for a critique, there will usually be detailed information about how much of your manuscript to bring and how to submit it. And if that information is missing, contact the conference coordinator and ask. Sometimes there will be group critique opportunities or other feedback sessions. Again, what to bring for those sort of sessions should be explained on the conference website or brochure. If not, ask ahead of time.
Randy sez: Let me add that a critique session with a published author can be FAR more valuable to you if you are a “freshman” or “sophomore” writer. The reason is that, by definition, a freshman or sophomore writer is not yet ready to get an agent or get published. (Otherwise you’d be a “junior” or a “senior”. It is quite common for “juniors” to get agents these days and for “seniors” to sell a book. Happens all the time.) If you’re a freshman or sophomore, an editor or agent will not be outlandishly interested in your work. But an author can help you see what it is you need MOST right now to advance to that pesky next level.
By the way, it is probably not particularly helpful to tell an editor or agent, “I’m a senior.” If it’s true, they’ll figure it out pretty quickly, and if it’s not true, then you’ll be scraping egg off your face for awhile.
I have to agree with Martha. I’m a complete social retard though, who hasn’t even got up the nerve to approach an editor with my work. So way to go Martha for trying! Anywho, my deal is that I completely lack the confidence. I have no credentials to speak of. So how do you be yourself and pitch your idea with confidence when you just know that every word you say is going to come out sounding stupid and unprofessional?
Randy sez: If you are really a social retard, then it’s going to be pretty easy to be yourself, isn’t it? I should know, because I am about as socially inept as you can get. But, as one of my friends once told me, “That’s part of your charm, Randy.” I personally don’t consider it very charming, but I think I got the point. Which was that me trying to be Joe Cool is never, ever, ever going to work. So I might as well just get used to being my own geeky self and then (here’s the important thing) QUIT WORRYING ABOUT IT.
I will give you my patented, fool-proof, method for getting along with anyone at a writing conference. If you’re talking to a writer, ask them, “What sort of writing do you do?” If you’re talking to an agent, ask, “What sort of writers do you like to represent?” If you’re talking to editor, ask, “What sort of books do you love to edit?” Generally, that will get them talking for a good fifteen minutes, which you can of course help along by asking for more info if they hit a lull.
This is very nice, because for a whole fifteen minutes, you can forget about you and think about someone else. By that time, one of two things will have happened:
a) You two will have hit it off and be gabbing like old friends
b) You two will realize that you really don’t have a lot in common
In case (a), you now have a new friend for life, which is a Good Thing. In case (b), you will both realize that it was fun chatting, but there are many other people at the conference and it is now time to part, which is a Mediocre Thing.
Notice that there is no case (c), in which Something Truly Horrible happens. I can say this as a card-carrying member of the Social Retard Club. If I can have fun at a writing conference, you can too.
Meredith types much faster than I do, and she wrote all this:
Like I said to Andra and Martha, feeling unsure of yourself is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. You would be surprised at how many published authors–even bestselling or award-winning ones–struggle with intense self-doubt. There’s no magic cure that I know of. I know how it feels to sit there listening to myself and thinking “Gosh I sound like an idiot.” It’s a terrible feeling!
At the risk of sounding psycho-babblish, one thing you can do is identify those negative messages you are sending yourself and replace them with positive truths. For example, your comment said “…you just know that every word you say is going to come out sounding stupid and unprofessional.” What you’re doing here is telling yourself “Every word I say is going to sound stupid and unprofessional.” Well, that’s not exactly true. Sure, you may trip up and say some stuff that sounds a bit awkward. But stupid? I doubt it. Unprofessional? That would be something like telling the editor your entire gory medical history, or about the fight you just had with your husband, or mentioning that you now hate your former best friend because she didn’t like the ending of your book. You are not going to say such inappropriate things to an editor. You really aren’t.
So stop telling yourself such nasty things! You can work on creating a more professional image and presentation. You can learn to manage your jitters. But first, you have to start talking to yourself more kindly. If you’ve got kids, you wouldn’t tell your kids they’re stupid or whatever, right? Or if you did in a moment of anger, you’d apologize for it later and try not to do it again. But somehow we think it’s okay to verbally abuse ourselves in ways we’d never dream of doing to anyone else. And then we wonder why we have problems with self-confidence.
There’s a difference between being honest about our own shortcomings and being self-abusive about our faults. When you catch yourself telling yourself something like “You’re stupid” you need to stop and evaluate that statement. Are you indeed, truly mentally incompetent? No, of course not. What is it that you are really trying to say? Maybe it’s that you say awkward things when you are trying to talk about your writing. Okay, THAT is a fair statement. It’s neutral and objective. Follow it up with more truthful, objective statements, such as “I can learn to be less awkward. That’s something I can correct. I don’t have to stay awkward. I can improve.” And then get to work on that.
Additionally, find things to compliment yourself on. Do you like being around people who put you down all the time? Yet that is what we do to ourselves. No wonder we don’t like ourselves very well! So be more complimentary. Be as honest about your strengths as you are about your weaknesses. Say, “I finished my manuscript–way to go! That’s quite an achievement.” Or “There is NOBODY out there with my exact story. It’s a unique reflection of me, and even though I know there are ways to improve it, it’s still an unique work of art to be proud of.” Or find sentences or scenes you particularly enjoy and tell yourself “I really enjoyed writing that and reading it because…(fill in blank). I’m glad I wrote that. I did a good job with it.”
As you make this sort of self-talk more of a habit, you’ll find your confidence improving and you will also find that you have more energy to write. Being verbally abused–even by ourselves–drains us of creative energy. You will become a better writer if you stop beating yourself up.
And don’t worry about your credentials. When it comes to writing fiction, there are no credentials greater than a strong story. Think of the author of ERAGON–he was 15 or 16 when that book was accepted for publication. Homeschool kid. Not much for credentials there. No college degree, no MFA, not even much for life experience. Just a strong story concept that caught the attention of an editor. The thing about fiction is that nobody cares who the author is or what the author has achieved. All that matters is the story. On the flip side, as a fiction writer you will NEVER be considered a real expert in whatever you’ve researched or studied for your books. That stinks–if you want to establish credibility in that field you have to do it outside the context of your fiction writing. But it does take pressure off you to have “credentials.” It just doesn’t matter at all.
So work on that writing craft, as I’m sure you already are doing. If you aren’t confident enough to pitch yet, then I’d recommend going to a conference and signing up for whatever critique opportunities are there. Also, try to find a conference that gives you opportunities to meet with published authors or faculty. Talk with them about your book, get their opinion on whether or not you are ready to pitch to an editor. Chat with them about your concerns about your work. Authors are SO under-utilized at conferences because everyone wants to get to the editors and agents. But authors are there to help you, and they have incredible experience and insight. It would also help you get used to talking about your work in a situation that is low-pressure. The only way you’re going to get more confident about it is to do it. Use those authors as a sounding board–that’s why they’re there.
Randy adds one thing: At one time or another, every writer feels like they’re lousy. A few months ago, I was feeling kind of discouraged about my writing and starting to think that I’m a horrible, wretched excuse for a writer. And after I told Meredith about that, she went through several of the manuscripts she’s edited for me over the years and pasted a number of paragraphs in to a long email, with a few comments about why this or that passage was particularly good. That helped me break up my little pity party. Thanks, Meredith! I owe you for that.
Gee, Randy, some of us loyal bloggers (including me, the actual President of the Horrible Wretched Excuse for a Writer Club) were wondering if you were ever going to wake up and get it.
Everyone knows that a guy who is awarded Book of the year, Writer of the year, best book, best novel, Christy finalist and TWO Christy awards really ought to do some serious introspection and decide if they even have what it takes to be a writer.
Thanks, Randy. I guess a couple dozen years from now if I reach a fraction of what you’ve accomplished as a writer and am still filled with self-doubt, I’ll know what I’m feeling is Normal.
Karla Akins says
Self-talk is something God is dealing with me about right now so this post was well-timed for me. I know the tapes I play in my head are dramatically overblown in terms of the condemnations I place on myself. (Read: drama queen.)
Anyway, self-promotion is my least-favorite thing about a career in writing. I don’t know how I will ever manage it. But I will try hard to believe that when the time comes, God will give me the grace to do it.
What advice could you give to a first time conference goer? I am trying in the 12 months to go to at least one writing conference, I feel I am a good story crafter, but still working the writing part. And suggestions?
A couple of days back I got a call from a magazine for a telephonic interview. Being a non-exclusive member of the Social Retard Club; I stammered, dropped to silence at inappropriate moments, sounded cold and did everything that I wasn’t supposed to do. I cursed myself heartily as long as the hurt remained. This post really helped. Now I don’t feel as shabby as before.
This is very well-timed advice for me. I’ve been talking myself out of revising (well, re-revising) my first completed manuscript, telling myself it’s not good enough to warrant spending more time on. But there are good things in that book that are worth saving, and if I don’t commit to it, I’d be throwing away all the time I’ve already spent.
(I’m new here, but I just want to say, this blog has been incredibly helpful to me. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.)
Very encouraging post, Randy and Meredith! Thanks, I needed that.
Sharon Lavy says
I can testify that Meredith is a good cheerleader.
I wish there were someway I could approach an agent in behalf of a friend’s manuscript, and also sub out pitching MY work to someone else.
I used to decorate cakes. When my daughter’s started helping I went all over town showing the pictures of the cakes they decorated. When it was just me doing the decorating– forgetaboutit.
Pam Halter says
Meredith said: The thing about fiction is that nobody cares who the author is or what the author has achieved. All that matters is the story.
WOW. That’s what my writing partner and I have been talking about for months. Writing rules, protocol, etc. what the heck? Write a great story and don’t worry too much about all the rules that stifle your voice.
Don’t know if that will work for me, but I’m willing to try.
I’d like everyone’s opinion before I do something that could be really stupid. I’m writing middle grade fantasy. I’m under consideration by a major publishing house. I’m on faculty for a conference next month. I’m considering wearing my fairy wings the entire time.
What do you think?
Aside from the title, the genre, and the “one line”, I’m still unclear about what editors are looking for in a pitch.
Carrie Stuart Parks says
I’ve been trying to go to at least one conference a year. It helps that I present (subjects on deception in language and forensics), but for now, I go to meet people and learn. I can’t imagine going to a conference for the first time to pitch a novel. I need to get the lay of the land, to see how others act and react. Maybe that might be a secret–go without an agenda. Go to enjoy, make new friends, learn.
I used to be the “Pity Party Queen” until I heard a counselor once say, “The problem with pity parties is that nobody comes — not even God.”
For years I got few compliments at home, and about my writing? — forget it. So, I decided to start complimenting myself when I felt I had done something well. “Way to go, Sylvia!” I’d say. “You did it right this time.” These days I feel much more confident, and as we age (boy, do I HATE that word!)we become less hard on ourselves. (I’m getting pretty close to 70. TOO close!)
I’d like to answer Tim’s request for advice on attending writer’s conferences for the first time. Another writer and I created the Buddy System at the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference with writers like Tim in mind–those who are attending for the first time and (whether they admit it or not) scared out of their minds.
Remember that as a first-timer your focus should be on learning, not selling your book. Not that I don’t encourage you to meet with editors and even submit your manuscript. But if you go expecting to walk away with an agent or ten editors fighting over your book you’ll be very disappointed. Leave you expectations at home and go expecting to learn all you can about the publishing world, meet other writers, get to know some editors and get creatively recharged.
I tell people that the reason why I enjoyed my first writer’s conference so much is because I was too clueless back then to have overblown expectations. In the opening session several nice faculty members encouraged us to feel free to pray and cry with them when we got discouraged. Discouraged? Why should I be discouraged? I was having a blast! My one fear had not come true–that everyone would know I was clueless and treat like the dork that I felt like. Five minutes at the conference put that to rest. I sent a short story for critique and Christine Tangvald marked it up with stickers and smiley faces, along with some tips for improvement, and told me to show it to a specific magazine editor. I did! I actually spoke to one of those scary editor people! She couldn’t use that particular story but encouraged me to send others and I’ve been writing for that magazine ever since (actually, they did buy an improved version of that story a year later). So my expectations were surpassed because I didn’t have any.
Year 2, however, I knew enough to expect more from myself. I felt like I should know what I was doing, have a plan and go for it. I knew just enough to be my own worst enemy. But again, I learned and listened and soaked everything in and, at the end of the conference, when the keynote speaker encouraged those of us who truly felt called to write to make a commitment to God to obey, I went forword and prayed with Ethel Herr–my lifetime mentor, friend, prayer warrior and extra mom/buddy.
Writing involves a lot of learning and networking. So enjoy the process of doing that. I can honestly saw that I’m glad I didn’t learn it all overnight and work my first conference like a pro. For one, I wouldn’t have any friends because everyone would be so annoyed and intimidated by how confident I was compared to how they felt.
Just enjoy your first conference Tim! Take advantage of perks like the critique service. Be friendly even if you’re shy (I’m shy by nature but love people so I guess that’s a good mix). Be yourself. Soak it all in and you’ll do great.
Oh, and if you attend Mount Hermon sign up for the Buddy System (it’s first timer’s to THAT conference not just conferences in general).
I hope this helps.
Something that really helped me overcome fear of talking to other people, in meetings or just chatting, was joining my local Toastmasters club. (see www.toastmasters.org for clubs in your area)
It’s a lot of fun, the people are super-supportive, and it really is a great way to overcome your fear and build self-confidence. Once you’ve spoken in front of 20-30 or even more people, just 1 or 2 should be a cinch! Sure, it’s not quite the same skill set, but I’ve found the confidence translates very well.
Seriously, just give it a try! Most clubs will let you attend a few meetings as a guest to see if you’d like it.
Robert Treskillard says
Very encouraging post today, Randy! Thanks!
I appreciate this solid advice. I am hoping to attend my first conference in the fall but it is a secular one. It just happens to be the one closest to my place of residence.
What differences should I expect from that environment as opposed to a Christian conference? I don’t have any particular expectations but if someone could chime in with their thoughts, it would be helpful.
Lea Ann McCombs says
Hi Kirk, I happened to read your question and can chime in a little bit here. I attended my first-ever Writer’s Conference (Blue Ridge Christian Conference) in May and was completely blown away by how truly spiritual it was! I expected the complete focus to be on the craft of writing and business of publishing, but was floored at the overall deeply Christian emphasis coating everything.
I was probably expecting more what you will find at the secular conference–complete focus on writing. More competitive, focused on success in the field.
What I took away from my conference, in adition to some fantastic classes on writing, was a deep spiritual focus on God’s calling in my life and how to best use it. There is a fellowship there among all attendees that I don’t think you’d find at a secular conference.
I can’t say enough good things about the conference I went to and if I had the choice between secular or Christian, I’d definately choose another Christian conference.
That said, expect to have a wonderful time soaking in all the knowledge and tips from the experts! You’ll come away with either the feeling that you’re “Not quite there yet”, or an awed thankfulness that you really “get it” and are ready to proceed to the next step.
Melissa Stroh says
Hey Randy and Meredith,
Thank you so much for your advice and all your encouraging words. I’m sorry I didn’t get back sooner with this, but for some reason the reminder for this blog ended up in my spam box. I happened upon it, fortunately. It must have been a God thing because I needed the encouragement especially today.
I’m glad that all us social nerds can stick together! Oh wait! Positive! Think positive! Socially challenged individuals. There that’s better.
Oh! And yes, Meredith, I do have children. Two, a boy and a girl. I loved your Writer’s Conference Survival Guide. And I can totally relate with you because I was sick and pregnant with my first child at my first writer’s conference too. Oh the things we endure! But it was worth it.
Thanks again you two!
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