Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.
I recently attended my third DFW Writer’s Conference. If you ever get a chance to go, I recommend it. Great information, great people. I’ve reflected on my many wonderful (and a few otherwise) experiences and want to offer some do’s and don’ts for writers’ conferences.
To conference planners
Do offer a variety of writing craft, traditional publishing, and indie publishing classes. Conferences attract writers all along the writing journey. Some are multi-published authors, others are working through their first manuscript, and everything in between. Offer a wide array of craft and business information to address the diversity of attendees.
Do host panels. Some favorites at my three DFW Cons have been the panels of experts on everything from social media to publishing options to forensics. The much-touted Gong Show is a regular feature: A panel of agents critiques anonymous first pages and/or query letters, and their feedback is invaluable in helping writers recognize a good story or pitch. Panels can provide wisdom from several sources, and how often can you get that many experts in a room to answer writers’ questions?
Don’t ignore the self-pubbers. At my first conference only three years ago, agents were saying that self-publishing your own books was a kiss of death. My, how things have changed! Still, however, conferences can focus so heavily on the traditional route to publication that self-pubbers don’t feel welcome. The writer community should be about producing good books, and there is more than one way to skin that cat.
Do give conference goers a map and clear signs. I get lost easily. I am not alone.
Don’t invite pompous authors to give speeches about how much money they make. Look, author: Unless you’re willing to throw out currency during your presentation, this subject is best discussed with your agent, publisher, accountant, and loved ones. Maybe your mama is proud of your ridiculously large book advances, but conference attendees want to hear about your writing, not your bank account.
Do provide good snacks and beverages. Having a morning or afternoon pick-me-up can help attention levels. Starches and sugars should be balanced with fresh fruit. I was a bit disappointed that DFWCon did not provide free soda this year, but caffeine is my own addiction and the conference shouldn’t be expected to enable me. Water, coffee, and orange juice were fine.
To conference attendees
Do start conversations with other writers. Many writers are introverts and would rather have a root canal than introduce themselves to a stranger. But your fellow conference goers are not really strangers…because they get you. They too are excited about fictional worlds and make-believe characters and pretty words and plot twists and cover art and so forth. You’ll meet wonderful people by simply asking someone nearby, “What do you write?” Moreover, I’ve learned as much from talking to other writers as I have in classes.
Don’t monopolize class time with a specific question that only applies to you. Here’s the scenario: During Q&A, someone describes their particular plot or writing journey and asks for individualized advice. Now if your situation is a sampling of a larger issue that affects writers, fine. But if you’re looking for one-on-one coaching, wait until class has ended and approach the presenter. Most presenters are willing to spend a few minutes with you.
Do practice your pitch. Even if you’re not formally pitching to an agent or editor, you should be able to state your hook in a sentence or two or three. You may get asked by a fellow writer or agent what you’re working on, and being able to succinctly relate your story is good practice for querying or the book blurb.
Don’t fart loudly during a conference class. Actually, I felt sympathy for the person in one of my classes who did that. Maybe it was the Tex-Mex food we’d had for lunch.
Do bring a camera, even if it’s on your cell phone. You won’t want to miss shots like this.
Don’t sweat meeting book agents or famous authors. I’ve found them to be very approachable. As long as you’re authentic and courteous, you’re fine. No stalking, of course. (For heaven’s sake, please don’t follow them into the bathroom!) But agents and authors come to conferences to share information and hang out with writers. You’re a writer, so hang out.
Do print business cards. You can get them cheap at VistaPrint. No, you probably won’t go through all 250 cards that came with your order, but I’ve traded business cards with other authors and it’s helpful to refer to them later. Two things I include on my business card–recommended by agents when I researched–are a face photo, so that people can match your name with your face, and book titles/summaries, in case you want potential agents or readers to be hooked by what you write.
That’s it! As for how DFWCon went for me, I learned quite a bit, have three agents I need to query, and enjoyed meeting up with friends for the weekend whom I chat with online throughout the year.
- Read 8 fiction books. So far I’ve read The Sleeping Doll by Jeffery Deaver; The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer; Curse of the Double Digits by Lynn Kelley; Sweet Spot (ARC) by Laura Drake; Come Back to Me by Coleen Patrick; and A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban.
- Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. Read 5 chapters (18 total).
- Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. Yes!
Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery.
- Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Based on advice from a DFWCon class, I’m letting G&G sit for a bit. Instead, I edited 7 scenes from my middle-grade novel, THE YEAR OF FIRSTS.
- Write one short story.
- Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit.
Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May.
- Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Details are coming soon.
What are your do’s and don’ts for conferences? And how was your week?