Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gotta spend money to make money...

If you're not interested in getting published and/or you are offended by the word douchebag, you should probably stop reading right about here.

Can we talk writers conferences? For anyone trying to find an agent or editor to connect with their work, I just cannot stress how important conferences are. Though the educational sessions are great, I consider paying for a conference to be more about paying for access to editors and agents. Because once you have been to a conference and met an agent or editor you like, you can send your work to them with “XX conference request” written on the envelope, which generally guarantees it will be read a) by that person, not by the assistant who manages the slush-pile and b) in a timely manner. At the rate slush is read, this can literally shave years off the process. Saying no to a nameless, faceless manuscript is much easier than saying no to the manuscript of someone you met and liked.

My grizzled face shows how many of these things I've been to. May I share some tips I’ve learned?

Think in marketing terms. If you are having a manuscript critique, do not bring your problem section so you can get advice on how to fix it, even if that is what the session is advertised as! For example, there’s one workshop I’ve been to where you read aloud in small groups with an editor or agent there for advice. The brochure encourages you to bring a section you feel needs work. I looked at that and though hell no! I brought the absolute best 20 pages of my manuscript and landed the agent I had been stalking. Really, if you are marketing yourself and your work to someone you have limited time with, why bring your worst stuff? Is that how you want to be remembered?

Enter the writing contest. There are several great conferences that do not require you to register for the conference in order to enter the writing contest. I enter as many as possible and then register for the conferences where I have placed or won. Because I am pathologically shy when it comes to tooting my own horn, wearing a badge that says “contest winner” is a great way to have editors and agents approach you.

Be fun and interesting. Talk about everything but your book. This is a refreshing change from the crush of people pressing their self-published fantasy novels on editors and agents. If you can have a light, fun conversation about something else, I’ve found they always end up asking about your book.

Choose workshops over conferences. If you have an editor or agent in mind and see that they will be at a workshop and at a conference, always choose the workshop. Working closely with an editor or agent in a workshop setting is a perfect way to really forge a relationship and to show the person that you are eager and coachable. Of course, then you have to be both eager and coachable! If they request changes, be sure you have made every single change they mentioned before you go to the follow-up session. I’ve seen writers try to argue their point, obviously thinking that they will look smarter to the agent or editor if they push back, but it just makes the writer look like a total douchebag. Push back all you want once you’ve signed a contract, but until then indulge every whim of the agent or editor.

To me, conferences fit in the “gotta spend money to make money” category. But next April, remember that conferences and their associated travel are tax deductible (and boy, have I taken advantage of that fact!). If you’re thinking about going to a conference or workshop, there’s a clunky but comprehensive website of writers conferences called Shaw Guides that allows you to search by month, state, genre, etc. Check it out!

What do you say about conferences? Love them? Hate them? Have to pop beta blockers like me to endure them? More important, will anyone admit to being that douchebag at a conference?

15 comments:

Steve Brezenoff said...

All great advice.

Here's something that worked for me at our local SCBWI conference last fall. I made up a resume that included all my published writing experience on one side, and on the reverse had short blurbs (like cover/flap copy, if you will) for all my manuscripts and works in progress.

It was enough to get the attention of one editor, and he ended up liking the YA manuscript I was pitching!

AC said...

Thanks for the advice! I've never been to a conference in my life, but now I'm thinking I should go. I'll check out ShawGuides for something here in the South...seems like all the best conferences are absolutely no where near where I live :(

Kimberly Derting said...

I totally agree, Christy! It wasn't until I actually went to a conference that I met Laura. I firmly believe that the difference is having that face-to-face encounter rather than being one of the hundreds of generic queries that fill their inboxes on a daily basis.

GREAT post!!!!

Tyler said...

Yes, yes, yes. Conferences/workshops are absolutely the only way to go. Love them!

In addition to the great connections you make professionally, they are so much fun and you meet so many wonderful writer friends.

Fantastic post!

Suzanne Young said...

I go to conferences to drink with cool writerly types. Is that so wrong? Is it?

Christy Raedeke said...

Steve - great idea! Thanks!

AC, you need to get yourself to a conference, stat! Maybe Hardygirl, Shelli, Irene or Katie can suggest something in the south?

Kimberly - were you at the SCBWI LA conference? Did you go to Laura's cocktail party?

Tyler and Suzanne - You reminded me of the BEST conference perk: meeting new friends to drink with!

Hardygirl said...

Yes, AC! Check out the Southern Breeze SCBWI conferences--they are in Atlanta and Birmingham. Other SCBWI southern regions also have conferences--just look on the general website.

Conferences have been life changing for me. Access is good, but I also learn so much from the workshops and from the other writers. Plus, it's a great place to find other writers who are willing to read and critique your manuscripts.

And, I've not been a douchebag in a critique session, but I've been a total brown noser, goober (especially when I was a newbie).

Paul Äertker said...

I was a douchebag in my former life. Now I go to conferences to meet people like you and Tyler and Katie and Suzanne and SF and Kimberley, AC, Corey, Steve, Graeme...
Are there really editors and agents at these conferences? Who needs them when you've got great people to hang out with... loveya

Little Ms J said...

Fantastic advice! I'm officially your grasshopper!

Kimberly Derting said...

I was there, were you too??? I met so many people that night that I can barely remember any of them, but I've wondered before if I'd met you. Did I???

Christy Raedeke said...

I was there, Kimberly! Were you down at the Jay Asher end? I was at the opposite end, fading into the woodwork as I am wont to do at uncomfortable social events... I gabbed with Laura Preble and sucked down too many mango daiquiris.

Kimberly Derting said...

Yes, I was chatting up Eve most of the night. That was the night that Laura told me I might have my first offer (talk about an exciting night!!). I thought I remembered seeing you! ;)

Dale Rogers said...

I havent been to one yet but next month will be my first. I admit I feel scared...its a little intimidating. Thanks for the advice, I am going to check out the website.

a brilliant blog said...

great blog! you keep it real...

Miles Inada said...

Reading this made me feel like a total douchebag :(
And I'm going to link to dis for the kids.