Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting Ready for Conference - Part One

Several of the Chicks, along with some friends from the Saskatchewan Romance Writers are heading to Surrey, British Columbia in October for the Surrey International Writers Conference. I want to get the best experience from this conference and the most bang for my buck. What should I do to get ready?

Tiffany Colter of says that a writer should have some goals in mind when heading to a writer's conference. These goals should be something easily measurable, perhaps something that can be put into practice as soon as the writer get home. If my goal is to learn all I can about the craft of writing dialogue, I’ll participate in the workshop on writing dialogue at the conference and then try to use my new found knowledge later as I write the dialogue on my novel. Sometimes you get lucky and a goal will find you. I attended the 2008 EPIC conference in Portland, Oregon. I had been nominated for an EPPIE award for my romantic suspense “Seeing Things” and really hadn’t gone to the conference with any goals in mind other than meeting in person my editor from Uncial Press, Jude Glad. But I was lucky. Many of the workshops had a wealth of information about promoting ebooks, and promoting myself as an author. I was able to take much of the information home with me and put it to work.

Perhaps your goal is to meet other writers, especially big-name writers attending the conference. Or you have a book you want to pitch to an editor or agent. Just remember to act in a considerate, professional way when dealing with these people. There is nothing so un-cool as a writer who stalks an editor into the bathroom to pitch her story. More on the nuts and bolts of pitching in future blogs.

Several articles I read regarding conferences warn the writer to keep her expectations in check. If you go to a conference expecting to sell your novel that weekend, you’ll likely be disappointed. I can attest as to the perils of overblown expectations. I attended a conference in 2004 with a friend. I had lined up a one-on-one editor appointment with a prominent Harlequin editor, and after checking out the websites of the agents attending the conference, I made an appointment with one I thought would be a good fit for me. I had other things I was looking forward to. At the time I belonged to the Outreach Chapter of RWA and had volunteered to write an article about one of the big name authors attending the conference. I contacted her in advance asking if I could have a few minutes of her time to do a quick interview and she agreed. Also, I entered two manuscripts in the contest connected to the conference, feeling I had a really good chance of finaling. Lastly, I was looking forward to seeing some writers I had met previously at another writing conference. All three of them had sold since the last time we’d met.

By the end of the weekend, every one of my expectations had been dashed. The Harlequin editor did not ask for a full manuscript, the agent did not sign me up (in fact she didn’t even represent category romance authors), the big name author was too busy to meet with me for an interview, neither of my manuscripts finaled in the contest, and the writers I had met previously said hello but that was about it.

I was devastated, and I can honestly say it was the lowest point in my writing career. I nearly stopped writing. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Later, when I’d had some time to think about it, I realized that I had brought all this misery on myself by placing so many expectations on this conference. (BTW, when I got home, big-name author, who is really a very lovely and gracious lady, emailed to apologize for not meeting me and offered to do the interview by email. And the other writers? They probably sensed my awkwardness and jealousy.) My friend, who had never attended a conference before and had no expectations, had a fabulous time. It wasn’t the conference. It was me.

So the moral of my story is to go to a conference with the goal of learning some new things, either about craft or the business. Expect to meet new people and make some contacts, participate, connect with old friends, and have fun, but realize that you likely won't sell your manuscript or land an agent that weekend. Relax. This conference will neither make nor break your career.

Next week I’ll talk about some of the finer details of getting ready for a conference, like what should I wear?

To those who are planning to attend a conference in the near future, what are your goals and expectations for the conference? Does anyone have a horror story about a conference they care to share? What about a fabulous experience?


Janet C. said...

This is great, Jana. I love the idea of focusing on an aspect of writing and tailoring the workshops to meet that goal. I'm going to pull out my Surrey information again and decide on a goal.

I hope I don't go into the conference with unreasonable expectations - and your post will remind me not to. This will be my first big conference and I'm so excited. I look forward to your future posts to help me with getting ready.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Yes, I learned the hard way not to have unrealistic expectations from any conference. I think my goal for this conference is to meet and talk to Donald Maass and Susan Wiggs. I'm meeting Mr. Maass as my agent appointment and I'm doing a blue pencil session with Ms. Wiggs. So I'm hoping to get a few words of advice on one of my manuscripts from Ms. Wiggs to help with editing. And I wouldn't mind a little career advice from Mr. Maass if that's possible. I'm trying to figure out now exactly what I want to ask both of them, and what I need to bring with me to prepare.


Karyn Good said...

I haven't attended, nor have plans to attend, a conference in the near future so I plan to live vicariously through my fellow Chicks and fellow SRW members! I'm very much looking forward to hearing about everyone experiences and learning from them in secondhand kind of way.

I'll be here to hold down the fort!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
I so wish you were able to attend with us. C'est la vie. Hopefully, next time.

We'll bring back as much information as we can and share it with you when we get back. We'll need you to hold down the fort!