Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Ready for Conference - Part Two - What to Bring?

Last week I talked about formulating goals and expectations for your conference experience. This week I want to talk about some essentials to bring with you.

Business Cards – It’s fun to bring a business card that you can exchange with fellow writers and pass to editors and agents. Your business card should include your email address, your website address (if you have one), and the addresses of any blogs you participate in.

I purchased reasonably priced cards from Vista print online. You can get a variety of finishes and designs. Whatever design you go with make sure the cards look professional. A tip I picked up from a publicist: try to use some of the same design elements in your business cards as you do in your website, MySpace, blog, etc. I use pink as one of my main colors along with a cherry blossom motif.

Local printers and office supply companies also do business cards. A word of advice: you might not want to purchase 500 business cards like I did, although the per card price is usually cheaper the more you order. But information can change significantly, making cards obsolete.

Some authors put a label on the back of their business cards containing the blurb of the book they wish to pitch. All the information is contained on this one little card: the author’s name and contact information, the name of her book and the blurb. It’s all there for easy reference for the editor/agent.

One Sheets – While the technique using the business card above may be effective, the one-sheet is a more professional representation of the author and the author’s work. This is one sheet of paper containing all the information about you, and the manuscript you are pitching. The one-sheet includes your contact information, a professional photograph if you have one, a 25 word blurb about your book, and then a 500-600 word synopsis. Tracey Ruckman
recommends using a graphic design program like Publisher to create your one sheet. More on one-sheets in future blogs as I attempt to design one myself.

Pitches – An essential tool in your writer’s kit is an effective pitch. This short blurb should entice an editor or agent to ask you more about your book, and perhaps even request a full manuscript. Several articles I’ve read about pitches emphasize the need to cover three bases – problem, complication, solution, or as Nikki Duncan, ( who gave us a pitching clinic a short while ago puts it -- “him, her, plot”. Whatever you do, remember to include a hint of the conflict in your pitch, since it is the beating heart of your story. More on pitching in future blogs.

Works in Progress – Normally, I would tell you not take your two hundred page manuscript with you to a conference and try to slip it under the bathroom door to an editor. Okay, I’m still going to tell you not to do that. But there are special circumstances in which bringing at least a part of your WIP with you is necessary.

I will be participating in a Blue Pencil Session with Susan Wiggs at the Surrey International Writers Conference. For this 15 minute one-on-one session, I need to provide 3 pages of my current WIP for her perusal, from which she will give me some feedback. Also, there are some workshops being offered that are very hands-on and require attendees to bring a current work in progress. My advice is to carefully study the schedule of workshops (which are usually listed on the conference’s website) before leaving home. That way you can be prepared if you need to bring material with you.

Before leaving home, think about which workshops you would like to attend. On the website, you can read about the person leading the workshop and what topics will be covered. This could help you save time and frustration on the day. Pick a second choice for each time slot in case the workshop fills up. Remember, you can always change your mind once you get to the conference.

One thing I have to take into consideration when picking the workshops are the times of my editor and agent appointments. I have to remember what those times are, and check if they conflict with any workshops I really want to attend.

What to Wear – Most blogs and articles suggest that conference attendees wear business casual to the workshops. Nikki Duncan reminds female writers to make sure nail polish is chip free and that jewellery is simple, rather than clunky and noisy. I would also recommend staying away from strong perfumes or after shaves, and suggest dressing on the conservative side, ie: no really short skirts or plunging necklines. It’s going to be a long couple of days so comfortable shoes are a must. You might want to bring a light sweater as air conditioning can sometimes be overpowering.

The Surrey Conference is going to have a banquet on the Saturday night. Some conference banquets can be very formal affairs. At the 2008 EPIC Conference, many women wore full length gowns. I felt somewhat underdressed in my pant suit. Find out what attire is proper for your conference banquet so you don’t feel out of place.

So conference goers, what are you bringing to conference? If you have attended a conference in the past, what was the most valuable thing you brought with you? What did you not bring with you that you wish you had?


Janet C. said...

I so need to get my butt in gear on this conference preparation - thanks for reminding me, Jana.

You're list is invaluable. And gives me something to work from. Of course, I panicked when I saw the banquet paragraph - formal, yikes. I'm off to read up on the Surrey information to see what they have to say about the banquet.

Is this wrong? I have nothing ready as far as one-sheets or business cards go. My pitch is far from polished. I haven't even thought about the Blue Pencil session. I have looked at the workshop list, but not recently. And I'm worried about the banquet! Geesh.

Great post, Jana. Looking forward to seeing you in less than a month.

Erika said...

I have yet to go to a conference, but I know, or I hope, that one day I will.

I hope everyone has fun at the conference.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
The reason I wanted to do these posts was to get my butt in gear and get ready. I'm putting together my "package" of stuff I want to take with me. Of course I haven't finished my pitches or my one-sheets either. That's on the agenda for this week. I hope.

I'm not sure how "formal" the banquet is going to be. I couldn't tell from the website so I'm going to email someone from the conference to inquire. I'll let you know what I find out. Considering that it's in Canada and it's a conference with all genres and not just romance authors, I'm thinking it could be fairly laid back. But I don't know for sure. I was taken aback at the EPIC conference at how dressed up people got. For me, anything besides jeans and t-shirt is dressed up. But these people were "Dressed Up".

Is it wrong to be so concerned with clothes? Of course not. We want to look our best, make a decent impression. I agonized over what to wear, especially since my wardrobe isn't exactly huge. I'll probably do the same thing for this conference.

Cheers from Jana,
Whose wardrobe looks more like the before closet from an episode of "What Not to Wear".

Jana Richards said...

Hi Erika,
When you get a chance to go to a conference, remember to go with the idea of learning new things and having some fun. That's the best attitude to have and the one I'm hoping to take with me to Surrey.

All the best,

Helena said...

I have also begun agonising about business cards and one-sheets, and got some invaluable advice at the recent retreat (which was supposed to give us practice doing a pitch, but how do you pitch something that doesn't actually exist yet?) I am going to focus on pitching myself as a writer in various genres, with a current focus on The Fifties. I will take the opening of my novel (in case I'm asked about it), and three pages of as-yet undetermined content for my blue pencil session with Gary Geddes.

Lots of prep in the next few weeks. Yikes! I haven't begun to think of clothes yet.

Thanks for the prod, Jana.

Captain Hook said...

Luckily the idea of being able to afford a conference is so far in the future that I don't have to worry.

Karyn Good said...

There's more to going to a conference then I ever imagined. What I imagined: taking a pen and notebook!
Now I know! We talked about one-sheets at an SRW meeting but I haven't done anything with that as I'm not going. (insert sad face) Looking forward to your post on pitches. Nikki was a great help! but I could use some more.

Now, also sad because missing opportunity to buy new clothes!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Most blogs and articles I've read say it's a very good idea to practice your pitch until you can say it very comfortably. I know most editors don't mind if you read your pitch from a card. Even if I've memorized my pitch I'm going to bring a card with me because I know I'm going to be nervous and I'm sure my mind will turn to mush.

Interesting idea about pitching yourself of a writer of the fifties. Leave time in your pitch session for your agent/editor to ask questions and be prepared if you are asked to talk about your current WIP.

Don't sweat the clothes. You can't go wrong with business casual.

I haven't figured out either which three pages of my current WIP to bring to the blue pencil session. It doesn't specify whether it needs to be the first 3 pages. But the point is to be aware that you will need to bring three pages of something. There's no point signing up if you don't bring something to critique.

I'm really looking forward to this though I still have lots to do.


Jana Richards said...

I'm not gonna lie, Captain. Going to a conference is not cheap. I worked some extra hours to give me some extra cash for the registration. Janet and I are sharing a room to cut costs. The dress I bought (on sale) to wear to a wedding a couple of weeks ago will do double duty at the banquet. I'm hoping that what I get out of the conference will be worth the investment in time and money.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
Note to self: don't forget pen and notebook!

Sadly, I've spent all my money (see above post) and cannot buy any more new clothes (insert sad face here). Luckily I already have business cards, and one new dress so at least that's a couple fewer expenses.

Working with Nikki Duncan was a really good experience. I thought you did a bang-up job on your pitch. Nikki tightened it up and gave it a bit more focus. Really good job.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Jana. As you know, I've just come back from the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference where I was in the midst of 540 other attendees.

Biz cards - I learned last year I don't need any more than 30 of them unless I'm going to start leaving them at every spot at the banquet or something. Your biz card should contain the same photo as your one sheet and it should look like you will look at the conf. You want them to look at your biz card months later and remember seeing you at the conference.

One-sheets: if your book is part of a series, use the back to show all the books together with short blurbs so the editor/agent can see the big picture. Oh - and don't forget to put your total word count. That's very important.

Works in Progress - it is very rare for editors/agents to take wips from you at a conf unless they live in the area. Weight of luggage when flying is so much a factor these days. I was actually very suprised this year when an editor asked if she could keep my one-sheet for Outlaw. Usually they look, hand it back but maybe keep your biz card if they're interested. You do need to bring the first 10 pages or so of your wip to let them see how you write - and yes, they can tell in the first page.

Pitches - I know everyone talks about elevator pitches. Rachelle Gardner even had us practice elevator pitches with her on her blog however, at this year's conference, even she became exasperated and tweeted her annoyance when she had a one min break in an afternoon filled with appts and someone tried to pitch their whole book to her at that time. I also heard an editor complain she was in an elevator, drained, ready for bed, and someone tried to pitch. I'm not saying don't pitch when you get the chance... I'm just saying use common sense and 'read' the person you want to pitch to first.

What to Wear: At the ACFW banquet, I saw everything from nice top and pants to formal. The ones who are up for awards are dressier than the ones who aren't. Also, you can't judge by clothes. One woman was up for an award but something happened to her dress. I walked into the conversation only to hear her say, '...and this was all I could find so I bought it.' It was a nice 2 pc top and skirt but not formal by any means. She even said it looked like Sunday church wear. She won her category and I didn't hear a single word about what she was wearing. Everyone was too busy congratulating her.

And finally... uh yeah, Janet... you do need to get your butt in gear. Heh.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Thanks for all the great information, straight from the trenches, so to speak.

Sometimes it's hard to believe people would be so insensitve,not to mention clueless, about when and how to pitch. I think people get so caught up in thinking this is their one big chance they lose all common sense. Let's all promise not to be "that" writer when we go to conference.