I've always been a writer. It has been only in the last year, however, that I've been taking the gift/job/calling to write seriously.
Currently, I'm in the extraordinary position of being paid to write a book (which will hopefully be due out later this year or early 2015). Being a first-time author though, I was in this place where "I knew I didn't know" but I wasn't quite sure what I didn't know. You know? It is that horrible place of knowing you are ignorant of critical information, but you don't even know where to start asking questions.
For me, lightning struck. "I'll go to a writer's conference to help my learning curve."
Consequently, it seems an imperative that I share some tips from one first-timer to another or to those considering attending a conference.
Scholastically – Go ready to learn and absorb as much as you possibly can about writing techniques, trends in the industry, and what the expectations are of writers as a professional that go far beyond the writing.
Professionally – One of the faculty at the conference said it perfectly, “Do you know when you become an author? It’s when you finish writing something—an article, a blog, a book. Then, you only get one promotion and that is when you become a ‘published author.’”Go with business cards specific to you as an author. If you take you serious, they will be more likely to as well. A trend in the industry at the moment is to have a professional headshot on your business card. This gives editors, agents, and other authors a better chance of remembering you and your work.
Elements to a Business Card:
- Name and/or Penname
- Email address
- Website and/or blog
- Professional looking Headshot Photo
Optional: Social media handles
Optional: Genre(s) in which you write
Optional: A list of your published books (on back)
Also, you need to prepare and take with you the project you are going to be pitching. That means that you need at least a One-Sheet, if not a full book proposal (to be blogged about soon), and at least three sample chapters.
Elements to a One-Sheet:
- Working Title
- Word Length
- How it differs from similar books
- Who your intended readers are (i.e., the Market)
- What qualifies you to write this book (i.e., If it is a book about missionary work, have you been a missionary? If it is about writing well, do you have your doctorate in literature? If it is about baking, do you have thousands of twitter followers following your baking blog? etc.).
- Availability of the manuscript (If it isn’t available in less 6 months, then don’t present it. And really, what I heard was that if it isn’t ready in less than 3 months, they won’t consider it seriously.)
- Summary of the book.
Emotionally – Pray and find focus by clarifying your expectations before you go about what you hope to get out of the conference. Obviously, we all want a big fat book contract, but if you go with more modest hopes of “making contacts, advancing your career through honing your craft, learning more about the industry, and having courage to offer up your projects for review” those are all very accomplishable and reasonable goals for a first-timer. You’ll leave having achieved some or all of those goals and feel successful for having done so.
One of my favorite all time quotes is from the 1980’s movie Better Off Dead, a John Cusack classic, where a girl says to John's woebegone character:
“Once you get a taste of success, I think you’ll find that it suits you.”
The same is true for new and seasoned writers. We all need encouragement where ever we can get it.
Financially – You may have saved every penny to go to the conference and that is ultimately what matters, you are there. I want you to be aware, however, of the opportunities to buy books at a discount, have them signed by the authors, and to purchase on cd or sometimes dvd the sessions that you may have missed. These are opportunities that if you give yourself a little budget coming into the conference you don’t have to stress about the money at the conference.
Physically – The 3-4 days that you are at the conference are long and arduous. It is hard for anyone to sustain a “camp high” for 12-14 hour days and not have them feel the wear. Come into the conference as rested as you can so that you can endure the people and information overload during the conference.
Spiritually – Pray and seek calm by resting in the knowledge that the Lord has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Those plans may or may not include wild fame and success, but our gifts offered faithfully back to Him who gave them to us is an act of faith, and He commends the faithful (check out Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith”).
You need to commit to going first and foremost before any of this becomes relevant. So, check out when the next one is and put it on your calendar and start saving up and preparing!
P.s. One editor told me that when you meet an editor at a conference they automatically consider you to be in the 10% of writers because going to a conference indicates to them that you are serious about your craft. It also means that you can skip the agent and email directly to that editor after the conference!!!