Friday, October 28, 2016

5 Ways to Rock a Conference...and 2 Ways to Not.

I just got back from the Florida Writers Conference, and I am stoked. I am ready to throw Facebook Parties promoting my awesome authors, ready to contract ALL the illustrators, acquire ALL the speculative fiction!
Conferences and other networking events are wonderful tools for the author, but they can be overwhelming, and the rules get confusing. Bring business cards? Bring promotional swag? How much can you promote yourself before it becomes too much? I've gone to several conferences over the years, and learned a few things about how to make it more than just a getaway weekend.

1. Practice your Pitch 

You are going to hear "What is your book about?" A LOT. So many authors don't ever see a need to practice this, because you've been writing the book for a year, of course you know what it's about. But you have to be able to sell it in under three minutes, which is a lot harder than just telling what it's about. Before you ever set foot in a conference center, know exactly how to describe your book in five sentences or less. Distill it down, get rid of extraneous detail, and polish that hook. Say it over and over until you can rattle it off more naturally than you say your phone number. You will run into fellow authors, who are often great to bounce your pitch off of, but you will also find yourself seated with acquisitions editors and agents from time to time who might be in the market for something like your book. Don't  be the poor author "Umm"-ing their way through when an industry professional expresses interest in your work.

2. Find your Tribe

Every time I go to a conference, I find a group of people I naturally fall in with. They are a stasis point in the midst of the constantly shifting conference current. They are the people with whom you compare notes, and they offer a friendly face during conference meals, so you avoid standing in the full dining room with your loaded plate, looking for an empty seat. These folks become your cheerleading section, and you theirs, and often provide useful contacts and opportunities after conference ends. Don't allow yourself to be a loner. These people are not your competition, they are your peers. Learn to love them.

3. Push your Limits

Guys, this year I went to a poetry class. I don't particularly like poetry, I usually don't get poetry, and it doesn't invoke in me the emotion that is supposed to make poetry what it is. But I went to a poetry class this year, and it offered me new insights and new appreciation for the form. Am I a changed woman? Probably not. I still don't really understand why you need to write an Ode to an Onion. But I am better informed.
Whatever your genre, give yourself a block or two to step out of that bubble and into something that might not normally pique your interest. This not only provides networking opportunities, but it grows your writer's toolkit, and gives you a deeper well of experience to draw from, providing your work with richness it might not have otherwise possessed.

4. Make yourself Useful

One of the biggest mistakes you can make at any networking event, like a conference, is to be the person who hands out their business cards immediately upon meeting someone. This year, I stopped to compliment a fellow writers hair (which was a truly stunning shade of turquoise), and she handed me her promotional cards in lieu of a thank you. I cannot stress this enough, but DON'T DO THIS. Have your cards, and have them ready to hand out, but don't make it the primary point of your interaction.
Networking is not just about advancing your career. There is a give and take, a "what can I do for you?" that is so vital to the process. Be constantly asking yourself what you can offer to the person you are talking to. What do you bring to the table? How can you help them? This fosters a community and gives you a web of people who are more willing and likely to want to work with you in the future.
A good rule of thumb for cards is to have them available and to give them when they are requested or when it is natural to do so, and don't predicate the success of an interaction on whether or not you got your card in their pocket. In other words, don't pass them out immediately upon sitting down for lunch.

5. Save your Notes

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a workshop and thought "That is an amazing point. I should write it down." and then didn't write it down, or did, but didn't save my notes. As cumbersome as it sounds, spend the time after a conference to go over connections made (email or message them on social media, just to mention how great it was to meet them), and to go back over your notes and save the ones that are really helpful. Save the information of presenters whose workshops were particularly relevant or helpful to you. While this is not universal, many industry experts are happy to answer questions, especially if you mention how much you loved their presentation (feed the narcissism. Always)

The Two Big No-Nos

Firstly, listen more than you talk. While you may sell a book or two, the people at conference are your peers, not your customer base.
Secondly, be nice to the staff. Conferences are often volunteer run, and these are people who give up a ton of their own personal time to make the experience a good one. Give them coffee, or at the very least, don't be rude.

How have your conference experiences been? What advice would you give new conference-goers? Let us know in the comments!

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