Getting the most out of contests and conferences

Professional networking.

Image by flickr user Ghozt Tramp

By the time you read this, I’ll have submitted my pitch and first chapter for Pitch Wars, a contest hosted by the fabulous Brenda Drake in which selected applicants are paired with mentors to polish their manuscripts and pitches, and then agents read the pitches and request anything that catches their eye. It’s a wonderful opportunity for mentees to learn from people who have been in their shoes, for mentors and mentees to connect with other writers, and for agents to find great books. But I’m going to echo some things I keep hearing from the mentors and past participants: first, being a Pitch Wars mentee will not guarantee that you’ll get an agent right away, nor will not being chosen for the contest mean you’ll never get an agent with that manuscript; and second, the agent round is the least important part of the contest. Pitch Wars is all about making connections and learning from each other. And you don’t have to be a mentee to benefit from the contest. Follow along on Twitter (#PitchWars), cheer the contestants on, and soak up all the advice the participants offer in their tweets and on their blogs. Join in the conversation, and you may just meet your next CP, or your next best friend (or both!).

I view conferences in a similar light. There are usually opportunities to pitch to agents, but I think the greatest value lies in making connections and learning from your fellow conference-goers — both faculty and attendees. If you go to a conference with the single goal of getting an agent, you’ll be disappointed if the agent(s) you pitch to don’t request your work, and you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities to grow as a writer. I’ve mentioned this before, but I met all of my CPs (and some of my best friends) at Midwest Writers Workshop. That conference is where I first began looking at writing as a career, and where I was introduced to the business side of writing. I’ve pitched to agents there the past three years, but I actually got more out of spending time with them informally at meals and in the hotel lobby. Why? Because we got to know each other. We got to talk about the industry and books without the awkwardness of my pitch hovering between us. And I learned which agents I might enjoy working with, because I got a sense of their personalities and communication styles. Anyone I can discuss zombie apocalypses, the NFL, and the yin and yang of gay YA with is someone I’d be comfortable talking about my work and my career with. (And remember, you don’t want to just get an agent; you want to get the right agent for you. Your agent will be your business partner, so you want to make sure you’ll get along well.)

So, even if you don’t get picked for a contest, or the agent you thought would be perfect for you doesn’t request your full manuscript on the spot, you can still get a lot out of contests and conferences. Make as many meaningful connections as you can, and be open to learning from everyone you meet, no matter where they are in their careers.

What advice do you have for contest entrants and conference attendees?

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