Tag Archives: conferences

Will you be at Midwest Writers Workshop?

Midwest Writers Workshop.Today’s post is short, since I’m busy getting ready for the 44th Annual Midwest Writers Workshop. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me sing the praises of MWW, as it’s where I met many of my critique partners and closest friends. No matter what stage you’re at in your career, if you have the time and means to attend a writing conference, I highly recommend doing so.

And if you’re going to be at MWW, please say hi!

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Tips for talking with agents in the wild

Chipmunk coming out of a hole.

Photo by Flickr user Tamia rayé

Since I’m headed to Midwest Writers Workshop in a couple days, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to conference etiquette. I’ve written about the value of conferences in the past (I met nearly all of my critique partners either at MWW or through people I met at MWW), but today I’m going to focus on interacting with agents and editors in the wild.

For some of us, agents can feel like the celebrities of the literary world. If you want to publish traditionally, these are the people you need to champion your book. You’ve done all your homework: you’ve written and polished an awesome book, written and polished a perfect pitch, researched the agents attending the conference so you know whom to pitch. You’ve practiced that pitch in front of mirrors and friends and your cat/dog/ferret until Sparky could recite it back to you. You’ve got sample pages and a query and synopsis ready for anyone — fellow writers, agents, editors, your waiter at dinner — who asks. You are Ready.

Being Ready is good. Being Ready shows you’re a professional. But sometimes Ready can cross over into pushy or overbearing. When interacting with agents and editors I like to keep the following in mind.

1. If an agent or editor asks what your book is about, feel free to tell them. But don’t make every conversation about yourself or your book. Agents are working during the conference, and some of them may see the downtime of meals or breaks between sessions as just that — breaks. If you’re forcing them to listen to a pitch, you’re making them work during their break. And please, please, please, don’t try to pitch to someone in the bathroom, or slide a manuscript under their hotel door. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen. No, the agent was not impressed.)

2. Agents love books as much as writers do. If you find yourself in a mingling situation with no idea what to say (as I often do), ask them what they’re reading. What are their favorite books they’ve read this year? You may find yourself in a heated Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin debate with a new friend. Conversations like these will also give you an idea of what the agent’s tastes are, should you decide to query them after the conference.

3. If you’re getting your work critiqued, come ready to listen. Critiques sting, and I know it can be tempting to defend your work when an element of it doesn’t resonate with a reader. Resist the urge. Listen, and take notes. When the critique is over, thank the agent/editor/other writers for their feedback. You don’t have to agree with all — or even any — of their comments. (Though if you hear the same thing from several people, you should probably re-examine that part of the piece.) You also don’t have to go home and edit right away. Take the time you need to absorb, decompose, and detach. Remember, a critique of your work is not a critique of you as a person or your skill as a writer. It’s a critique of this piece, and only this piece.

4. If an agent listens to your pitch and says your book isn’t for them, ask them if they would mind giving you feedback on your pitch/query. (If there’s time. Depending on the conference, you may or may not have time for some feedback or conversation built into your pitch session.) Again, resist the urge to defend your work during the critique. Be polite, and thank the agent for their time.

5. Remember, agents are people, too! It may seem scary at first to approach an agent or editor, but that agent or editor may be just as intimidated by all the authors in the room. If anyone — writer, agent, editor, volunteer — looks lost/overwhelmed, introduce yourself and ask how their conference is going. It would be great to meet your agent at a conference, but it’s equally great to meet a new friend at one.

Have I missed anything you’d add to this? Will any of you be at Midwest Writers Workshop? If so, I’ll see you there!

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?

Inspiration

I went to the Public Library Association (PLA) conference last Friday, and it was exactly what I needed to re-energize my library career. I’d been discouraged by a string of low-attended programs, but the combination of a very successful one on memoir writing and the awesome ideas I got from other librarians at PLA has me excited to try new things again. No matter what your career, I highly recommend attending conferences in your field if you’re able. There’s nothing more refreshing than meeting with a bunch of other people who understand what you do every day, who can relate to your struggles and offer advice, and who can spark new ideas during sessions or impromptu conversations.

Thomas Edison quote. Something that struck me as applicable to both my library and writing careers was a talk on failure by Megan McArdle. “Don’t be afraid to suck,” she urged, explaining that failure is part of the process that leads to success. When we admire the bestselling author or successful library director, we often see only their amazing novel or the one innovation that revitalized their library as a community center. What we don’t see are the twelve novels that writer slaved over before she even signed with a publishing company, or the eight outreach initiatives that didn’t work at that library. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is not that the first group hasn’t failed, but rather that they have failed more, and failed better. Failure isn’t fun, but it’s still an opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working and adjust accordingly. So, whatever your aspirations, I encourage all of you to get out there and fail brilliantly.

Map.

Photo by flickr user hugovk.

At lunch, John Green talked about how public librarians don’t give up on anyone. To paraphrase, we encourage the rich, the poor, the professors, the high school drop-outs, the marginalized, the young, the old — everyone — to come in and explore new ideas. Just as you can’t plan a trip to a place that isn’t on your map, you can’t try to build a robotic arm for someone with a 3D printer until you know 3D printers exist. Libraries and librarians help people add to their “maps,” so they can know and be a part of more of the world. Of course, John Green said this much more eloquently than I ever could. Seriously, even his answers during the Q&A were so quotable I wanted to write them all down.

I could go into detail about all the programs I want to try, the new ways I plan to experiment with reader’s advisory on the library’s social media pages, but those are topics for another post. For now, I’ll leave you with a challenge to try something you’ve been meaning to do without worrying about failure. Whether it’s a new program at your library, a new genre you’ve never written, or a new cupcake recipe, give it a shot. If you fail, that’s one more thing you know won’t work, and one more place you can add to your personal “map.” And if you succeed, you’ll have something amazing to share.