I did it. I registered for Romance Writers of America’s Annual Conference. Yep. I’ll be in San Antonio, Texas in July. Whoop! Whether you’re planning on attending this conference or any other, you need to know eight common mistakes writers make at conferences, so you can avoid making them.
-Be cautious when approaching an agent or editor—wrong time, wrong place, wrong way: This is not to say that you shouldn’t approach agents or editors, but there’s a time and a place. The bathroom? Not such a good idea. The bar when she’s clearly talking with another person (like possibly a client)? Yeah, kinda rude. Be patient. I know you’re getting tired of hearing that word, because patience is tool required for many parts of your journey to publication. But, that’s just the way it is. The best time to approach an agent or editor is after a workshop or panel session. Ask her if she has time to meet with you, or offer to buy her a drink and make arrangements to meet later. And, hey, if you’re caught in the elevator with her, go for it. That’s what elevator pitches are for, right?
-Don’t wing it: While this can work for some people, I don’t recommend this method, or you’ll probably miss out on events or workshops that you would’ve liked to attend. Try to plan ahead as much as possibly. Look at the conference website and plan your days according to what workshop or event is offered and when. Don’t forget to allow time to peruse book signings. This is a great way to meet published authors and receive sample books. Which brings me to another point, when you pack your suitcase at home, make sure to leave some extra space for books, because you’ll probably have an armful to bring home with you. It’s not easy saying no to free books.
-Schedule time with friends: This might sound ridiculous, but I’m telling you, conferences can be overwhelming and exciting. It’s easy to lose track of who is there and how or when you can meet up. I made this mistake when I attended an RWA conference a few years back. I’d run into some of my online friends, and we’d plan on meeting up but never did. Without a set meeting time and place, it’s easy to get lost in the moment or find yourself doing something else. The next thing you know, the conference is over and you never did get around to hanging with your peeps. I’m still bummed about this.
-Watch your attitude: Lack of sleep, nerves, workshop burnout, anxiety over agent/editor meetings, feeling overwhelmed, etc., are all good reasons why people need to keep their attitude in check. We aren’t necessarily ourselves at conferences, so we need to be conscious of how we’re portraying ourselves. Do we seem negative? Overly aggressive? Jealous? Does it appear we’re not taking the workshops or conference seriously, like it’s all one big party? While you might realize there are reasons you’re acting the way you are, others won’t stop to think why you did or said what you did. They’ll simply judge you. How do you want to be remembered? Keep it professional.
-Remember it’s a small industry: You never know the full history behind the people sitting beside or near you. Never assume you’re surrounded by writers. I’ve had agents and editors sit beside me, and I had no idea until later, when someone else pointed it out. So, don’t badmouth agents, editors, or other authors, especially when strangers are around. You never know who’s listening or who they are. For all you know, the person beside you might be that author’s agent. Or maybe she’s an editor for the same publishing house you just dissed. Maybe she’s good friends with the agent you want to tell off because she hated your book. Come on, people. Play nice in the sandbox.
-Don’t just stick with your clan: While a conference is a great time to meet up with your friends, especially those you’ve never met in person, don’t stay glued to their side. Force yourself to sit with strangers and start a conversation. Network. Meet new people. Exchange business cards. And follow up with these new friends once you’re back home. Don’t lose touch with them or your networking efforts will have gone to waste.
-Prepare properly for a pitch session: If you plan on pitching to agents, be smart about it. Do your homework before you book your session. There’s no point in wasting your time or the agent’s if she doesn’t represent the genre in which you write. Some writers don’t book their pitch appointments until the last minute, then they panic when most of the slots are full and book anything they can. While it’s great to get your work in front of an agent, it’s pointless if she doesn’t represent your genre.
-Respond to requests in a timely manner: If an editor or agent shows interest in your work and asks for more, don’t wait six months to send it to her. By then, she’s no longer excited about the project and may have found something else that could replace yours, something similar but better. Don’t allow that to happen. But, you don’t necessarily have to jump to your e-mail as soon as you get back to your room and send something either. Some agents ask that you wait two weeks after the conference so they have a chance to get back into their routine before they go through submission requests. How long to wait is up to you. If the agent or editor is really excited about the project, get it to her as soon as you can. I’ve heard of agents asking the author if she had her book at the conference, because the agent couldn’t wait to read it. Other agents have read digital submissions while on their flight back. However, that doesn’t happen often, so keep your expectations in check.
Have you ever been to a writers’ conference before? Which one? What was your experience? Are you going to RWA this year?