Using Conferences to Your Querying Advantage

Conferences can be great places to learn, but let’s face it, when you’re unagented and have a completed manuscript, your main agenda may not be the workshops. I’ve attended several conferences, both as a pre-published writer and a published one. The truth is, my main goal has remained the same: Networking.

Denise is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Kathryn won.)

Denise Jaden‘s debut YA novel, Losing Faith, was released in Sept. 10 from Simon Pulse. She is, or has been, everything from a professional Polynesian dancer and fitness competitor to a mushroom farmer and church secretary. Denise’s writing has appeared  in Mississippi Crow Magazine (Spring, 2008) and The Greensilk Journal. She lives just outside Vancouver, Canada. See her website here.

Don’t get me wrong, I love learning, and always come home from conferences with my writing-tools arsenal filled a little fuller. But I met my editor at a conference, and I can quite honestly say that she probably would not be my editor if I hadn’t. You see, my editor was a senior editor when she made an offer on my book (she’s recently been promoted to executive editor), and since my agent was the new girl on the block at the time, she had targeted my manuscript mainly to either junior editors or editors one of us had been in contact with. My agent likely would not have targeted a senior editor at Simon Pulse if I had not had prior contact with her.

So I’m a big believer in networking at writing conferences. I’ve compiled a list of helpful hints that may be useful at your next event.

Show up like you mean business. Get to the conference early enough to get the lay of the land. Dress appropriately and memorably, so when you meet someone in the morning, you won’t have to re-introduce yourself in the afternoon.

Meet as many people as possible.Whether you’re at lunch or in a long line up waiting for a pitch appointment, there’s almost always someone nearby to chat with. You never know who you will meet. I’ve met people in line who I’ve stayed friends with online for years, people who are supporting me now that I have a book coming out, people who have recommended me to their agents. I’ve met agents at lunch and editors in the hallways. Be nice and friendly wherever you go, and you’ll end up with a whole new list of friends and contacts and Tweeps that you’ll be thankful for in the future.

Know the schedule ahead of time. Figure out which agents and editors work with your genre and make it your goal to say hello to each one of them over the course of the conference. If your conference offers pitch appointments, do your best to book as many as possible—stop by the appointment desk and see if there have been cancelations. Each time you talk about your book, you’ll be a little better and more relaxed about it. But if you can’t get an appointment with one of your prospective agents or editors, don’t sigh and give up. Make a point of finding out what they look like and saying hello. You don’t have to come across as a stalker to do this. Be kind and polite. Tell them how much you wish you could have gotten an appointment with them, but unfortunately they were all booked up. Then ask if they’d mind if you just share a thirty-second pitch about your book to see if it interests them. Most will say yes. And if you actually keep it to thirty seconds, they will appreciate you for it, probably glance at your name badge, and remember you with a smile on their face. Pitch your manuscript to ALL of the appropriate agents and editors, but only give manuscript pages to the agents, and only if they ask.

Now that you have all of your new contacts, make notes about each one of them. If you have their business card, write everything you can remember about that person on the back, because believe me, by the time you get home, it will all start to blend together.

When you get home, follow all the new people you met—authors, agents, and editors—on Twitter. Become friends with all the authors you met on Facebook—write them a little personal note so they remember you. Prepare an appropriate submission (i.e. exactly what they asked for) for each agent who wanted to see your writing. Don’t send it out until two weeks after the conference, when conference submissions have hopefully slowed down. Now this part is important! Don’t send anything to interested editors. Yes, that’s exactly what I said. No matter how excited you are, no matter how excited the editors seemed, and no matter how big the publishing house, if it is your intention to get yourself an agent, focus on that first. In each of the cover letters and queries you’re preparing to send out to agents, add in a paragraph at the top that says something like this: “I just arrived home from such-and-such conference where I met several editors who are interested in NAME OF MANUSCRIPT.” Don’t leave it at that – give them some specific names, and if any editor specifically requested a partial or full of the manuscript, make sure to mention that too. At this point, use the editor interest as ammunition to get your book read quickly by agents. You can always send to the editors later if you decide to.

Where do I get all this advice from, you may ask? This is exactly what I did, first of all, to find an agent, and as I mentioned, this whole process also helped in eventually selling my book. So if you can swing it, attend at least one conference per year, be prepared, and get out there and meet some new people! I promise, you won’t regret it! Denise is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Kathryn won.)


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20 thoughts on “Using Conferences to Your Querying Advantage

  1. Wendy

    I missed this when it came out, but wanted to thank you for the great post. I am attending a conference, completed ms in hand, in June and this was perfect info at the perfect time (how often does that happen!). Happy writing!

  2. Valerie Norris

    I just read the opening of your novel on Amazon. So good! Can’t wait to read the entire book.

    I hadn’t thought of "holding back" on interested editors to try to spark the interest of an agent. Great tip!

  3. Jill

    Thanks for the great tips — I’m saving up for a conference this summer/fall. I’m sure to use some of these (esp. the making notes on the back of the biz cards– that’s a good one!)
    Thanks again!

  4. Davalynn Spencer


    Wow – thank you for some great how-to tips. You’ve narrowed the focus for conference attendees, and that’s exactly what we need. There is so much going on at a conference that it’s nearly an overkill situation. From what you’ve shared I picked an important strategy: Agent is the horse; editor is the cart. Feed those scrumptious manuscript pages only to agents – the hungry ones. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.


  5. Christina

    Some writing conferences can be pretty expensive and aren’t often held close enough for me to attend. In response to that comment you left above, if you were to look for writers groups, where would you find them?

  6. Kathryn J. Bain

    Great information.

    I always think of it as being a business, whether I am attending a conference or writing a letter. I am always amazed by how unprofessional unpublished writers are. I’ve heard them walk up to an editor they’ve never met before and call her by her first name. I find this appalling. How do you know Patricia isn’t called "Pat" instead. I always use Ms. or Mr., never the first name unless they ask me to.

  7. Denise Jaden

    Kristen – networking is good no matter how you manage it. If you can’t get to a conference, attend local writers groups, show up at book signings and chat with other authors, anything you can find in your area that is cheap and/or free. I admit, I had never been to an author’s book signing before I had sold a book, but if I had known then what I know now, I would have made it to as many as possible. Besides having the opportunity to ask for advice and chitchat about craft, once you get published, it’s really nice to already have connections to ask for blurbs from and such.

    Hope that helps!

  8. Sharon Mayhew

    Great tips! Something I do at conferences is make notes, so I don’t forget about the conversations I had with people. Then I keep them in a file. They can come in handy when you start querying or for keeping in touch conversations….

    Best wishes on your book, Denise!


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