A while back, I wrote about attending a conference as an introvert, and how misguided “outsiders looking in” feelings can sometimes hold us back from getting the most value from an event. The reality is that published or unpublished, agent or editor, we attend conferences for the same reason: to grow, network, and learn. Writing is our passion, and we are a community. We help each other and succeed together.
Column by Angela Ackerman, writing coach, international speaker,
and co-author of the bestselling book, THE EMOTION THESAURUS,
as well as four others, including the newly minted URBAN SETTING
and RURAL SETTING THESAURUS duo. Her books are available in
five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists,
screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also
the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as
One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers
elevate their storytelling.
So when we (especially us introverts!) grow anxious about fitting in and looking like we belong at a conference, the best thing we can do is take a breath. Why? Because in reality, most of the people around us feel exactly as we do. The conference setting, with hundreds of writers and industry professionals, can be daunting. Many feel out of their element. Even presenters who appear to have it all together may be wearing a mask out of necessity, not because they feel supremely confident.
To read more about shedding fears in the conference setting, sneak over to my last post. Today we’ll look at three conference “biggies” and how introverts can maximize the value they get from each by thinking more like extroverts.
Workshops and Presentations
A difficult part of conferencing is that we can only be in one place at one time, so we need to choose sessions carefully. Sometimes it’s tempting to go to a presentation just to hear a favorite author speak, even though the topic isn’t what we’re interested in. Or we choose the same sessions our writer friends are attending so we aren’t alone.
Resist the urge to do what is easy and instead, put your personal well of knowledge first. What area of writing focus is your biggest struggle? Which sessions will help you grow as a writer? Attend these. You can always meet that favorite author at a conference social event later, right?
TIP: If you’re conferencing with friends, divide and conquer. Attend the sessions you each wish to, and take notes to share. Then, discuss your notes over coffee or a meal so you relay what you learned while it’s still fresh.
Pitches are a terrific opportunity to make yourself and your book memorable to an agent or editor, but they can be nerve-wracking. Because many writers find pitching outside their comfort zone, they choose to memorize a pitch, deliver it, and then escape. But if you’ve been given ten minutes to pitch, a get in and get out mentality is wasting an opportunity to learn.
Try looking at your pitch session as a 10 minute meeting (which contains a pitch) instead. This way, you won’t be tempted to rush and can craft your pitch well, highlighting what makes your book special and unique (and thus different from other books like it). Plus, when you deliver it, you can do it more conversationally, rather than racing through a bloodless, memorized report.
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A “10 minute meeting” mindset will encourage you to use the time well. Prepare for your meeting in advance by investigating your audience (the agent or editor across from you). First, your should be sure your book lines up with their interests (you researched, right?) Also, if you follow their blog, love a book they represent, or attended a panel of theirs, letting them know this can set the tone for your meeting, and make them more receptive to your pitch.
Once your pitch is over, use remaining time to ask questions—find out the agent or editor’s wish list and pick their brain about the industry.
TIP: Take advantage of the many social media pitch sessions and contests as mentorship and peer feedback will help you craft the perfect pitch. You can then practice until you are comfortable with the words and it doesn’t feel rehearsed. This way your energy and enthusiasm for the book comes through, not your nerves.
One of the most valuable aspects of any conference is the ability to meet new people. Yet, because we feel shy, we may end up spending all our time with writers we know. Or, after a long day of sessions, we decide to hole up in our room rather than head down to a mixer and socialize.
Published or not, making connections and creating relationships as a writer is important. Conferences are a great way to build your platform, so be open-minded and open-hearted. Talk to people. Get to know them. Relationships are about giving and receiving, so think about what you can add, and how you can help others. You never know what may grow of one, either. Sometimes a new friend will become an influencer (someone who has the same audience as you and is influential among this group, or, they are connected in a way that may end up helping you.)
Influencers don’t come with a neon sign, which is why at conferences you shouldn’t only try and build relationships with people you perceive to be popular or well-connected. That writer who you traded business cards with so you can help each other with query letters might end up with a 3-book deal down the road and become highly influential with your shared audience. Wouldn’t it be great if she helped you find readers too? Or, that conference volunteer who you ate lunch with might end up being an organizer at a future event. What if he invited you to speak because you two got along so well? Bottom line, you never know who will become an influencer.
TIP: The more you interact and build relationships, the more your own sphere of influence grows. You will also become an influencer yourself, meaning more opportunities will come your way. (I have experienced this first hand!) You never know what will come of a relationship, so use conferences to get to know people. The beauty of social media is that after the conference is over, relationships we start can continue to flourish.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- May 20, 2017: Get Published in San Diego (San Diego, CA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- Agent Spotlight: Rena Rossner (The Deborah Harris Agency) seeks Children's, Fiction, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy.
- How I Got My Literary Agent: Elizabeth Blackwell (Fiction, Fantasy).
- 3 Ways Military Service Has Made Me A Better Writer.
- 6 Steps To Seeing Your Book Published.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.