How to Avoid 10 Common Conference Mistakes That Most Writers Make

Posted in Book Publicity on January 12th, 2012 by admin


Written by: Brian A. Klems

Writers drop precious money—not to mention writing time—on conferences every year, which makes it doubly disturbing that so many of us fall prey to innocent mistakes that can keep us from getting the most out of them. So we asked 10 conference organizers to share the pitfalls they most often see writers tumbling into—and how to avoid them.

“All too often writers don’t use common sense when approaching editors and agents. Some of the errors I’ve seen include following an editor into the restroom and requesting an interview, or approaching an editor or agent who is talking with just one other person. The best way is to approach them when they are not in a session or what seems to be a private conversation. I recommend a social setting or after a conference panel or workshop. Ask if they have time to meet with you. Offer to buy the editor or agent something to drink, then find a place where you can talk briefly without interruption.”
—Candy Moulton, Western Writers of America
(Bismarck, N.D.,

“Don’t come to the conference with an attitude. We’ve seen some writers who seem to feel that the conference is slanted against them. They think others have access to an inside track that’s closed to them, when in reality everyone is treated alike and any limited resources are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, when meeting with an agent for a consult, do not expect a complete critique of your work. Understand that this is an opportunity for you to present your pitch, and that if the agent finds it interesting, he or she will ask you to send more of your work for review.”
—Jan Whitaker, Write Angles
(South Hadley, Mass.,

“Some writers don’t plan ahead. … Match what you want with what is offered by talking to the teachers ahead of time and seeing what is being taught. Conferences have websites and brochures, so basic information is available well ahead of time. A call to the conference organizer is an easy way to get additional information.”
—Dan Smith, Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

“Every year I ask conference attendees, ‘What genre is this?’ [and] I hear, ‘fiction.’ It’s important to appear professional and prepared: ‘My novel is a supernatural suspense set in the near future. Lisa Conner has moved into a new home in upstate New York. It appears she didn’t move in alone. During her trials, Lisa will face a past she wants to forget, a present she doesn’t trust and a future she can’t imagine. The book runs 90,000 words, is written in third person. …’”
—Alton Gansky, Blue Ridge Moun-tains Christian Writers Conference
(near Asheville, N.C.,

“Sometimes writers arrive in short sleeves and sandals, without a jacket or sweater. They shiver in the air conditioning, which can get really cold when you’re sitting all day. Conference attendees should always layer so they can be comfortable enough to concentrate on the speakers’ messages. Also, I’ve seen people set down their conference tote bag and, because they all look alike, someone inadvertently picks up the wrong bag—and there go all your carefully recorded notes. Tie a piece of ribbon or attach a silk flower or your favorite sports team logo to the handle, and your bag becomes instantly recognizable.”
—Donna Meredith, The Tallahassee Book Festival and Writers Conference

“You need to find the agent who is a perfect fit. … Pitching a fantasy manuscript to an agent who works primarily with literary fiction will not bring a writer any closer to publication. Conferences supply speaker bios for a reason. Read them. Old interviews, blogs and podcasts featuring these agents are often readily available online, and agency websites are full of useful information. Writing a book takes dedication, time and thorough research. Choosing the right agent to query or pitch should require the
same consideration.”
—Kris Spisak, James River Writers Conference
(Richmond, Va.,

“The biggest blunder for attendees is not planning ahead and bringing networking items like cards, brochures and books to trade and give away. Too often, attendees don’t interact with each other or the speakers as much as possible. … Writers attend writing conferences for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is to network with editors, agents and fellow writers. Having a card and/or brochure is just one way to build a network of contacts and supporters for your writing.”
—Margaret Walters, Red Clay Writers Conference
(Kennesaw, Ga.,

“You never know who you might meet in line for coffee or while taking a break in the lobby. If you spend all of your time with your [friends], you miss out on a lot of interesting conversations and connections. The best strategy is to challenge yourself to sit down to meals alone, strike up conversations with neighbors while waiting for sessions to begin [and] be open to meeting new people. Catch up with friends after the event is over. …”
—Stephanie Chandler, Nonfiction Writers Conference
(virtual event,

“A lot of writers fail to follow up with editors and agents in a timely manner.  … Writers might wait six months after the conference to get back to an editor on an idea, which is much too long. If you get positive feedback, you should follow up about two weeks after the conference. Don’t call just to chat—have a query in mind, maybe something you discussed at the conference.”
—Maren Rudolph, Travel Classics Writers Conferences
(various locations.

“There are always a few [writers] who use other writers to make themselves feel better by bragging or, worse, by deliberately diminishing the work [of] other people. The second you are feeling belittled, insecure, envious—immediately exit that conversation. Surround yourself only with people whom you find to be genuinely supportive and empathic. ‘We are all in this boat together. How can we support one another?’ should be the motto of everyone at the conference. You want to leave the conference feeling inspired.   … You have control over this!”
—Susan Page, San Miguel Writers’ Conference

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