Sunday, March 20, 2011

Conferencing 101: An Introduction

It can be said that everyone interested in being published should attend writers' conferences. However, conferences are expensive, and, when a person is starting out, conference attendance may seem very much out of reach financially.

The biggest expense is getting there, and airfares aren't getting any cheaper. I think exposure is worth the expense if the cost factor is low enough, I'd suggest that anyone who wants to gain knowledge of the craft should try to attend at least one conference a year and to do so in the least expensive way possible.

The best possible way to save on travel expenses is to find conferences within driving distance from where you live—the closer the better. The base cost of attending conferences is a bargain when compared with what's gained. What boosts expenditure is airfare, lodging, and food. These items rolled into the price can run attendance costs up to over a thousand dollars, which, in my opinion, skews the ratio of the conference cost to knowledge gained into the negative.

I've already mentioned knowledge, and much knowledge can be gained attending conference classes conducted by industry professionals. Most conferences have so many classes going on at the same time that there is no way a person can attend them all, so an attendee must use logic to get the most out of his or her conference. The best way to do this is to assess your present knowledge base.

In other words, are you a beginning author, somewhere in the middle of your first project, or do you have a project, or projects completed and are working on a second, or even a third? The answer to this question will help you know which classes might be more productive. Craft classes should be those attended by the beginner or someone who is well into CRAFTING his or her novel; whereas, how to pitch, how to query or how to approach an agent workshops would be for those who have a completed project.

One item to always remember when attending any class is that when the class is over, always make contact with the person who presented. Contacts in this business are vitally important, so always introduce yourself to anyone who looks important. In addition, it never hurts to have some business cards made up to exchange.

Pitching is something that seems to give most writers hours of heartburn. Telling someone about your novel or book can be difficult, especially if you aren't really sure what you've written. That might sound stupid. Of course, you know what you've written, don't you? Or do you? To test this, try to explain what you've written in a couple of minutes. If you really have a handle on what your book is about, it shouldn't take long to give anyone a general overview of your story.

When working on this, limit yourself to two minutes maximum. The reason I bring this up is because I've been pitched to by a few thousand writers and less than 1% were able to tell me, concisely, what they'd written. Most are not finished when their ten minute pitch time concludes. Most try to take me through the entire plot, one chapter at a time, so they are still talking when their pitch time ends. You actually only have about eight minutes to pitch your book and yourself, and it goes by very quickly. Pitch your book in two minutes and spend the rest of the interview time asking questions about things like how long the agent has been in business, how many clients does s/he represent, who would the agent send my work to should s/he chose to represent it, etc.

You don't have to attend conferences to get published, but for some writers, that's where they'll make the connections or discover the craft tools that will lead them to the publishing career they seek. Do as much research as you can before you decide if a conference is right for you and your career.