Monday, October 31, 2011

Conference 101: Working the Room

So, there you are. You've found the hotel, your room, your conference check-in packet, your name tag, and the bar.

Especially if you haven't come with a writing group or friends, fear of making connections can really hamstring your conference experience. But now that you know, based on our last post, what you're there for (and what you're NOT there for) at a conference, you can rest a little easier.

In approaching anyone at a conference, first and foremost, read nametags. They will give you not only the person's name, but also what category they fall in--are they an agent or an editor, for instance. Just this simple info-gathering tactic will protect you from a lot of foot-in-mouth moments. There are three types at a conference:

Editors are likely at the conference to network with agents--to find out what agented projects are in the pipeline--than to sign content straight from the author (not that that couldn't happen!). So don't pitch an editor unless you're sitting in a pitch session...and even then know that they're ultimately gonna want an agent involved before they really commit to anything. If you're agented and you ask an editor about your project that your agent sent to them...your agent will kill you. Outside of pitch sessions, stay on more general topics like pop culture or favorite books that have come out (the better if it's the editor's!!).

Agents are definitely at the conference to network with editors, but we're also interested in connecting directly with authors and their writing.
That being said, we'd definitely rather chat with you in the bar about pop culture or clients' books or the publishing industry than your personal projects. It's just not cool to be put on the spot when everyone is there to hang out. If we're not in a pitch session or a panel, we're off the clock. We just want to meet you, cocktail party style, not be interviewed. STAY AWAY FROM PITCHING unless you're in a pitch session. Period.

Other Authors
Ah, authors. Your kind. Around your fellow author folk, you can let down your hair and talk writing. Talk about your project, your hang-ups, your frustrations (be careful, though, about naming names...particularly if the frustrating agent/editor is there!). Writing is probably the most productive topic you can talk about with your other writers. A major goal of conferences should be to walk out with some Beta Readers. Only way to do that is to find other writers who write and read your genre. So open up!

There's always a feeling that you have to connect with editors and agents at a conference--that you're going in order to circumvent those cumbersome mechanisms that the peons have to go through: queries, submissions, waiting. You've got a direct line to pitch the crap out of your book, right!? Well, yes and no. 

You should never, never pitch an editor or agent unless you're in a pitch session...or they literally say "I'd really love to hear about a such-and-such project RIGHT NOW!" And you're writing that! And it's ready! And you're agented.

When you do pitch an agent or editor, you're probably going to get requests. Not only is it just hard to say no right to someone's face, but it's also just better safe than sorry! Even if you don't get a bunch of business cards, you're guaranteed to walk out of there with a lot more insight into the industry and your pitch is gonna be improved. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conference 101: Know Before You Go

Prior to a writer's conference, it's natural to feel overwhelmed. Most authors go to conferences with a sense of "Do-or-Die": pitch your heart out and get signed or...well...something terrible will happen. There's a sense that there are people at a conference that could make or break your writer self and the pressure is immense.

I encourage you to take a different, more laid-back approach to conferences. Here's the number one reason why:
Agents and editors don't go to a conference specifically to find new clients.

It's true. Here's why. There are other, better mechanisms in place for finding new clients. For agents, that's the query. It gives an agent time to read your pages, Google you, etc. Get a full picture of the project and of the client. For editors, it's the agent. There's a reason that most houses don't accept unsolicited manuscripts, and being at a conference doesn't mean you'll jump that policy.

The mechanisms already in place for connecting authors, agents, and editors actually benefit the author, too, by providing you a way to pitch your work in the format you're comfortable in: writing. True, some of you are as comfortable speaking about your work, but for the most part people find verbally pitching a book really, really hard. It's not an ideal way to present your work (more on this later).

So go to your conference more focused on networking than getting signed (which will for-sure not happen to you at the conference). Get to know agents and editors, exchanging Twitter handles, finding other writers that might for critique groups for you.

Go to the conference armed with the following research, and you'll be well-prepared to network:
  • Check out the photos of the various faculty at the conference. This is so you can say Hi with confidence if you find yourself in an elevator with them.
  • Find the agents and editors that will be at the conference on Twitter and follow them.
  • Have a book in mind that each editor worked on, that you would like to talk to them about--a list of books might be in his or her bio on the conference website, or you can find it on Publisher's Marketplace if you're a member.
  • Pick a client whose work you like from each agent's list and do some research on that author and his or her books. If you can't find a client you like, that's probably not the agent you want to be chatting up.
  • Take a look at blogs like Galley Cat and Media Bistro in the weeks leading up to the conference. Know what's going on in the publishing world.
  • Who are the major author guests at the conference? Take a look at their blogs and books in case you get a chance to chat.
Doing the above will ensure that you have a head start on conference conversations, and that you will come across as a well-informed publishing aspirant. If all you can talk about is yourself and your book, you're not going to get much out of the organic connections that are there to be made in a conference setting.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Getting The Most Out Of Conferences

Conference season lite has started, and there will only be more throughout the Winter and Spring, so I figured I'd do a little series on what the best practices are for a conference. For reference, I'll be attending:

Backspace Writer's Conference November 3 - 4 2011
Oklahoma Writer's Federation May 5 - 3 2012
DFW Writer's Conference May 19 & 20 2012

And I'm also going to be teaching a webinar for Writer's Digest sometime this winter. More on that soon!

For our first installment, I thought I'd start with why one even goes to a writer's conference. What's the point? Does anyone actually get signed off of a pitch session???

Well, maybe. It's hard to say whether verbal pitch sessions are really all that great for authors...more on that in subsequent posts. But conferences are excellent places to get other things accomplished: to ask industry people the questions to which you can't find answers. To talk face-to-face with people with whom you have chatted here and there on Facebook or Twitter or via email. To find Beta Readers.

Conferences are excellent resources for your writing career...even if you don't come out of it with any new insights on your craft (although I bet you do). Panels and impromptu conversations at conferences give you a better handle on the Industry as a whole, which makes you a more astute and appealing queryer to agents or a more prepared self-publishing candidate. They're also amazing networking events.

I highly recommend them!

In the next few days, we'll address how to go in to a conference well prepared, how to deal with pitch sessions, how to work the room, and how to go to panels. Any specific questions leaping out at you already?? I'll try to tailor the posts.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#AskAgent 8

It's Thursday! Ask me anything!

Questions are open from noon to 3pm EST today.

Wanna read other #AskAgents?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jumping The Gun

One of the most important skills to develop as an author, particularly an unsigned one (i.e. my favorite type of author) is patience.


It's a beautiful word. It's nigh perfect. It sort of takes a long time to say, too, which sort of fits. Am I hyperanalyzing here? Perhaps. 

But I can't explain how much better and easier your writerly career will go if you also treasure this virtue. Do your research. Give that manuscript one more week to sit, so that you can read it one more time with fresh eyes. Take care with your queries so that the list of agents is right, you have your personalization planned, and you make a good impression. If you're think about going the self-pub route, get all the information and plan out what your journey will look like.

You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Closed To Queries

You've probably heard it out in the Twitter-fueled gossip farms: I'm closing to queries starting 10/15 (yesterday). All queries received after I've closed will receive an automated response telling you what I'm telling you here: I'm closed to queries, please requery after the first of next year.

So what that means for you if:
  • You already queried in the past: your query will be responded to within four-to-six weeks of your sending it. If you believe your query should have already received a response, JUST WAIT. If you send a follow-up now you'll just get the closed auto response. If you still haven't received a response in 2012, requery then.
  • You've queried yesterday or today: if you don't get the automated message, you snuck in! Your query will get a response in four-to-six weeks. If you did get the automated message, you missed the closed date--please requery in 2012!!
  • You were planning to query in the near future: You will (I hope) requery in 2012 or someone else will snap you up in the meantime, to my eternal sadness.
  • You were planning to query in 2012: You're go! Keep polishing your query and manuscript and we'll talk soon!!

Other rules:

  • DO NOT respond to the automated response. Any replies cluttering up the inbox will make it harder to clean things out and will make it more likely that I have to extend my closed-to-queries-ness.
  • We won't hesitate to mark as spam anyone who repeatedly responds to the auto response or is in anyway abusive--expressing frustration, telling us we're missing out on the next big bestseller, etc. That means we won't read your query next year. Or ever.
  • Don't worry! I have plenty of room on my list, and that space will still be there in 2012! We'll speak then.

Closing to queries now is going to allow me to focus on client projects in the last quarter of this year. It'll also allow me to speed up response times next year. Thanks!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

#AskAgent 7

I'm late to #AskAgent because I was writing an ed letter. :) Sorry!

Questions will be open 6pm to 9pm EST this week. I'll answer manana!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Facebook as Promo

Authors are encouraged to establish an "online presence" these days, and that typically consists of some combination of a Facebook page, Twitter, and a blog (not always all three).

I think Facebook is the most difficult of those three to do well, because it takes a lot of effort to maintain the multiple types of media (photos, videos, wall posts) needed to make a Facebook page seem active, and also because it's hard to find the tipping point where your fans start engaging with your page and sharing it, which gives you viral marketing, which is where Facebook outpaces all other social media platforms.

How have you been using Facebook, if you have. What's been the best and worst part? Are there any Facebook pages that you think are really getting it right?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

#AskAgent 6

If you're enjoying these, make sure that you search #AskAgent on Twitter...or if you have general questions for the agent community, use the hashtag! It will help agents see your question on Twitter, one of the most amazingest information tools in the universe.

And now to our little #AskAgent! Questions will be open from noon until 3pm EST and they'll be answered by Friday. Anything's game, even project-specific questions. 

Be sure to read the #AskAgent Archive:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We need to talk about Beta Readers

I love the "off-the-page" opportunities afforded to books. New things are happening every day! But I never lose sight (as I hope you don't either) of the fact that books are first and foremost about writing. Writing stories.

These stories might take different forms: images, video, etc. etc. etc...but they are first of all stories. And there are some things about writing stories that will never change.

Stories have to have good pace. The characters have to feel real and deep. The tone has to fit the subject matter. The writing has to be beautiful or fantastic or funny or lively enough to pull someone all the way through your thriller.

All those things take a lot of editing. These will never ever come together all on the first go. And the one universal truth about editing is that you can't edit yourself. Just trust me. You can't!

You're too close to the writing and to the story. Meaning it all makes sense to you because you conceived it all. But how about what your readers will perceive? The only way to find out is to have readers read it.

Please, please get Beta Readers. Please get them before you query me and please listen to them. If they tell you to change something, consider it! If they tell you something and then it's corroborated, REALLY consider making the change. If nothing else, it'll be good for you to feel what it's like to change something because others perceived a flaw--something you'll be doing a lot of if you get agented and get an editor.

Don't know how to find Betas? Leave a comment with your genre and category and we'll see what we can do here for ya. Got opinions about Betas? Leave those too!

Monday, October 3, 2011

I just had the best idea for a mystery/crime novel plot

So. What if the serial killer kills his/her wife/husband and then hires our private eye main character to solve the case. THEN the serial killer kills all the suspects as the main character discovers them and presents them to the client/serial killer (I guess as client updates or something? This part is your job).


ok, that's free. Go with it!