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.