Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prepare for a Writers Conference

Last Monday I posted a tongue in cheek Top Ten List of Reason's to Attend a Writers Conference. Then Thursday I gave you a rundown of how to Choose a Writers Conference. Today I'm going to get a little bit serious and share some of the things you may want to prepare before you go. I've written about reasons to attend a conference on this blog previously and I'll address what you'll need for two of those.

Networking is the easiest to prepare for. If you're just going to meet other writers and professionals the main thing you need is a good business card. Please take note, I said, good, NOT expensive.

These are the things a good writers business card includes:
  • Your picture - I know, I hate to have my picture taken and I always hate how it looks. But, in this business you need to be remembered and recognized and your picture is the best and easiest way to do that. If someone has a card with your picture on it, they'll remember who you are months longer than if it's just got your name. Also, it's harder to throw away a card with a picture on it than a card with just text on it.
  • The name you use when you write - if you use a psuedonym, be sure it's on the card. Here's an example (I just made up the names - they're not representative of a real person): Susie Stone, writing as Catherine Milo.
  • Your email address - this is going to be the main way others will contact you.
  • Your website or blog address - never pass up the opportunity to encourage new visitors to your sites. Also, many people will follow up on what you've told them and this will be a way for them to get to know you better.
  • Cell phone number - this isn't absolutely necessary, but it helps if your email goes down and someone has a hot lead for you.
Please take note of what is NOT included on a business card now. You do not need your physical address on the card. Actually, it's a liability. It can be dangerous to give out your home address, so if you feel you must include an address, invest in a PO Box.

It is possible to make your own business cards, using Avery brand sheets that go through your ink jet printer. The trick to successfully printing your own cards is to keep them simple! Another inexpensive way to go is by using VistaPrint. This online company is very reputable and I personally know a lot of writers who get their cards through them.

Bring some writing samples:
These are good to have simply because you'll probably find yourself in a group, or at a table, where everyone is sharing something they've written. It might not happen, but chances are, if you don't have anything to show, you'll be disappointed.

This is when you attend a conference because you have something you want to sell to a publisher or if you want to get an agent. The things below that you'll need are specifically for those wishing to sell a fiction or non-fiction book.

It's important to keep in mind that everything you prepare for the conference to pitch a project is incremental in nature.
  • Your tag line or hook should make the editor or agent ask to hear more about your project (this is the time for the elevator pitch).
  • The elevator pitch should lead them to ask for your one sheet.
  • Your one sheet or pitch sheet should lead them to ask you to send them a proposal when you get home.
  • Your proposal should lead them to ask you to send them your entire manuscript.
  • Your entire manuscript should lead them to offer you a contract.
These are the generic steps in publishing. God can step in at any time in the process and something completely different can, and often does, happen. But, until that happens, I try to take it one step at a time.

Now Let's look at what's involved in each one of these components.
  • tag line or hook - this is one sentence, preferably 15 words or less. It should NOT be a synopsis of your book, but rather it's to intrigue the editor/agent and make them want to know more.
  • elevator pitch - this should be short, around 45 seconds. It will sound a lot like back cover copy or what is on your one sheet. Again, it's to make the editor/agent ask to see more.
  • one sheet or pitch sheet - this gives the blurb about your book, information about yourself (bio) and general info, like genre and audience for your project. If it's fiction, it states that the project is finished. If it's non-fiction it gives a completion date if the project is unfinished
You won't need a full proposal or manuscript for the conference. If an editor or agent is interested they'll ask you to email or snail mail them one when you get home.

Again, as with networking, you'll need to bring some samples of your writing.

This is just a general overview of what is needed. If you have specific questions, feel free to use the contact form at the bottom of the blog and send me your question. You can also post your question in the comments section. In the next few weeks I'll address each of these components individually or in groups and give you some examples to see exactly what others have used successfully.

Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. Everything I know about preparing for a conference I learned from Edie. Great advice. Good to refresh my memory again.

    Lisa Carter
    Sweet Tea with a Slice of Murder

  2. An elevator pitch is so important--practice, practice, pratice! And so many writers don't know what a pitch sheet is. But, I think they're invaluable. I pitched my first book idea with just a pitch sheet--and ultimately landed a book contract (after following it up with a proposal, of course.)

  3. Should our tag line be on the card? If so, should it be placed under my name or elsewhere on the card? Any hints on creating a tag line? Thanks Edie!

  4. It sounds like the tag line and the elevator pitch are verbal and the pitch sheet and manuscript are written. Also sounds like they're given in that order if someone is interested in your writing. Would that be accurate?

    Seems a bit intimidating.

  5. Wow. An unbelievably helpful post. You make it all so clear. Thanks!
    I'm planning on having some cards made, and now I won't waste my time doing the wrong things.

  6. Hey Everyone!
    Lisa - you're too sweet! BTW, in the past year Lisa's signed with an agent, Tamela Hancock Murray with Hartline and her first book is being shopped right now!!!
    Beth - you are so right. Practice makes perfect, and cuts down on the stress!
    Cathy - the tag line in this post is for your specific project. Like if I'm pitching a book manuscript then I have a tagline for it. This is different from the way you brand yourself on your blog or website.
    Ellen, yes they're generally delivered in that specific order and the first two are verbal.
    I'll write more specifically on each point later in the week.

  7. Edie, Your information helps me tackle and conquer my insecurities. There is so much to learn about this business. People like you are invaluable to people like me. Thanks.

  8. Great stuff, as always!
    Quick question: You said regarding the pitch sheet, if your work is fiction, you would state that it's finished. Does this mean we need to have a book finished before we try to pitch it? Is it a bad idea to pitch the idea if it's only a WIP?

  9. Kenneth, you can pitch a book idea without finishing it, but you'll have to have it finished before you send off the proposal. The standard is you have to have it finished before anyone will buy it. But - and this is important - I have seen exceptions to this rule.

  10. Edie,

    I'm so glad this is up where I can reference it again and again!

    I have my business cards! Now, if only I can get my WIP to move along so I can learn to pitch it!

    Can't wait for BR!

  11. Thanks for the great feedback (as usual!)Should I create a tag line of some sort for my card even though my writing/poetry is pretty general right now?

  12. Cathy, I don't think you need a tagline for your business cards right now.

  13. I came prepared to my first writer's conference because of you. Your advice was my road map into unknown territory.Thank you, Edie, for showing me, any many others, the way.

  14. Preparing for a Christian Writers Conference appears in my mind as a huge Airlines Arena, Dallas, TX., w/thousands of people, sold out, and I am standing at the 'will call ticket line' waiting to see if that person that promised the tickets actually left them ...I am at the end of a 30 foot for championship about to begin...anxiety mounting...

  15. Thanks, Edie! I think I'll order my cards tonight. Hoping I can make it to BR to see "everyone" once again!

  16. Wow! Thanks so much, Edie! I'm a newbie, so this is great advice! The things I'm most nervous about are the hook and elevator pitch. I'm pretty far into my first draft and have a fairly detailed plot sequence in mind. It's funny how difficult I'm anticipating it will be to go back now and try to verbally (yikes) summarize with so many details already in my head. Nonetheless, I am determined to come prepared and, of course, the first step in getting there needed to be knowing how to do that! I have a question about a proposal for a manuscript that isn't finished: my nightmare scenario is pitching a book that I haven't completed and then not meeting the deadline. On the other hand, this would be my first book and I feel if I don't get any feedback from an agent, such as those at the conference, I'll have no idea if my premise makes sense, etc. And I'd love to know things like that before I finish my first draft. On the website, there was a mention that attendees could use their 15 minute appointments with the agents/reps to brainstorm. Is that still appropriate? And I have a long summary and detailed plot sequence, as it stands, but would love to get professional feedback on whether my plot sounds interesting, because although I'm not finished, I've already written about 50,000 words. It's embarrassing to have to ask basic questions like this, but thank you for being open to it. The thought of approaching the reps as if I already know everything a professional would, when I'm not yet a professional...Thanks again, Edie. I look forward to meeting you at the conference.