Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conference Etiquette from Vonda Skelton

Today I’m finishing up my series on attending a writers conference with a great post from my writing and critique partner—Vonda Skelton. She originally posted this on her blog in 2009. Read the original here. She offers great advice on how to be a gracious addition to any conference!

Vonda Skelton is a national speaker, freelance writer, and the author of four books, including Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries for kids. She is the owner of The Christian Writer’s Den Writing Blog, She and Gary have been married 41 years—and they’re still happy about it! 

Conference Etiquette
Here are some suggestions on how to be a gracious receiver of an editor's or agent's or other faculty member's time and input:
  1. Seriously pray about and consider who you should meet in faculty appointments. Don't just take an appointment because there's an opening. I did that the first year. Signed up to talk to just about everybody-even if I had no intention of ever writing what they'd be interested in! Wasted my time and theirs.
  2. Be on time for your faculty appointments and be considerate when the faculty member says the time is up. I think most instructors are like me and try to stay on schedule in fairness to all those with appointments.
  3. Listen more than you talk. Like many others, I tend to talk too much when I'm nervous. And before I learned this lesson, the less I knew, the more I talked! The best use of your time is to make a short introduction, tell a little about your experience, ask a sensible question, and then listen. Don't plan your next question while the person is answering the one you just asked. Really listen. Take notes if necessary. Follow up with other questions as time allows.
  4. If you're getting a critique, don't defend every point the critiquer makes. If you do, you're wasting valuable time you could be using to learn. Of course, you may have questions you need answered for clarification, but don't argue or rationalize every point. Sincere questions are one thing, continually being on the defensive is another.
  5. Realize that instructors will most likely be unable to take your manuscript home from the conference. Remember, you're one person. Multiply that by 300-400 students. If they are interested, they'll give you instructions for sending it to them.
  6. Faculty members love to eat with students, answering questions and giving encouragement. But don't hog the conversation at meals. Occasionally there are those who dominate the conversation, treating the opportunity as one-on-one time.  Not good.
  7. One more thing about meals with faculty: It's really nice when they can get a bite or two of food in.
  8. Be considerate: Don't shove your manuscript in their faces in the restroom. Don't interrupt a conversation or break in line to speak to someone.  Don't bad mouth one instructor to another. ;-)
  9. And a common courtesy that's often missing in our culture today: thank you notes. Handwritten ones are especially nice, but email ones are certainly acceptable. I cringe every time I think of those kind people who invested in me...and yet, I never even wrote a thank you note. Sadly, that wasn't something that I was taught as a child, and I didn't even take such notes seriously until someone mentioned it regarding conferences. Now I try to write notes to everyone who does a kindness to me. Sometimes I forget, but it is something I want to do. They've invested time in me. The least I can do is invest time to write a note.

So there you have it--suggestions on how to present yourself as a professional writer, as well as a kind, considerate person. ;-)

Now it's your turn - have you witnessed any crazy behavior at a writers conference? Have you seen anyone go above and beyond at a conference? I want to hear your stories.

And don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. Getting excited about seeing you Vonda and Edie, too.

  2. Loved all the advice, Vonda.
    One crazy thing I experienced at a conference:
    During a mealtime where everyone at the table was encouraged to talk about their WIP with the agent, the person sitting next to me pitched their project by dissing mine. (I had talked about my book idea right before they did.)
    I was shocked--and, quite honestly, a bit hurt.
    There's no need to try to make your project look better by talking badly about someone else's. Ever.

  3. Thank you for the great advice, Vonda!

  4. Great advice and wisdom. Thank you.

  5. Thank y'all for your kind comments! Beth, I can't imagine someone doing that...and yet, I did some pretty awful thing when I started out. I hope this post will help other newbies avoid some of the mistakes I made!
    Looking forward to seeing you again, Lisa!