Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How To Navigate a Writing Conference (Part 1)

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

A writers conference is an opportune time to talk with editors, publishers, agents, and authors. Understandably, many writers feel nervous about discussing their ideas and work-in-progress with these industry experts. But with some strategic preparation, you can have a productive face-to-face meeting.

Do research beforehand so you know what an editor is looking for. This important information is conveniently available on the conference website. Editor of the Christian Communicator, andAdvanced Christian WriterLin Johnson said, “Don’t propose a topic that doesn’t fit the publisher. Doing so tells me you haven’t studied my magazine or newsletter and don’t know who the readers are. It’s a guaranteed rejection. Also don’t propose a word length that contradicts what the writers guidelines say. I’ll automatically know you didn’t take time to read them, so why should I take time to read your manuscript?”

Be efficient and effective in the short time you have. Prepare a one sheet that you can hand to the editor. This single-sided, typed list quickly provides the editor with your contact information, elevator speech (one sentence description), audience you are writing for, word count, and a date when the manuscript will be complete. Bring several copies of your one sheet so you can leave a copy if an editor requests that you do this. A second author bio sheet can bullet your background and experience that makes you the best one to write this project. 

Tips When Meeting Publishing Professionals 
1. Be professional. Be courteous of the time. If you signed up for a 15-minute appointment to meet with an editor, publisher, agent, or author, arrive a few minutes early, wait patiently for your turn, and finish up on time. If you arrive late and overstay your appointment, this can reflect a lack of discipline for those all-important deadlines (cross the line and your career is dead). Remember, in our industry if you cross the line, those who counted on you will be reluctant to work with you again.

2. Smile and shake hands as you introduce yourself at the beginning of your appointment. Arrive in clean and professional attire – not a tux but certainly not your gardening clothes either. Check your teeth to be certain a poppy seed is not lodged between your front teeth, and kindly have pleasant breath. Introduce your project in two or three sentences. “My novel is about a judge who is asked to preside over a murder case he himself committed,” (example from the renown Jerry Jenkins). Leave a business card with your photo.

3. Make a good first impression. What not to say is every bit as important as what to say. Statements that do not make friends and influence editors include: 
  • “The Lord told me your company is the one to publish my book.” 
  • “God gave me this.” 
  • “It’s an instant bestseller.” 
  • “I watched all the Lord of the Ringsmovies so I know this story will sell.”
  • “This is the next Left Behindseries.”
  • “This is the Christian version of Harry Potter (or Twilight).”
  • “I can see this as a feature film starring Cindy Crawford and Brad Pitt.”
  • “My mom (spouse, children, critique group, pet parrot, Aunt Tillie) love this so I know you will too.”

Have integrity. Avoid saying ,“Bob Hostetler (or other industry favorite) read my manuscript and thought it was wonderful,” when, in fact, he said the project had potential but still needed a lot of copyediting and revision work. 

A manuscript that is not industry standard screams ‘novice who has not done their homework.’ In addition to your one sheet, bring a complete proposal with three sample chapters. Present a single-sided, double-spaced manuscript in 12-point Times Roman – clean of stains from coffee, chocolate, and Cheetos. Leave a one-inch margin on each side. In the header, include the title on the left side and the author’s name on the right. Page numbers centered in the footer. 

Editors and agents typically can tell within the first couple paragraphs if a project interests them. One who is not interested in your initial idea may be interested in another one of your projects. Or not. Common questions an editor asks include:
  • Do you have a social media platform?
  • Who will read your book?
  • Is there a need for this book?
  • What makes you the best person to write this?
  • Do you have publishing experience?
  • How will you market this project?
  • What is the length of the work and when will the manuscript be complete?
  • What titles are already on the market in this topic?

Long time editor at Harvest House, Nick Harrison said, “Whenever I see in a proposal or in a query letter, ‘there’s nothing else like this on the market,’ I cringe. First of all, if there’s truly nothing else like it out there, there’s probably a good reason – like no one is interested in that topic. Secondly, there often issomething else out there but the author is simply showing his or her ignorance by not being aware of the competing books on that topic.”

Due to conference time constraints, appointments are scheduled during workshops. Quietly slip out for your meeting and feel free to return during the session. The conference is usually being recorded to allow you to catch up on material you missed while meeting with an editor.

If the person you want to meet with already has a full schedule, look to sit with them at a meal or talk during a break. Do not slide your manuscript to an editor under the bathroom stall. Yes, goofy rules are in place because someone actually did. #tacky

Have fun. Breathe. Editors, publishers, agents, and authors are people like you who rotate their tires, and appreciate humor and authenticity. An editor that says a project is not a fit for their publishing house is not calling your baby ‘ugly.’ This is business and not personal. The goal is to learn from the feedback you receive and to connect your writing with publishers who share the same vision. Be open and teachable. That’s why you are here, after all.

Typically, an editor that is interested in your idea will give you a business card and ask that you email the query or proposal. Score!

How to Navigate a #Writing Conference (part 1) - from @PeggySueWells on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tips for navigating a #writing conference from author @PeggySueWells on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Don't Miss the Rest of the Posts in This Series:
How to Navigate a Writing Conference, part 1
After the Conference: How to Navigate a Writing Conference, part 2
How to Navigate a Writing Conference: Make Friends & Influence Editors

Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of twenty-eight books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise. Optimistic dream-driver, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing, and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and Twitter @PeggySueWells. 


  1. Thanks Ms. Peggy Sue. Great tips ma'am. For me, it's important to also now our "pet idea" can sometimes be an "ugly baby" to others. We need to be prepared to hear that. Accept others' comments with grace and prayerfully find the take-away from each conversation.

  2. Great advice, Peggie Sue. Love the idea of handling a one page sheet with your project's information.

  3. Good advice. Wish i was scheduled to attend one... especially a Christian Conference on Writing.