Friday, November 19, 2010

Six Tips for Getting the Most Out of Conferences

By Barbra Annino

Attending a writer’s conference can literally change your life. You could walk away with a new friend, a new opportunity – or even a new career.

I try to attend at least a couple of conferences each year. Here’s my schedule for 2011:

• Love is Murder, Chicago, February
• Printer’s Row, Chicago, June
• Bouchercon, St. Louis, October

My first conference of the year, Love is Murder, is aimed at writers and readers of mysteries and thrillers, but there are also horror and romance elements – and even non-fiction authors whose books crime writers depend on.

In previous years, I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Lee Child, Barry Eisler, Tess Gerritsen, Carolyn Haines, J.A. Konrath, and Tom Schreck. A couple of those connections branched into opportunities.

My first year at this conference, I attended a pitch session where I met a publisher who enjoyed my work and invited me to participate in an anthology. That led to more connections.

Which brings me to the meat of the matter: How can you get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to conferences?

1. Find a conference in your genre.

This is a rule I stick to – although there are some great cross-genre conferences, like the ones the Romance Writers of America (RWA) puts on.

For the most part, for a mystery writer, attending a mystery conference means you’ll meet agents, editors and writers from that genre. You’ll learn from them – and you can build some career bridges.

2. Be prepared.

Finish the book, perfect your pitch, print out some business cards, pack a notebook and pens, bring a recorder, wear comfortable shoes and smile.

3. Attend the panels.

Conferences are filled with fascinating people offering their time and knowledge. Take advantage of this.

I met Tom Schreck on a panel about animals in writing. I have a dog in my books and I found it interesting to see how other writers handle the subject.

Panels also provided the chance to learn some martial arts moves from Barry Eisler, marketing tips from publisher Karen Syed and the writing habits of Tess Gerritsen and Raymond Benson.

4. Mingle.

This is easier said than done. You may feel intimidated. You may be shy. But, really, you just have to get over it.

Grab a glass of wine and chat up some fellow writers. You’ll be glad you did. I’ve made several friends through conferences. And, if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that mystery writers will remember you if you buy them a drink!

5. Make the pitch.

Make a pitch only if your book is complete. If you think you’re ready, attend as many pitch sessions as you possibly can. These can help perfect your pitch. You may also gain valuable advice about your storyline, your query letter and your publishing platform.

6. Be yourself.

Writers are a great group. They like helping other writers. They’re funny. They’re fun. Just be yourself, ask questions, wear comfortable clothes, relax and enjoy the experience!

Barbra Annino is the author of “Opal Fire,” a Stacy Justice gemstone mystery. A Chicago native, she freelances for a variety of publications, writing about health, food and travel.


Sheila Connolly said...

Please consider New England Crime Bake for next year! It's small enough that you can talk to everyone, but we've had some spectacular guests of honor (it will be hard to top the Vampire Ball with Charlaine Harris this year). And it's a great mix of published and aspiring writers, with agents and editors thrown in as well.

2011 will be Crime Bake's tenth anniversary, and we promise to make it truly special.

(Disclosure: I'll be co-chair in 2011, representing SinC-NE.)

Loni Emmert said...

Great blog! I attended my first -t he RWA in Orlando this year. It was fun but overwhelming. The cost of them is a big consideration. I'll do at least one next year but not sure which one yet. I want to pitch - didn't do that this year. Thanks!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Good suggestions. I want to plug the Public Safety Writers Association's conference in July. Smaller than most but with terrific experts in the many fields of public safety and forensics that you can actually sit down and visit with. and check out the contest.