One month until the 2015 ACFW Conference is upon us. Are you panicking? Don't. This will be my third conference to attend, and especially after the haze of adding a new family member, my mindset is completely different than in previous years. I've been thinking about all the conference newbies, how they are about to experience something unlike anything they've experienced before.
And, in a way, I'm kind of jealous.
It's a rough, brave thing to make this kind of investment in your writing career. You're not only ponying up some money for it, but you're putting yourself out there as a writer with the intent of publication. That's huge! You also are entering a wonderful new world, a sisterhood of sorts (with some brothers). A beautiful camaraderie.
That said, anything that takes this much bravery comes with its usual doubts. To curb your overthinking, here are some lessons I've learned plus some pitfalls to avoid:
1) Realize that not everything will go perfectly and the reality is, yeah, you may embarrass yourself once (or more if your life is a walking comedy of errors like mine). But it will be okay. At my first conference, I made it all of three minutes before I embarrassed myself and my critique partner/roommate in the elevator with a top agent. You know what? Most people have a really good sense of humor. You're at the conference to represent yourself as an enticing business prospect, so it's important to be professional. But you also can't take yourself too seriously. There's very little that won't be forgotten since editors/agents meet so many at conferences. Or, at the very least, there's very little that can't become a really good ice breaker during your meeting.
2) Come prepared. Later this week, Angie is going to be talking about what kinds of written materials to bring to conference, but the best preparation you can do is to know your story. Know the brand you are trying to portray and the place you see your work in the industry. Practice your elevator pitch (out loud, especially) until it's as comfortable as your favorite pair of yoga pants. Read up on the agents and editors you'll pitch to and look at their pictures so you don't accidentally ask them what they write if you happen to meet them beforehand. True story. Sorry, Senior Editor at Harvest House...
On a more practical front, dress the part. This is a business trip, so people will be wearing anything from blazers and slacks and dresses to my typical outfit, a dressed-up tunic and leggings with boots for more casual occasions. A friend of mine who wished to remain nameless also advised preparing for any, um, wardrobe malfunctions. Pack extra of everything just in case the unexpected happens minutes before your big editor appointment :)
3) Bring a humble, ready spirit and a teachable attitude. Be focused (yes, even in the face of major overstimulation) and present and ready for what God has for you. For the relationships you'll form, for the truths that will resonate with you, for what you'll learn to improve about your writing. There are going to be industry leaders at this conference, including authors you may want to fangirl and editors/agents who might have feedback when you pitch to them. Remember they are human beings and deserve to be treated accordingly. Don't slide your manuscript to Chip McGregor under the bathroom stall (especially if you're a girl). But if you forget they're just humans and stumble all over your pitch, it's not the end of the world. Unless you overstep some serious personal boundaries, it doesn't mean you've ruined any possible chance of becoming a published author. Promise.
I think that about covers the overarching ways to avoid typical conference pitfalls. Anything I didn't mention? Don't hesitate to ask questions; I'm an open book!
Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business.
She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance).
Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.
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