Friday, August 21, 2015

So You're Headed to Your Next Writer's Conference...A Guest Post by Andrew Swearingen

Take a deep breath. Stay calm. Don't throw up.

This became my mantra at my first writer's conference, recited over and over like The Little Engine that Could.

Your first conference can feel like your first day of high school. Shuffling around with your binder full of paperwork. Scanning the sea of people, looking for a familiar face. You're trying to find out where your classes are, but you'd settle for finding the bathroom.

And then you come to the appointments. Weeks of compressing your beloved novel into a three page proposal, revising your chapters trying to make them “sing”, and practicing your pitch over and over again...and it all comes down to a series of 15 minute appointments.

Somehow you make it through. You do your best, take your lumps, and hopefully you've learned something you can use to improve your craft.

So...skip ahead six months to a year later. You strut in to your next conference having injected everything you've learned into your book and you're ready to impress somebody. And like the start of the second year of high school, you definitely know more that you did, but you don't quite know everything yet.

Everyone talks about the anxiety of going to your first conference, but having recently attended my sophomore conference, I can tell you that the second go round is no cake walk either.

Here's some stuff to remember for your second conference and beyond.

1.) Higher Highs. Lower Lows.

You're no rookie. You've pitched to an agent before, so you feel confident enough to jump right in. And it's a great feeling when that hook you worked on for months grabs an agent's attention the way it's supposed to. also means you crash and burn that much harder when your awesome pitch fails to get catch the agent's fancy.

I had both of these experiences in the same day at the last conference I attended. No joke. I went from Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the Titanic yelling “I'm the king of the world!” to...well, something more like Leo at the end of the movie.

Falling flat on your face never gets fun, but wallowing in it won't help. Get papers together, pull yourself back up, and don't let one set back spoil the rest of your conference.

2.) Do your homework...again.

You probably already have a proposal, synopsis and other materials from your last conference, take the time to look over it again anyway.

You should always be growing in your craft as a writer, which means you'll probably catch something you can improve. Find a stronger verb for the beginning of your hook. Remove an unneeded sentence of two from your synopsis. Go ahead and practice your pitch to your friends again, just so you're well practiced.

Even if it's only been a couple months since you last used them, a quick once over can't hurt anything.

3.) Know Who You Need To Talk To. It's fun seeing friends at these conferences, but you are there to make connections and network with people. Agents. Editors. Other writers. Whoever it is, you need to implement some “strategery” about how you spend your time. It's not a bad idea to have a list, written down or just in your head, of people you need to talk with before the conference ends. This means you may have to cut short a fun chat with one of your crit partners when you see a chance to strike up a conversation with your dream agent.

This also means knowing when not to talk to someone. Don't be the guy who pitches his story in the restroom. Just don't!

(And if the whole “list” thing sounds exclusionary, don't worry. If it's your second conference, there's a decent chance you aren't on very many people's lists either.)

4.) Be a Friend.  Part of “knowing who to talk to” should include taking some time to just be helpful for the people around you. After my bombed appointment, I moped over to one of my crit partners, saying “I think I need a hug.” (Thanks Sarah!) These are the kind of moments good friendships were made for.

Find some poor freshman and take them under your wing. Help calm some frazzled nerves before an appointment. Be there to celebrate when an agent asks to see their full manuscript. Sit with a friend after they just bombed a pitch. Sometimes you don't need to say much. Just be there.

5.) “It's a marathon, not a sprint.” Yes, it's a cliché, but it's overused because it's useful. Conferences are an exhausting couple of days for all of us. So remember....Pace Yourself!

Some people can go the whole conference on no sleep with just a Red Bull and a package of Pop Tarts. Some people. If you're the kind who turns into a zombie without your 8 hours of sleep, then get your time in during the day then retire to your room so you can get that beauty sleep.

You introverted writers may need to duck out for a bit just to get a moment alone with your thoughts. That's fine. Do what you need to do to keep your sanity. Then get back out there.

And on top of all that, do try to Have Fun!

Not only is it a great chance to hangout with friends and other crazy writer people, but also a conference can be extremely stressful. Get a good laugh in, if for no better reason than to get out the jitters.

You'll make it through everything, somehow, having done your best again and taken your lumps again, and hopefully you're still excited to get home and put what you've learned into action.

Andrew Swearingen is a blogger and aspiring Sci-fi writer, living in the hidden kingdom that is Southern Illinois. He  spends his days working for a landscaping company, occasionally working as a substitute teacher, serving in his church's kid's program, and has on several occasions saved the city from robot invasion.

(One of those isn't completely true, but we'll let you guess which one.)

He blogs at and tweets as @WittySwearWords.


Emilie Hendryx said...

Great post packed with great ideas Andrew! I'll be heading to my 4th conference in September (ooo am I a senior?) and I feel like this is still all true. :)

Stacey said...

Really good post, Andrew! I'll be a junior this year and I'm nervous. I don't think that feeling ever goes completely away, does it? I look forward to seeing friends, but those appointments... well, I'm just thankful for prayer! I hope to you at ACFW!

Jill Williamson said...

This is so wise, Andrew. It's good advice for us all. And as an introvert, I still need to duck out and get a moment to myself at every conference I attend.

Anonymous said...

Having attended my first conference in ten years earlier this year, this resonates deeply with me. After the first evening and an awkward situation with an editor, I knew that pitching would be rather pointless for me. I focused on learning in the classes I took and talking to authors, agents and editors, instead of pitching to them. If they asked, I would give a brief rundown, but no where close to the memorized lines I'd flung out like a machine gun on the first day. I can't wait to go back next year and do it all over again, armed with the knowledge I've gained. Yeah, I'll still be nervous, but at least I'll know where the classrooms are this time! And all the good spots for skipping a class and spending it in prayer.

Victoria Grace Howell said...

This is some really good advice. ^ ^ As an introvert, I need to have my quiet alone time before bed lol.