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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Conference DOs and DON’Ts

As we approach conference season, many of us are ordering promo materials and making travel plans in the hopes of furthering our careers at professional conferences. As they are not cheap, it’s important to make the most of your time at conferences. So in the spirit of Miss Rosie (but without the proper nouns and scolding tone) I’d like to provide some guidelines for making the most of your conference experience:

1. DO attend workshops; that’s the reason you’re there. This may seem witheringly obvious, but once inside that hotel it becomes all too easy to skip the workshops and hang out in the Starbucks—or the bar—instead. There will be plenty of time to socialize later. Get a schedule and mark the sessions that seem most pertinent to you, and then go to one that doesn’t. You’ll learn something.

DON’T be “that person” in the workshop audience. You know the one I’m talking about: she uses the Q and A part of the session to discuss her magnum opus or to impress everyone with what he thinks he knows about publishing. If you have a valid question, ask it. But save the networking for lunch or cocktail hour.

2. DO dress appropriately. Again, this seems obvious, but you would be surprised. Business casual is the way to go, and unless you’re wearing sequins or a tuxedo, slightly overdressing (a day dress, a skirt and cardigan, a shirt and tie for the guys) is rarely a mistake. Donning your yoga pants or sporting your kid’s college wear IS, however. And have a lightweight jacket or sweater handy—hotel air conditioning tends to hover between freezing and Arctic.
Dress like the professional you are!

3. DO be prepared for the cliques, especially if you’re a newbie or attending alone. No matter how welcoming an organization might be, there will always be those few (Miss Rosie would capitalize here) who need to prove that they are in the know and/or running the show. Now and then a friendly advance by an attendee meets with a rebuff, and it can be a bit demoralizing. If that happens to you, take on the chin, smile, and graciously excuse yourself with these words: “Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.” And they have: because now you know whom to avoid.

4. DO reach out to others, particularly those attendees who appear alone or lost. Making a friend is the quickest way to get over feeling lost yourself, and now you have someone to sit with at lunch. (And after you are a famous author, that person will be the first one to buy your book, after telling everyone how kind you were to her at her first writers’ conference.)

5. DO volunteer if the opportunity arises. It’s the best kind of networking there is. I attend a local conference yearly, and long after I already had an agent, and even after I had a contract, I continued to volunteer for the pitch sessions. I help organize the flow of traffic, soothe nerves, and time sessions. I offer to fetch water or coffee for the agents and editors in attendance, and cheer writers on when someone asks to see their work. It’s very simple—people remember kindness. And sometimes they ask for your card as well!

6. And speaking of agents and editors, DON’T pitch an unfinished project. Please. You’re taking up precious minutes that could have gone to a writer with a full manuscript to sell. And you’re asking for trouble should an agent or editor demonstrate interest, because not everyone asks for a partial. Just how fast can you bang out those last 200 pages?

7. DO network wisely. Start by chatting and trading cards with other hopefuls like yourself. Ask others what they are working on before you jump in to talk about your own project. And for heaven’s sake, don’t make a beeline for the NY Times bestselling author or that agent from Writers House. If you can work your way over slowly, go for it. If you can introduce yourself, even better. But wait until they ask about your work.     One last word: the ladies room is sacrosanct. No one wants to hear a pitch delivered over a toilet stall.

8. DO have a drink at cocktail hour. You deserve it.

A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, was named as a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean  in central New Jersey with her husband and two of her three sons.


BJ Daniels said...

Good blog with some great advice. All I would add is be friendly, don't be afraid to talk to people. Most everyone is just like you with lots of hopes and fears.

With me, I am usually lost at conferences since ones like RWA are held at huge hotels with tons of little rooms stuck back into different corners of every floor. I'll be the one asking for directions. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the list. I was wondering about dress code at conferences since I've only attended a regional so far.

Rosie said...

BJ-RWA can be overwhelming! That's one for going with a buddy if possible.

Writerrobyn-It may seem old-fashioned, but I am a believer in proper dress at these things. And layers is a good way to go inside the hotels, where climate control can be sketchy!