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Seven Tips for Making the Most of Writer's Conferences

There comes a time when you must take that big step out of your secure writing den, declare to the world you are a writer, and meet with the very people who perform publishing miracles every day. That is what a writer's conference is all about. 

Most writers realize how valuable an event packed with publishing professionals can be.  But while getting published is the goal, there is so much more to gain at a writer’s conference—if you come prepared.  Here are some helpful tips to consider:

Tip #1   Get ready well in advance.  Of course you are writing (and editing and re-editing) the best book you can, right?  However, when your spouse agrees that you are the next John Grisham or E.L. James, rest assured their biased praise is not enough. Even bestselling authors usually get feedback on their writing from an outside source they respect at some point.  Sure, you could wait and get feedback on your work at the conference.  But when you've already refined your writing by participating in a writers’ group or taking a creative writing class along the way, you will be ahead of the pack at the event.  Rework your project if necessary…then proceed to the conference!

Tip #2    Talented writers regularly rise to the surface in the turbulent sea of conference attendees.  They have mastered the delicate blend of chutzpah, talent, and fate. The magic of a writers’ conference happens when you meet the right agent and deliver the 2-line/30-second ‘elevator pitch’ of a lifetime.  Invest the time to be pitch perfect when someone says, “Tell me about your book.” 

Tip #4   Use the conference to ‘interview’ the literary agents, publishers and editors you want to work with as an author. If there is an opportunity for one-on-one time—whether in a scheduled session or a fleeting moment in the hotel lobby—grab it!  Don’t be intimidated and never be annoying. But do be prepared by researching the presenters on your personal wish list.  Most conference websites make it easy with a list of presenters and links to their websites. 

Tip #5   Always act like a professional writer. Walk the fine line of being polite while being memorable.  Realize you are showcasing yourself as much as (if not more than) your book. Bring a cover sheet (with your contact info) and a synopsis of your book—agents will not want to carry your five-pound manuscript back home on the plane! Think about this: The literary agents, publishers and editors you’ll meet at writer’s conferences make their living off writers.  They came to the event to find talented writers with salable projects who will ultimately be their clients for years (and many books) to come. They want you to succeed, so be a partner they can rely on to bring them what you’ve promised.

Tip #6    You can’t imagine what you don’t know about the publishing business before your first writer’s conference!  In fact, even the conference presenters will come away with new insights, information, and connections. At a good conference, you will have access to invaluable advice from the experts. Prepare to become a human sponge sucking up as much knowledge as possible.  Take lots of notes and ask questions. Be open to other attendees’ opinions, too.  Although it may feel as if you head will explode with ideas long before lunch time, try to attend the evening social events at conferences.  Some of the best networking takes place there.

Tip #7   Are you looking for inspiration and motivation at a conference? Okay, you’ll get plenty of that. But while you can attend most conferences with nothing more than a passion to write, the event is at its core all about getting published.  Conferences truly can help you get your book on the shelf because they are embracing subjects you wouldn’t have seen on the schedule even a few years ago. For instance the San Francisco Writers Conference has a dozens of classes on innovative book marketing, social media, technology, ebooks and self-publishing.  These are important changes in the market so get familiar with them immediately.  Then at the event you’ll learn how to start a blog, refine your website, and cultivate an audience of potential readers and book buyers.  This will be the rewarding meat of the writer’s conference…even if you don’t get a juicy book deal. 

            No conference can promise your book will be successfully published.  But I know from personal experience that a writer who comes prepared will find a writer’s conference to be the absolute best investment they’ll ever make in their writing career.  It also helps to embrace the magic.

Barbara Santos is the marketing director for the San Francisco Writers Conference. She was also co-director of the Maui Writers Conference for many years.  She is the author of the Maui Tacos Cookbook, Maui Onion Cookbook, and Practice Aloha.  Yes, she met her first publisher at the conference!

 Are you ready to be published? Join us at the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference this February 14-18 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Writing-related workshops on craft, publishing and book marketing; inspiring keynotes by Goosebumps series author R.L. Stine, romance writer Barbara Taylor Bradford; Speed Dating with Agents; Ask-A-Pro session; 100+ agents, editors, publishers and authors; and much more.

Go to www.SFWriters.org for all the details and easy online registration.