agents, Andy Harp, Chuck Sambuchino, David Morrell, editors, Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, fiction, networking, novel, publishing, Ricki Schultz, Steve Berry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, Writers’ League of Texas, Writing, writing conferences
Last weekend I attended the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, and accomplished more in a few days than I have in four years of passively querying agents.
Conferences are all about networking with workshops and speeches sprinkled on top. By attending a conference and meeting an agent first hand, you go to the top of the slush pile (industry-speak for a mound of query letters that will eventually find their way into the shredder). Remember, I have a very demanding, fulltime job and still found time to get all of this done.
The key to success, I found, was preparation meets opportunity. Over the next few weeks, I’ll go over what I did to get noticed as a fresh new face to the industry (which is just a polite way of saying that I was neophyte, which is just an obnoxious way of saying I had no idea what I was doing).
This week will be all about the preparation.
Step #1: Information Hoarding
This step will be continuous in the weeks leading up to the conference. Being a student of writing, I wanted to know what the precedence was. Piled up beside me are the latest versions of Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, and a slew of articles both paperback and online. Each will give you vague directions on what to expect, but I found an article in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Ricki Schultz to be the most informative. From there, I built my check list.
The next step was to study the conference itself. Who was going to attend? What did they represent? How the hell was I going to talk with these industry giants in a way that made them love me? So I put together a spreadsheet with their names, pictures, agencies, what they represented, who they already represented, and poured through interviews and personal websites to find anything I could open with besides, “I hope this isn’t creepy, but I’ve been watching you for some time now…”
Step #2: Location
This one is time sensitive, so it gets a little priority. Get a room at the hotel the conference is being held at. Not only is it convenient, but all of the speakers, faculty, agents and editors will be staying there as well. Remember that conferences are mostly about networking, and a chance meeting or cocktail outside business hours can be invaluable.
Step #3: Look Professional
Yes, as a writer you are a free spirit; a deep, rebel soul that cannot be contained and snubs their nose at society. Good for you. But if you are attending a conference, you’ll want to at least look professional. That means you shave off the dreadlocked beard and clip the 10-inch fingernails before you exit your Shoe Bomber cabin in the woods. In my case, I have been in the military so long I wouldn’t know what to do with long hair (over one-inch in length) let alone have a decent wardrobe. I think I had one dusty tie in the back of my closet from the 1990s. Since I was not going to wear camouflage and body armor, I went shopping, and spent three hours in the Russian Gulog men’s department trying on outfit after outfit. There were return trips. Result: I was very professionally dressed.
Miscellaneous: I had business cards made – NICE business cards made, for which I was complimented on and asked where I got them (Zazzle.com). I needed something to carry around notebooks, pamphlets, pens, etc, so my lovely wife bought me a fantastic leather case (RusticLeather.com), for which I was complimented on. I’m not saying that looking like a professional made me any better a writer than any of my counterparts, just that first impressions are important. But, as I will go over later, it did open a unique opportunity.
Step #4: Practice your Pitch
There is no way to over-emphasize the importance of this step. In 2010, I met David Morrell, Steve Berry, and Andy Harp in Baghdad. David Morrell asked me what my novel was about and I could not articulate the answer. I was determined that I wouldn’t choke again. So, I went over it and over it with my wife. It’s incredibly hard to boil down the complexities of a novel – YOUR novel – into a couple of quick sentences. Writers have a nasty habit of getting married to the details and I am no different. Have a friend ask you what your book is about and keep it simple. If the agent or editor wants to know more, tell them more then and only then.
For example: A great white shark terrorizes a small town off the coast of New England. Quick, clean and to the point.
Step #5: House Keeping
Polish your work. Though I spent the most time on this step, I put it next to last in the priorities because of hindsight. I’d read in a few places that you need to have a solid synopsis and the first chapter of your manuscript printed and ready to go in case they ask for it. I was killing myself getting this done. I had folders set up with business cards, a synopsis and the first chapter of both novels; 10 copies of each plus one for me to reference. It was beautiful, right down to the use of paper clips because, supposedly, agents and editors hate staples. I lugged all of these copies around for hours until the Key Note Speaker, Chuck Sambuchino, told us that agents will absolutely NOT ask for hard copies of anything. And he was right. They will, however, ask you to e-mail work to them if you can sell it.
Step #6: Breathe
My nerves were shot leading up to the conference. I got maybe a few hours of sleep a night, and practiced breathing exercises just to keep myself from going into a full blown panic attack. Seeming how I have deployed and found myself in extremely dangerous, life and death situations without batting an eye, it sounds kind of ridiculous, but I assure you that it happens. Just breathe. You will do fine, especially if you come prepared.
Next week, I will go into the first day of the conference and what I did to get noticed and some great people I met (who may or may not be infected by the T Virus).