Friday, December 26, 2008

Getting the Most Out of Conferences

Attending a writer’s conference can literally change your life. You could walk away with a new friend, a new opportunity, even a new career.

I try to attend at least one conference per year. This year, it will be more. Here’s the schedule:

Love is Murder, Chicago Feb 2009
KillerCon, Las Vegas, Sept 2009
Bouchercon Indianapolis, Oct 2009

Love is Murder will be the first one for 2009 and it’s a great conference. It’s for writers and readers of mysteries and thrillers, but I also saw some horror and paranormal authors as well. Here's a few authors I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from at last year’s event:

Lee Child
Barry Eisler
Tess Gerritsen
Carolyn Haines
J.A. Konrath
Tom Shreck

I also attended pitch sessions where I met a publisher who enjoyed my work and invited me to participate in an anthology. That book is called MISSING and will be debuted at this year’s LIM. The proceeds will benefit missing person’s organizations and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. It can be purchased at Echelon Press.

Which brings me to the meat of the matter. How can you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to conferences?

Find one in your genre. This is a rule I stick to, although there are some great cross-genre conferences like the ones the RWA put on. For the most part, attending a mystery conference for a mystery writer means you’ll meet agents, editors and writers from that genre and you’ll learn from them.

Be prepared. Finish the book, perfect your pitch, print out some business cards, pack a notebook and pens, bring a recorder, wear comfortable shoes, and smile.

Attend the panels. Conferences are filled with fascinating people offering their time and knowledge. Take advantage of this! I met Tom Schreck on a panel about animals in writing and I have to say, it was so worth it. I personally have a dog in my books, so I found it interesting to see how other writer’s handle it. I also learned some martial arts moves from Barry Eisler, marketing tips from publisher Karen Syed, and the writing styles of Tess Gerritsen and Raymond Benson.

Mingle. This is easier said than done. You may feel intimidated. You may be shy. But really, you just have to get over it. Grab a glass of wine and chat up some fellow writers. You’ll be so glad you did. I’ve made a few friends at conferences and got several books signed in the hallways. Lee Child even took the time to explain how the TV show Murder by the Book is filmed. And I sat next to Carolyn Haines at dinner one evening. Fun stuff.

Make the pitch. Only do this if your book is complete, but if you think it’s ready, attend as many pitch sessions as you possibly can. Not only will it help you perfect the pitch, but you may also gain invaluable advice about your storyline, your pitch, and your platform.

Be yourself. Writers are a great group. They like helping other writers. They’re funny. They’re fun. Just be yourself, ask questions, wear comfortable clothes, relax and enjoy the experience.

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