Whew. DFWCon was a whirlwind of activity, but I survived! And I’ve come back with lots of tips for those of you who’ve never attended a writer’s conference before. From the perspective of a conference newbie, here’s what I learned:
- It’s super easy to meet lots of amazing people. Everyone at a writer’s conference is a writer. Which means you automatically have a common interest, so it’s super easy to walk up to anyone and start a conversation. Since I attended alone, I made a point to meet a new person every hour of the conference, and I found some incredible friends!
- If you’re an introvert, face-to-face pitching may not be for you… and that’s okay. DFWCon gave us one free 10 minute pitch session with an agent of our choice. And some people were anabsolute wreck. We pitched to other authors every ten minutes, because that’s about how often someone asked, “So what’s your novel about?” But when it came time to pitching agents, all that bravado disappeared. I found someone crying in the bathroom because she was so nervous. Guys. There’s no need for that. If you’re not comfortable with face-to-face pitches, it’s probably best to avoid them entirely. I went to a panel of published YA authors, and all 5 of them were plucked from the slush pile. Emailing really works. Don’t freak yourself out.
- The panels were incredibly informative. In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing one article per panel, because that’s how much awesome information I received. It was so cool to sit in a room and talk for hours about the craft of writing.
- There’s a definite, competitive undertone I wasn’t expecting. I should have considered this before I left, but everyone attending this conference wanted to be published. Very, very badly. So of course when someone gushes that her pitch session went great and the agent asked for a full manuscript, of course people can only be so happy for her. While no one said anything explicit–at least to me–I definitely noticed stress levels rising over the course of two days. It was kind of depressing.
- You’ll have lots of social hours, with people equally passionate about writing. So. Many. Drinks. It was so much fun, guys. I grabbed dinner with people I’d only just met (hi, Kristin!) and talked like we were old friends. And what’s better, this conference was small, so I kept running into them. So we kept grabbing food or drinks or just a few minutes in between panels. It made the whole experience so much richer!
- But it gets exhausting. I talk to upwards of 500 people every day as a flight attendant. I’m used to hardcore socializing. But WOW, I was so tired afterwards. I mostly contribute it to lack of sleep, since I was usually too excited TO sleep. But seriously, this one guy, Eric, I met over and over, and on Saturday night, I totally forgot who he was. Twice.
- Don’t forget your business cards. I had a set of 100 created just for the event. (Not to agents, of course–you never give anything to agents unless they ask.) They were amazing to just hand out to other authors. I amassed a stack of them myself, and I’m psyched to go through and find these people’s Twitter pages and blogs.
- Conferences are expensive. Let’s break it down. $299 for the conference itself. $171.50 for half of a hotel room (I shared). $68.55 for transportation to / from the airport. $40 for a second pitch session. $15 for souvenirs. $118.23 for food. $12.50 for airport parking in Phoenix. So $724.78 total for a mere two day conference, and keep in mind I fly for free. Yikes.
- Know what the agents look like. I literally held an elevator for one of the attending agents, Joanna Mackenzie, who was an absolute sweetheart. And we chatted the whole way to the lobby, and I had no clue who she was. Elevator pitches, people. They really can happen… but only if you recognize the agents.
- Research the agents before you sign up. This. I can’t stress this enough. I have a very clear goal of seeing my novels in airport bookstores. But that mostly means one of the Big 5 publishing houses, and apparently not every agent sends manuscripts to them. With some research, I realized Saturday night that none of the agents attending DFWCon have a history publishing with the Big 5. Since their path to publication and mine are different, none of them could really help me. This is important, folks. Some people are so desperate for a “yes” that they sign with the first agent who gives them the time of day, even if your idea of publication and hers are different. That’s a recipe for disaster. Think long and hard about your publication goals. Then make the decision to WAIT until the right person comes around.
Overall, I think I had a mixed experience. The conference itself was great, with awesome panels and amazing people. But the agents attending were half the reason I came. Of course, once I made the decision that I wouldn’t sign with any of them even if they offered (which is still a long shot), I actually had way more fun. I wasn’t stressed about my pitch sessions, and the undercurrent of competitive spirit vanished.
I will say that I noticed some of the people attending seemed desperate, like “This is it, and if I fail, I’ll never ever be published.” To that I say, why? This was just a conference to learn about writing, and maybe get an agent’s attention. If you go home without the attention bit, so what? Keep querying, keep writing, and it’ll happen eventually. 🙂
So I think your attitude going into a conference is a big deal. If you decide this is the weekend you’ll find representation, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you expect to make great friends and learn a lot, wow. What an experience!