The Do’s and Don’ts of Conference Etiquette
by Donna Bowman Bratton
Don’t stalk the editor or agent. Let them go to the restroom in peace.
Don’t sneak your manuscript into the agent or editor’s bag, folder, or turkey sandwich.
Don’t bring gimmicks in the hopes of getting noticed. Remember, rock stars never fall in love with the over-zealous groupie.
If you are asked what your book is about, don’t whip out your manuscript. Revert to your rehearsed elevator pitch. Think 1-2 minutes, tops.
Don’t ask current clients of agents or editors to deliver your manuscript in person.
Don’t call yourself the next J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Rick Riordan, etc. Be original.
Don’t disrupt a critique in progress, and don’t exceed your own time limit.
Don’t record a speaker’s session. Presentations are proprietary and directly relate to the speakers’ incomes.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself.
Don’t forget – the featured agents, editors, and award-winning authors are people, too. Be respectful and friendly. Remember the golden rule.
Read books by featured authors in advance. It will make their presentation much more meaningful to you.
Familiarize yourself with books agented by or edited by speakers. You’ll gain insight into their tastes and be ready with conversation starters if the opportunity presents itself. Here are a few places to find such information: Agent’s or editor’s websites, blogs, and online interviews; acknowledgement sections in books; Google search; AgentQuery.com; Publishersmarketplace.com; THE BOOK under Resources at scbwi.org., look at Agent Director and Edited By as well as publishing house directories.
When you have a conference critique, remember to keep an open mind. Leave emotions at the door. Take notes. Ask for clarification.
Dress accordingly. This conference is casual to professional casual. Jeans are fine. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. You never know if the room temperature will be tropical or arctic.
Practice your elevator pitch. Think one-minute summary.
Be prepared to take notes.
If you are attending alone, befriend someone right away. Get out of your comfort zone and mingle.
Bring business cards to share.
Leave your manuscript at home. Editors and agents are traveling and they don’t have space to lug around pages. If an agent or editor asks to see your work, they’ll tell you how to submit.
Come prepared with questions for Q&A sessions, about featured books, about process and craft, about submission possibilities. Be brave and raise your hand.
When appropriate, shake the speaker’s hand and strike up a casual conversation. Feel free to ask general questions but do not pitch your book unless the agent or editor asks what you write or illustrate.
Be your genuine self. Remember that agents, editors, authors, and illustrators are people, too. They appreciate a friendly chat. But at the end of the day, respect that speakers are tuckered out, too.
Remember that the conference planners are volunteers and they’re writers and illustrators, too.
After the conference, follow up — touch base with new friends, send a thank you note to your critiquer.
Harness your newfound inspiration and vigor, and dive right into your projects.
Great Expectations: A Conference Go-ers
Crib Sheet by Hope Vestergaard
We are all first-timers once. Remember the adrenalin rush? Your first chance to connect with other writers…your first sighting of a real live editor…your first shot at a big break and bestseller status?
Come on, admit it. We all attended our first writers conference with Enormous Expectations. Some were so huge, they clouded our better judgment and convinced us that Just This Once, Mr. Hotshot Editor really would like to tote our 300 page manuscript back with him on the plane. Our high hopes allowed us to ask detailed questions about our own pending projects even when panel facilitators asked us not to do so. And those enormous expectations encouraged us to ask published authors to read our manuscripts, refer us to their editors, or (blush) tell us how large an advance they got on their last book. What were we thinking?! We weren’t.
Nobody thinks being rude is going to get them published. These gaffes, and many other classic conference faux pas, are born of earnestness and naivete. Even seasoned conference attendees and published authors can lose their cool in the excitement of the moment. In the interests of a relaxed and embarrassment –free weekend at our upcoming conference, the staff here at Faux Pas ‘R’ Us would like to remind attendees of some basic conference truths.
You will not sell a book at the conference.
Everyone has heard of authors who have, but this is HIGHLY unusual. We remember these stories because they’re so glamorous. You might learn that an editor who’s speaking likes your kind of book. You may even be asked to revise a manuscript you submitted for critique. Or you might realize that your masterpiece is a commonly done manuscript topic in need of a serious makeover. Editors don’t hand-carry manuscripts back to the office with them. IF they want to see your work, they’ll ask you to send it.
You will meet people who will further your career.
But you will probably find them where you least expect them. You may meet writer/illustrator friends who will support you through your ups and downs. You may meet critiquers who will help you polish your work until it shines. You may meet someone who knows that Editor X loves stories about talking dogs. You will meet people whose struggles and successes will inspire you. You never know who will become a V.I.P. in your publishing career. So don’t dismiss the ‘little people’.
You will be tempted to break a rule: foist a manuscript or artwork, ask a personal question, beg for a referral. There are two schools of thought on how to get ahead in the publishing game: the ‘break all the rules’ school and the ‘follow the rules’ school. I’m willing to wager that the vast majority of published SCBWI MI members have followed more rules than they have broken. The vastness of the slushpile can make us think we are relatively anonymous in our submissions and rule bending and all that jazz. But publishing is a small world, indeed. Editors move from house to house. Authors speak with their editors and agents about the people they meet. And would you rather be remembered for your tact or lack of it?
Some specific suggestions for first-timers and seasoned attendees:
If you are asking a question of a panel or speaker, make it useful for the entire audience and not specific to your own work. For example:
*Bad: Can I send an adoption story based on real life to you?
*Better: Are you open to fictionalized true stories?