Northern Colorado Writers member Shelley Widhalm holds up her conference book from the NCW Conference in 2017, “Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing.”
Going to a writer’s conference is like getting a micro-MFA but cheaper and faster.
And it’s a way to rise up through the ranks, if just a little.
Conferences, as well as webinars that have gained popularity since the pandemic, give attendees an opportunity to meet with literary agents one-on-one and edge out of the slush pile.
Meeting agents often happens in pitch sessions. Attendees can make quick verbal or written pitches to agents, trying to essentially sell their work in five or 10 minutes or in a few paragraphs. If there is a request, they typically are asked to submit a query letter and/or synopsis and a certain number of pages or chapters.
The personal connection, even if it’s online, gives extra attention to the pitch above that of sending it anonymously. It’s the next best thing to a personal request from an agent or a recommendation from another writer.
Conferences also offer an educational component for writers to grow their craft. Presenters at a conference, whether in-person or virtual, offer trade secrets about writing, editing and publishing. They provide ideas for improving your writing, inspiration and motivation to do that writing, and tips on the ins and outs of self-, small and medium-size presses and of traditional publishing.
I’m particularly excited for the 2021 Northern Colorado Writers Conference that is a mix of a day of in-person workshops on April 24 and a virtual conference April 27 to May 4. There will be sessions catering to a variety of genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and screenwriting; networking events; and, my favorite, pitching opportunities to a lineup of six agents.
My attitude about conferences has changed since I attended my first NCW conference in 2014, long before the restrictions of the pandemic and when everything was in person. I sat in on a pitch session and was certain my YA was destined to be a best-seller, but when I didn’t get a little piece of paper inviting me to a second round of pitching, I headed to the bathroom. I went into a stall and cried, because I thought my dreams were over.
They weren’t, of course. I went to NCW’s conferences nearly every year since and continued to pitch, getting requests for partials and fulls. I did three rewrites and resubmits to one agent but eventually got a no. My takeaway is that I love writing and can’t give it up, even if I am not yet traditionally published—I want to be a debut author at a Big House and in the meantime self-published a small reference book in July 2020, “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication.”
Through my conference dedication, I picked up a few tips on being a conference attendee expert. My hot tips for being cool at the conference include:
- Plan ahead on which sessions you want to attend; and don’t forget a notebook or laptop to take notes (both for virtual and in-person sessions).
- Know which genre your work fits in; don’t just say fiction or nonfiction.
- Prep for pitch sessions: research to find the best fit for your work and check the agent or editor’s websites, social media and other material online to identify what kind of books and writers they represent.
- Prepare your pitch with a logline and synopsis. If you get a request, ask when and how you should submit your proposal or sample chapters and how best to contact the agent or editor.
- If you learn that your work isn’t right for the agent or editor, don’t take it personally.
- Follow up when you receive any kind of positive feedback from agents, writers and others.
- If you’re attending the in-person session, take photos and post them. Tweet, blog, Facebook and engage in other types of social media to promote your writing and the conference.
Lastly, remember when you invest your money into a writer’s conference, you want to get a good ROI. You’ll get reenergized about the writing and editing processes and hopefully learn something new about you, the writer, and what keeps you going despite the temporary not-yets that you might hear.
Note 1: This blog appears in NCW’s March newsletter, “The Write Stuff.”
Note 2: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from an article or blog series to a short story or novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInk at shellsinkservices.com.