Apr 15, 2011

Your Conference Face

by Tanya Parker Mills

I know I missed the ANWA Conference and I promise I'll be there next year. Really! (That is, unless I have any further injuries...and I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that because, after all, I only have one limb left that hasn't undergone some major trauma.)

Nevertheless, with the LDStorymakers Conference right around the corner, plus the beginning of conference season nationwide, I've been thinking about how best to prepare. In sports they say, "Put your game face on." Well, if you're a writer, it's about that time to "put your conference face on."

What exactly does that involve? I'm sure it's different for every writer, but I'll describe my approach and maybe it will ring some bells. If it doesn't, then I'm as loony as I sometimes believe.

  1. Be your own best coach - You've got no locker room (just an alcove or office with a computer) and no coach (except maybe your husband and/or best friend...but they're not even aware you're beginning to sweat about this). So go ahead, re-read your finished manuscript, give it one last polish then tell yourself, "That's great stuff! Certainly as good as, if not better than, half the stuff published these days. It will sell! The agent will want it!!"
  2. Dress out - There's not a uniform, per se, at writers conferences, but if you happen to get into an elevator with an agent or editor and they get to talking with you, don't you want to look your best? This is my least favorite part of conference preparation because, unlike many women, I am not a clothes horse...I am not a shopper...I am not into fashion. And not only do I have to look like a professional writer at this conference, I also have to look like a movie star for the Whitney Awards Gala Dinner. Instead of quivering in my boots at the thought and canceling my registration, I simply choose my most fashion forward friend at church (or my daughter, if she's in town) and force myself to go shopping.
  3. Be fully equipped - Make sure your laptop or netbook is functioning well and you've got everything you need on a flashdrive (or if you eschew digital stuff, make certain you have plenty of paper and pens/pencils); your smartphone is fully loaded with all the directions, contacts, and addresses you need; have your presentation(s) ready, if you're giving one (or more); have at least 15 copies of your book(s) for sale in the bookstore; have plenty of business cards on hand; and have a small binder for your pitch session, featuring a one-page snapshot of your book, your first chapter, synopsis, author bio, and five other titles you have (either finished, or planned) with a one-sentence blurb for each.
  4. Warm up - Practice your pitch with family, friends, and acquaintances. Finally, be really daring and try it on the next person you meet for the first time once they find out you're a writer. Besides practicing your pitch, really begin to "warm up" to people. You see, if you're like me, you're not all that comfortable in large crowds. Your comfort zone is your own little office and a writers conference provides little semblance of that. Sure, you'll see writers trying to create their own little office at a conference in order to feel safe and secure. But the whole idea of a writers conference is to get outside of yourself, meet others like you, and get reinvigorated in your work. This is the hardest part for me but I'm determined to talk to at least ten people I've never met before at this next conference.
  5. Hone your craft - Sure, it's great to meet other like-minded artists, and it's a definite plus if you can gain an agent or a publishing contract from your attendance at a writers conference, but education is the main purpose of such a conference. (That is why, at least in Utah, K-12 teachers can get credit for going to an approved writers conference like that put on by LDStorymakers.) So, go with the mindset of a learner and you'll be richly rewarded.
As author Roni Loren put it on her blog,

If you aren't actively honing your craft, the "how to query", "what are the current trends", "are you still accepting vampire novels" panels are only going to get you so far. The writing needs to come first. So balance your schedule. Pick a few industry type classes, but make sure at least half of the rest of the workshops you attend can make you a better writer. This should be your goal. Look around in those classes, who's sitting in them? Published authors.

That's how I put on my conference face. How about you? Any tips to share?


  1. This is awesome! Thanks. I will review this as the conference gets closer.

  2. Great post! Hope to see you at conference.

  3. All good stuff and I'm SO GOING TO BE THERE :D

  4. Thanks everyone. I'll see you there! Won't you share some tips, too?

  5. Thanks, I guess I best practice my pitch.

  6. Never underestimate the value of dressing well.


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