Conference season is here again. Romance Writer's of America's National Conference is getting underway, along with chapter conferences of all sorts. (I don't know about other genres, though, since I write strictly romance, so this will all be in relation to romance-writing.)
Conferences can be expensive - the fee, hotel, minibar, regular bar - which is why I've yet to go to National. They can also be overwhelming (another reason.) As for whether or not they are worth it, all I can say is that it depends on what they offer and what you're looking for as a writer.
I would never say RWA's National is one to begin with - it's far too huge and newbies might get lost in the crowds. But that is only my opinion - and one of the reasons why I've yet to attend National. Someday.
It's probably best to start a little closer to home. My local RWA chapter does a conference every October. I attended my first such conference last year. My expectations were low and what I hoped to get out of it was simple. I wanted to learn about my sub-genre (historical) and pertinent information regarding it, such as research tips, how to avoid anachronisms, that sort of thing. I also wanted to meet with an editor or an agent. That was it.
It was a little overwhelming at first, as I tend to keep to myself, especially in crowds. There were a ton of people there (it's a fairly well-known conference and highly respected, from what I gather.) There were workshops pertaining to almost every step of the journey from first draft to publication. So I admit, I didn't put as much into it as I could have, and as I will this year. Since I knew that going in, I still considered it a success. I walked away with a request from an editor, so it was all good.
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to attending conferences that I've picked up from other places. It isn't a comprehensive list, but a few pointers:
1. Dress comfortably. Think business casual. Jeans are okay if you pair them with anything other than a tee shirt. Nothing skimpy. Take a sweater, since, depending on the season, the air might be on and it tends to get cold. Wear comfortable shoes, but nothing sloppy. The ratty old sneakers? Leave them home.
2. Don't pitch a work that isn't completely finished, polished, and ready to go. If it isn't finished, or you're still revising, don't pitch that one, pick one that's finished. You don't want to get a request for a full and have to dash off the second half. Trust me, an editor or agent will probably know and you might shoot yourself in the foot. If you don't have a finished project, you're taking a slot that someone with a finished project could use, and in essence, wasting everyone's time.
3. Don't use too much garlic. It sounds silly, but you really don't want an editor or agent to remember you as the person with the breath that smelled like an old mop. Use a mint if your mouth gets dry, which it might if you tend to get nervous. A face to face pitch can be nervewracking. I think a bottle of water to sip would be okay, too.
4. Don't bring the manuscript you plan on pitching. Don't offer it up right then and there, if you ignore that one. Editors and agents don't want to lug a carton of paper with them when they leave. Respect that.
5. Rehearse your pitch. It's okay to use a cheat sheet if you're afraid of blanking out, but keep it simple. Hero, heroine, villian, plot, conflict, resolution. Or something to that effect. You'll probably only have 10-15 minutes, make the most of it.
6. Don't stalk. Don't follow an editor or agent in to the mens' room or ladies' room to talk about your book. Don't corner them in an elevator and, for the love of God, do not follow them to their hotel room. You're more likely to get arrested than a request for a partial/full.
7. Don't drink too much. Again, do you want to be remembered as the writer slurring your words while drooling all over your Dream Agent or Editor? No. A drink or two to relax is fine, but space them apart, eat something, and know when to say when.
8. Relax. Agents and editors are people, too. They understand you are nervous and they expect that. If your pitch isn't dead on, or you stumble over something, they won't hold it against you if they are interested in your work.
9. Don't try to do it all. There are so many workshops offered and you might have an interest in every one, but it's impossible to do it all. Go to what you think you'll benefit from the most. You'll get your money's worth and you won't forget half of what you tried to cram in during those two (or however many) days. Remember, there's always next year.
You get out of a conference what you put into it. Remember why you're there, what you hoped to accomplish, and what you took away from it.