I have attended so many writers conferences that it’s a little scary. I’ve been to Oklahoma, Florida, Texas more times than I can count, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Vermont, West Virginia, Colorado, California, Washington . . . You get the point.
And after attending all of those conferences I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned from an agent’s perspective what works and what doesn’t. So here it is. My list of those things I’ve seen and those things I can recommend.
- Two-hour appointments max. No agent should have to spend more than two hours in any given weekend listening to pitch appointments. It’s not good for her and it’s not good for the authors. By the time that third hour comes around we are much too tired to listen.
- Social receptions that are nothing but social. Not every event needs to be an “event.” Authors can learn more and network best when they’re given the chance to do so. Therefore, offer cocktail parties and meals where networking is the name of the game. There’s no speaker, no raffle, no microphone of any kind. Most attendees are adults and should be able to entertain themselves.
- Free time. This isn’t a joke. This is my weekend and the least you can do is give me enough free time to really explore the area, sit on the beach, climb a mountain, or just hide in my room.
- Meals. If you can’t provide all or most meals for your attendees then try to make meals available for agents and editors at the least. Encourage attendees to treat agents or editors to a meal or ask someone to host a small gathering off-site that of course the agents and editors will be driven to.
- Airport pickup. I just don’t understand why this isn’t an easy one. Who wouldn’t want 20+ minutes alone with an agent? As I’ve said in other posts, it’s a great way to make yourself remarkable (especially with some of the driving I’ve experienced).
- Hosted tables. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of your featured guests (agents and editors) if you require that they “host” a table at meals. In other words, instead of allowing them to sneak off and all sit together in a corner, put their names in the center of the tables and give your attendees a chance to sit with those people they really want to get to know. This will also guarantee that they actually come to the meal.
- Allowing the agents to determine their schedules. I like doing workshops and I’ve enjoyed critiques. It’s really disappointing to me when I am flown halfway across the country and I don’t get to speak to the group. I know appointments and panels are a necessary evil, but why not use agents and editors to their fullest if they’re willing. If I’m willing to do workshops, why wouldn’t you have me do workshops?
- Critique sessions. I was surprised by this myself, but I really liked doing group critiques. My favorite was at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. Each agent had roughly two hours to critique the work of eight people. I had received the first ten pages, along with a one-page synopsis of each author’s work ahead of time. The other attendees received the same material. When we sat down to talk I was able to give my critique and then open the floor for others to give their opinions. Now of course not all agents like these.
- Author/editor lunch. One conference did a special lunch just for the authors and editors. NO one else. That means we actually had time to get to know each other, catch up, and talk and kvetch about the business. It was really fun.
- Planned, but not required, trip outside of the hotel. One of my all-time favorites was to the Tabasco sauce factory on Avery Island, LA. I LOVED it!
- Appointments outside, in the sun, by the beach. Okay, you probably can’t do that in Seattle, but I really loved it.
- Regional introductions. The worst part of conferences is that they are all the same. Every single one serves chicken in a hotel ballroom. Embrace your region and introduce it to those who’ve traveled so far to see it. Feed us something special—grits for breakfast or Chicago-style pizza for lunch. Offer us a local beer or a book with regional flair. In other words, make us feel like we’ve actually left NYC.