An Introvert’s Guide to Writers Conferences

by Connilyn Cossette,@ConniCossette 

Last week was the annual ACFW conference, which, for many writers, is one of the highlights of the year. Let me tell you, stepping out of my comfort zone to pursue a writing career was scary enough, but going to that first conference to mingle with hundreds of people I didn’t know was terrifying. If you are an introvert like me, then the prospect of small talk with strangers is a little like nails on the chalkboard, but if you have a plan you can face any writers conference with confidence.

The best way I’ve found to push past my natural bent to clam up during writers conferences is to brainstorm conversation starters in advance. Open-ended questions are best, so try to avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type questions if possible. Here are some great ones to get you started:

  • How long have you been writing?
  • Which genre do you write?
  • Which sessions are you attending?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish this week?
  • Tell me about your work in progress.
  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • What got you started writing?
  • What great tips have you learned so far this week?
  • What’s your elevator pitch? (This has the benefit of helping people practice!)
  • Which agents/editors are you meeting with?
  • How are your appointments going so far?
  • Which critique group are you a part of?

The possibilities are endless! Write a few of them down if you are nervous and scan over them before you head to a meal or a class to keep them fresh in your mind. And don’t forget to bring your business cards wherever you go, exchanging cards is a great way to break the ice.

Also, keep in mind that the writing industry is full of introverts. We are, in general, a very introspective sort, which is a great strength for a writer. Start out by assuming that most of the people in the room are probably feeling a lot like you, a little out of sorts, a little insecure, and more interested in making strong connections than meaningless small-talk. At my first conference, I was at a table all by myself, feeling like a fish out of water, when two gals purposefully sat down on either side of me and engaged me in conversation. That breakfast was the beginning of two very precious friendships and writing partnerships for me. So make an effort to search out someone looks a little uncomfortable or is standing alone, you never know if that person is a future writing partner, a future best friend, or just someone who will help you practice your pitch or pray with you before an appointment.

So relax fellow introvert, plan ahead, keep yourself open to divine appointments, and keep in mind that all of us writers are just a wee bit different than the “normals,” anyhow.

Tweet: An Introvert’s Guide to Writers Conferences by @connicossette via @Novel.Academy #writing https://ctt.ec/c09bu+

~*~

Connilyn Cossette is the CBA Best-Selling author of the Out from Egypt Series with Bethany House Publishing. Her debut novel, Counted with the Stars, was a finalist for both an INSPY Award and a Christian Retailing’s Best Award. There’s not much she likes better than digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible, uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus, and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience. Although a Pacific Northwest native, she now lives in a little town near Dallas, Texas with her husband of twenty years and two awesome kids, who fill her days with laughter, joy, and inspiration. Connect with her at www.connilyncossette.com.

The People-Side of Writing Conferences

by Jeanne Takenaka, @JeanneTakenaka

The first time I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, I was scared, excited, nibbling my fingernails, and not sure what to expect.

Friends further along the writing road settled my nerves so I could enjoy the conference.

A few things to remember as we prepare to attend writing conferences:

Meeting Agents and Editors:

  • Reality check: Though we have opportunities to pitch our stories and meet agents and editors, they rarely make an offer during that fifteen-minute appointment.
  • Should we still bother pitching our stories? Yes! These meetings offer opportunities to interact with professionals we may one day work with. And for them to get to know us.
  • Don’t get so worked up over offering the perfect pitch that we become a big ball of shakes. Instead, pray before appointments.
  • Remember agents and editors are people too. Don’t begin the appointment by launching into our pitches. They like it when writers introduce themselves and relate on a human level.

My first pitch was to an editor. I was scared. So, I owned it. I said something like, “Hi. My name is Jeanne Takenaka. For better or for worse, you’re my first-ever pitch.”

The editor chuckled and we discussed my story. She read my first chapter and gave encouraging feedback.

Meeting Other Writers:

  • Conferences are great places to make and deepen connections with writers. Though we’re the only ones who can write our stories, we don’t walk out this writing journey in complete solitude. Connecting with other writers opens opportunities to help and cheer each other forward.
  • We’re not in competition with each other. Sometimes, writing friends will receive amazing feedback after pitching appointments. Even if we don’t get that coveted request—if we can celebrate with those who do, rather than envy them? This deepens relationships.
  • God knows the timing for each of our journeys. If we cling to this perspective and trust His plan celebrating our friends’ success becomes a little easier. And, when we’re disappointed in how a pitch appointment goes (and it happens to all of us), it’s okay to work through those emotions. Talking with a trusted friend or mentor renews our perspective and helps us move beyond discouragement.

Chocolate helps too.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk with well-known authors. I’m a closet fan-girl of certain authors. I never want to draw their attention to me. Though I may have wanted a photo with them, I was never bold enough to ask. Reminiscing over the past few conferences, I wish I’d been brave enough to talk with my favorites. To ask for a picture. Most well-established authors are gracious, and they’re happy to spend a few minutes talking with those who enjoy their books.

After attending five ACFW conferences, most of my nerves have subsided. The anticipation of connecting with writing friends takes center stage in my heart. If you’re coming to ACFW this year, I would love to say hello to you. Come find me.

What about you? What’s one thing that makes you nervous about attending writing conferences? For writing conference aficionados, will you share one piece of advice?

~*~

Jeanne Takenaka writes contemporary fiction that touches the heart. She won My Book Therapy’s Frasier award in 2014 after finaling in the contest in 2013. She was a Genesis 2015 finalist in the romance category, and she finaled in the Launching a Star Contest and the Phoenix Rattler in 2012. An active member of RWA, ACFW and My Book Therapy, Jeanne blogs about life and relationships at http://jeannetakenaka.wordpress.com. A graduate with an M.A. in education, she resides in Colorado with her husband and two exuberant boys who hope to one day have a dog of their own.

5 Tips to Help You Afford a Writers Conference

“I can’t afford to go to a writers conference.”

I hear this writer’s lament a lot. And there were years I stared down that seemingly insurmountable CAN’T, all the while longing to go to a conference and learn, network, and yes, have fun.

Harsh Reality: A writers conference is nowhere in your budget.

Writer Reality: You can’t afford not to go to a writers conference.

So how do you get past the first reality, conquer the financial obstacle, and get registered for your first writers conference? Here are some things that worked for me:

1. Start local. Yes, we all want to go to the big national conferences: ACFW, Mount Hermon, and any – okay, all of the MBT retreats. But when you add airfare and hotel on top of conference registration, your budget collapses. Hop on Google and search for writers conferences in your town or one-day conferences within a day’s drive.
2. Save up. One of the first conferences I attended had an arrangement where they charged a certain (reasonable) amount of the registration on my credit card for twelve months leading up to the conference. By the time the conference rolled around, it was paid for. Set up your own conference savings account and put a set amount aside each month for conference registration. What’s that you say? It might take you two years to save up for the Deep Thinkers or ACFW? Okay then. Get started now.
3. Buddy up. If you’re traveling out of town to a conference, there’s no need to get a hotel room all by yourself. I take that back – some people do prefer to sleep alone. But, if you can, share a hotel and split the costs two, three, even four ways. If the conference is within driving distance, see if anyone else wants to ride with you and share the cost of gasoline.
4. Book early. Don’t wait until the last minute to book your plane flight or your hotel room. The closer you get to your departure date, the pricier your plane ticket. And hotels fill up fast, especially when the conference offers a discounted rate for attendees. You can, of course, choose to stay at a less-expensive hotel close to the one where the conference is being held – but make those reservations early too.
5. Avoid extras. Yes, early bird sessions and after-conference sessions with big-name speakers are nice. But these are optional – not mandatory. Bookstores with all your favorite authors’ books – and the chance to have those books signed! – is another temptation, as are auctions to raise money for worthy causes. Think ahead: Is this in your budget or not? If you do go to the bookstore, know how much you’re going to spend. Pay cash if that’s the only way you won’t go over your limit.

What about you? How have you budgeted for a writers conference?

Don’t be overwhelmed: A game plan of what to do after a writers’ conference!

Are you home from the ACFW conference?  Finally unpacked?  I hope you came home filled with encouragement and new ideas on how to make your writing breathtaking. I came home to a clean house and smiling sons.  Nice!

Conferences can be overwhelming, between the requests for proposals or full manuscripts, new story ideas, craft lessons, marketing epiphanies and loads of new friends.  Don’t be overwhelmed.  Here’s a game plan of what to do after a writers’ conference:

  1. Organize your contacts: Sit down a make a list of everyone you met, from editors to fellow authors, to newbies.
  2. Reach out:  If they are editors or agents who gave you their time, even in an elevator to listen to your proposal, thank them.  If they asked you for a submission, thank them and tell them that you’ll be sending it.  If you have more work to do on it, give them an estimated time of delivery.  (more on that in a moment).  If they were fellow authors whom you enjoyed meeting – tell them that!  If you’ve met someone just beginning their journey, someone who feels overwhelmed, perhaps reaching out  to encourage them is a way to remind yourself of where you’ve been.  We learn by helping others.  
  3. Create your game plan:  No doubt you’ll have come home with something you’d like to work on in your story.  If it is something you are going to weave into the plot or the first three chapters, knuckle down and do this immediately before you send in your proposal. If you have a list of new teaching tips to add into your ms, then make a list, and apply these, step by step in to your story. Don’t try and tackle it all at once – get one element down, then move to the next.
  4. Respond to those requests for proposals: If you’ve received a request to send in a proposal, or a full, then, Yay! and Oh Boy, because now you have an open door that you want to use wisely.  If you know you aren’t ready, now that you’ve attended the conference, you may want to hold off submitting until you have applied these changes.  Sometimes if I have a list of revisions, I go ahead and apply them, easiest to hardest, to the synopsis and first three chapters.  I can fix the rest of the book while the agent/editor is reading over my proposal.  (however: if it is a full book rewrite, write to them and tell them you’ll contact them when it is finished.  You don’t want an agent to read your proposal, be excited about it, only to have you say…sorry, it’ll be six months before I get the rest to you.).

Let’s just talk about the “I must submit immediately” panic that most authors experience after a conference.

Here’s what reality looks like. An agent arrives home a few days after the conference (some of them have taken other trips to visit publishers while they are on the road and are only just getting back into their office this week) to a slew of mail.  They’ll take a few days just to sort through their mail.  Then, proposals will begin to arrive. They will stack them like cord wood on their desk (or on the floor next to their desk), maybe read a few query letters, synopsis and first few pages.  Those they like, they’ll send out to their readers.  They’ll do this in between taking care of their regular clients who will also have proposals and perhaps even contracts to negotiate after conference.  Maybe they’ll get to your proposal in a month.  Maybe not…but guess what – here comes Thanksgiving.  Then December – and nothing gets done in December.  So, suddenly it’s January and they’re still looking at the pile of proposals they received in October.  Or, they’ve read them through and haven’t found anything fabulous….

And, that’s when you’re rewritten proposal arrives.

My point?  Don’t rush into this.  You get one chance to impress them with your writing.  Take the time to give them a polished proposal, even if it takes until January.

The key is to keep communicating.  If it takes you until mid-November to rewrite, then simply send your agent/editor a Christmas note giving them an update on the story.  I promise they’re not waiting by the computer for your submission, but it’s courtesy to let them know what’s going on.

My advice: Follow up on every proposal request with the appropriate information:

  1. A Thank you and your ready proposal
  2. A Thank you, and an update on when you’ll send it.
  3. A Thank you and an “I’m not ready yet, but can I contact you later when I am” request.

Don’t be overwhelmed. Just sit down and create your game plan.  Then work the plan.  If you have further questions, I invite you to apply for the 24 hour MBT Premium Members pass:  http://mbt24hrpass.mybooktherapy.com and attend our Members-only Peptalk on Thursday night.  We’ll be fielding questions, unraveling agent/editor speak and giving hints on how to apply all that teaching.

Have a great writing week!

Susie May