Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H Is For Homework

H is for Homework*
Conference season is upon us. Have you done your homework?

I had the unexpected opportunity to attend a mini conference last month. I had roughly three weeks to prepare, not enough time in my opinion. But I walked away feeling I had succeeded in my quest, complete with happy ending. What should you be doing to prepare for your next conference?

What you need depends on your goal. Everyone wants to walk away with a multi-book contract, but that is hardly the typical outcome of such events.

This was my first time attending a conference as a writer, so my goals were pretty straightforward -  look professional, make contacts, and discover my next step on the writer's journey.

1. Look professional. 
     Choose your best, most appropriate manuscripts. Format and print a few of each, but don't forget to bring digital copies just in case. Sum up your projects with concise pitches, because everyone will ask you, "What do you write?"
     Pack up-to-date business cards or postcards.
     Review your website and pre-post your blog. No one wants their posts to disappear just because they're out of town. No one wants to be distracted when they get home either. Don't forget, if an editor takes your contact information, the first thing they will do is check your online presence.
     Act professionally. I'm not good in social situations. For me, that means rehearsing and researching.

2. Research to be prepared. Who is on the faculty? Attending a conference is more than choosing the right workshops, it's knowing what to say when you meet the presenters. I don't mean having a slick elevator pitch (though that never hurts), I mean getting to know the editors and agents beforehand so you can ask them questions you need to know.
     Agents: Read her blog, learn her taste, and study her submission policies.
     Publishers: Study their catalog, read interviews with the editor, and search for the press's current needs.
     Magazines: Browse the magazine website, read a few back issues, and check CWIM for guidelines.

In my case, when I met each attendee, I didn't have to waste time finding out the basics.
     I was able to ask the agent to clarify her query procedure and see if she was interested in my genre, since it wasn't listed on her website. I knew which of my manuscripts she would dismiss without even reading them, so I didn't bother bringing those.
     I questioned the editor about the biographies her press had recently published. I learned they didn't accept slice-of-life manuscripts, and why. This was valuable, because it was the format I had chosen for my work-in-progress. I will be able to tailor my next project to their preferred format if I decide to submit there.
     When you study a magazine, you learn the flavor. You learn what they like. You don't always learn what they don't like. By noting what was missing from the magazines, I was able to propose new content. I got instant feedback from the editor on which submissions might be worthwhile.

3. A positive learning experience. I learned a lot about chapter books and easy readers, how to inject humor into my writing, how to stay grounded, how to persevere, how to query professionally, and so much more. The most important thing I learned was . . . what I don't know.

      I don't know enough about early readers. My manuscripts isn't as ready to submit as I'd hoped. My next step is to learn more about the genre before I begin revising.
     I don't know which publisher is right for my non-fiction WIP. I learned it isn't suitable for the publisher I met, and why. My next step is to find a new prospective publisher, or rewrite to different specs.
     I still don't know when I'll find the right agent, but I am armed with better questions to ask, and more qualities to examine as I continue stepping toward the goal, having an agent who is a perfect fit.

By taking a hard look at my current projects, tailoring them to the conference attendees, and asking the right questions, I found out where my work might sell, and where it won't.

As it turns out, I was able to show one of the magazine editors a sample of my work, which she offered to buy "on the spot." We laid the groundwork for future submissions. I definitely know what steps to take to pursue a mutually beneficial relationship.

I guess H is also for Hip-Hip-Hooray! and Hallelujah!
Enjoy the version below, by the Royal Choral Society.

*Follow the A to Z Challenge.

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