Writing Conferences–Beware of Crossing Deer
(Photo courtesy of johnlund.com)
This weekend I am teaching social media at the DFW Writer’s Workshop Conference at the American Airlines Center. I have to say that I have attended quite a few conferences, and the DFW folk have been the best, hands down. If you aren’t going to this year’s, sign up early for next year. You won’t regret it. They offer an amazing variety of classes, taught by some of the best talent in the industry.
I mean, I am teaching there, right?
Ouch. I got a cramp patting myself on the back.
It is so interesting looking back now at my first conference. A lot has changed. I am a published and best-selling NF author as opposed to a hopeful wanna-be fiction writer. I am a speaker, not an attendee. Life never turns out the way we plan, does it?
It’s like being out of college and looking back at that time of trial and testing and thinking…I am so much smarter now (Or, thank God I am not still THAT stupid. It’s a close tie which).
Like social media, I did most things wrong in the beginning. Yes, even when it came to conferences. I have no idea why you guys listen to me, sometimes. Maybe you just follow out of morbid fascination of what dumb thing I might do next. Hey, whatever works. I’m not picky :D.
My first conference was back in February of 2008. I was an overachiever and got Swine Flu a year before it swept the world. For most of February I had 103 fever and wanted to die…then burn my own ashes (again) because I was pretty sure I was so sick that even my cremated remains would have body ache. I nearly didn’t make it to the conference (which was DFW by the way).
I was so sure that 2008 would the year I got an agent. All I needed was an agent and then my life would be on Easy Street. My biggest concern was what to do if the agents started fighting over me. How would I choose which one to go with? Would it make future cocktail parties in NY awkward?
Yes…I was a wee delusional.
And, to make it worse, I should have known better, but I didn’t. I had been on the editing side and had many, many acknowledgements in published books from grateful authors who would not have been published without my help. I felt pretty confident. I knew my stuff. I find it funny how I had been in “the publishing industry” for so long, yet was still pretty clueless. I think I was like the computer programmer who believed he could kick ass in software sales. I knew so much, but in my pride and relative isolation, was unable to see how much more I had yet to learn.
So that Friday night, the agent-author social went really well. I was charming and fun and managed to make it through the entire night without tucking my dress in my pantyhose. I think that was the last thing to go right for the next 24 hours.
First, for those who do not know, I have a zillion food allergies. I might even be allergic to myself. I would live in a giant bubble, but I can’t get cable. So keep this in mind.
Hey, can somebody order me a pizza? Please? Anyone?
The Friday social goes well, but that night I get no sleep. None. I was too excited. I was going to be an agented author by this time the next night. My future was so bright, I was sure it had caused permanent retinal damage.
The next morning I peeled myself out of bed and drove to Grapevine. I looked stunning in my new suit, but I was so fried that I forget to grab the food I had pre-packed. I arrived at the conference half-starving already and it wasn’t even 8:00 a.m. That entire morning, I barely paid attention to any of the craft classes because 1) I was exhausted 2) I was starving and 3) I had my agent pitch right after lunch….which I could smell and it was making me half-mad.
I dodged out of a class early to talk to the caterer and asked if he had anything that was gluten and dairy free. He said “Yes.” The angels started singing. YES! I could get something to eat. I grabbed my meal and began wolfing it down prison-style, knife at the ready to stab any of the kitchen staff who might decide to take my plate before I had eaten the garnish and the Sweet & Low packets (fiber).
I finished eating before the other writers were even let out of class. I was feeling great. The writers filed in. I started socializing to take my mind of the pitch that I knew would change my life.
Candy Havens stepped up to do her keynote and…
My heart rate suddenly kicked up to 160 beats and felt like I was having a heart attack. I felt dizzy and my fingers and feet went totally numb, along with part of my face. I struggled to stay conscious as I watched Candy’s speech. I couldn’t get up and interrupt her, but I was terrified that I was going to pass out right there. My peripheral vision was soon gone. Black. And I could tell I was inches from blacking out. Clearly I got into something I was allergic to. I chugged every glass of water at the table trying to dilute whatever foul element I ingested.
I hung on Candy’s every word…waiting for the last one. The second people start clapping I dove out of the banquet hall and stumbled to the bathroom. I was in bad shape. A couple of the speakers happened to be in there and apparently it was clear to them that something was definitely wrong with me. They wanted to take me to a hospital.
NO! I had come too far. I could do this.
I still had an hour until my pitch session…the 15 minutes that would change my life forever…although I did grant permission to call an ambulance if I passed out.
During that hour, I drank another gallon of water and the symptoms, blessedly, started to subside. About a half hour after I staggered into the restroom, another woman stumbled into the bathroom with a screaming migraine. Apparently the caterer forgot to mention the liberal amounts of monosodium glutamate in the broth used to cook the rice. We were both in pretty bad shape.
So I missed another craft class trying to be at least coherent for the agent pitch. I got into the room and my beautiful suit is all rumpled and my hair is flat on one side (from leaning on a chair trying not to die). I am also pretty certain I only had makeup on one eye.
I sit down and begin to talk, but have no idea what point I am trying to make….and I have to pee. Like BAD. Like 12 seconds after I sit down I am now aware of the 6 gallons of water I drank. So now I am wiggling and trying to think, but all I can picture are waterfalls and sprinkler systems and babbling brooks and speaking of babbling, what the hell was my book about anyway?
It was a disaster.
Actual photo of Kristen Lamb at first agent pitch session.
But, an hour after the pitch session, I felt better and I finally got to do what conferences are all about. I made loads of friends and connections, and took some great classes to improve my skills. I learned so much at that conference and met some of the most AMAZING people who are my friends even to this day.
I look back and wonder if I would have just lightened up and gone for the conference for the right reasons, would I have had my near-death experience? I was so keyed up that I made one dumb decision after another, which was probably fueled by stress and sleep deprivation.
I gave myself Deer in the Headlight Syndrome. You know what happens the deer caught in the headlights? They get creamed, flattened, squished.
Okay, I made my point. RELAX! ENJOY your conference experience. It separates the wanna-bes from the professionals. Conferences are the best, and they are the greatest investment you will ever make in your writing career, but NOT because of that 15 minute pitch session.
The pitch session is not a career make-or-break situation. Seriously, agents (I have heard whispers of rumors coming from the caves) are HUMAN. More importantly they are humans with the sole job of finding writers to represent. They are not the enemy. Also, the only person with the power to make or break our career is….US. Agents do not hold that power. If we write excellent stuff, agents will want to represent it. Period.
Line of writers waiting outside agent pitch-sessions.
Also, we can talk to agents outside the pitch session. I don’t recommend sliding your query letter under the stall, and try not to ambush them outside the Ladies Room door, but here is a little understood secret. Agents go to conferences to network and to…. Are you ready for this? FIND CLIENTS.
We can talk to them. In fact, agents expect writers will talk to them. To think otherwise is like thinking it would be rude to offer a designer a fabric swatch at a trade show. Agents go to writing confernces to meet writers and, hopefully, out of aaaallllll the hopefuls, find someone with content that they believe they can sell.
We are in control of our careers, which means that yes, agents are important, but connections and classes trump agents any day of the week. The more connections we have, the more doors of opportunity will come our way. The more we listen to others and learn from them, the faster we grow and mature into the type of writer an agent is dying to represent.
In the end, after all of my suffering, did I get an agent? No. I got a form letter with the wrong name on it. But, it was probably one of the most valuable experiences of my career, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Top 5 Tips
1. Go to all the craft classes you can. Trust me, no matter how good you think you are, you aren’t even close to how great you COULD be. Go to more than just agent panels and “How to Land an Agent” classes. Take this opportunity to grow into a better you.
2. Talk to all the agents. Not necessarily to pitch your book, but just to be nice. You might see them at another conference and they will recognize you. Now you are forming a relationship. This also helps you see they are really
blood-sucking werewolves human.
3. Pitch to more that one agent. You can talk to agents other than the one assigned in your pitch. The pitch session just guarantees us a particular agent’s undivided attention. It doesn’t mean that the other agents will take out a restraining order on you if you say “hi” and ask to give your elevator pitch.
4. Have FUN! Conferences aren’t cheap. Squeeze every bit if fun out of every little moment. Get your money’s worth.
5. Go out of your way to form memories. This is like high school or college. We can either have a blast in our “learning years” and take lots of pictures and have lots of fun…or we can rush through it and fail to enjoy our “writing youth” because we are to busy wanting to be “writing grown-ups.”
So what are some of your conference experiences? Good or bad? Some of my closest friends are people I met at conferences. Do you have any advice? Tips? Pointers? Want to recommend a conference? Want me to come speak at a conference in your area? Put it in the comments. I love hearing from you.
And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.
Until next time…
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.
Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.