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.

Happy writing!

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.


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  1. Wait a minute, you’re HUMAN? I want my money back…….

  2. While I devoured every MSG-gluten-free word of this, I splattered dairy free-creamered coffee on my computer screen laughing WITH you. Thanks for being so transparent, honest and “down in the trenches” on this one. Headed for a huge conference myself soon as I know thousands are, I for one am going to print this out and tape it to my notebook. Already re-tweeted and forwarded as well!

  3. Really funny writing because it’s so true. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “wanting it so bad” that you stay up too late working on a book pitch and consume way too much caffeine and then you’re a jittery, red-eyed mess and the agent across the table wonders if you just stepped out of Leaving Las Vegas. I’m going to re-tweet this! Thanks, ~Chris

  4. And then there’s the struggling writer who didn’t get her dream appt. before the conference, but got two or three others from people who didn’t show up, and then got her dream appt. afterall, and it wasn’t a right fit.

    And who spilled hot bacon dressing all over her laptop on the trip home. NOTE TO SELF: DO NOT TRY TO EAT SPINACH SALAD AND WRITE RECAP OF CONFERENCE AT THE SAME TIME.

    And then of course some of it got the guy right next to me, in the crotch, of course.

    2 years later, after 2 days of draining, my computer no longer smells like bacon dressing (a tough one for writing sex scenes), but the 5 and 66666 keys stick sometimes.

    Great post, as usual.

    • writerwellness on February 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristen! It only takes one time like this to NEVER forget to pack the food, supplements, bottled water, and yoga mat. I’ve had hotel valets at conferences ask me if I’m moving to the area permanently because I have so much to unload for just a weekend conference. People who have un-great cons don’t realize the food, water, and lack of exercise, to say nothing of lack of sleep, contributes to the bad feelings/results. It’s worth it to go armed and prepared with more than a great synopsis and one-line pitch.

  5. Oh, my goodness – how awful! And funny! Reading your blog today felt like driving s-l-o-w-l-y past a car wreck to get a really good look. Except with a comedian monologuing at the same time by the side of the road.

    I’m going to interpret my ROFL reaction as delight in the fact that you’ve come so far since then! Enjoy your conference, Kristen (and don’t forget your lunch, LOL).

  6. I remember my first agent appointment. And while it didn’t go horribly wrong, I’d sure like to know then what I know now.

    Love your blog too! 🙂

  7. I’m nodding all the way through this post! I had the worse migraine ever during my pitch sessions at my first conference. I looked and acted like a drunken hobo. Maybe not that bad–but not fond memories, let me tell you!

    For me, conferences are about learning and making friends. My favorite aspect was meeting people. I find most people interesting, but writers? Wow, they’re downright fascinating!

  8. I’m a big believer in leaving the room in the morning and not going back to it at all until done for the day. You can’t network in your room.

    • Patti Mallett on February 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen, Wow! What a powerful piece. It was like eating a meal that included glutin, chicken, and dairy products. Great stuff! I feel full and completely satisfied! (Okay, so I’m allergic, too, and it just sounds so good to eat some of that forbidden stuff.) Seriously, this was jam-packed with super advice! And it gives me hope that I can make it to conferences. (I just have to compose the right letter asking all attending to leave off the perfume and/or smelly lotions.) When you get that fiction book published, we’ll line up to buy it, because you know how to dish out the serious stuff with a big spoonful of funny! And we like that! It tastes good going down! But in the end, we are left with what we came here to find and we have learned something.

  9. Well, now I have to throw out my agenda and come up with a whole new one. Thanks for ruining my plans, Kristen.

  10. The best networking usually happens during the social activities when most people are standing around munching on hors d’oeuvres and drinking wine by the gallon. Just as you get the opportunity to meet and chat with the one person you were most anxious to meet and chat with, you notice that your hands are all sticky from the sweet and sour meatballs and somehow you’ve managed to spill half a glass of red wine down the front of your otherwise pristine white shirt.

  11. Love your picture after meeting with your first agent.
    My first phone call to my agent was a message and I not only called her by my mother-in-law’s name, I then called myself by my agents name. And that was all in the first ten words. To make matters worse, I sat there with the phone in my hand for about five (very long) seconds, debating if I should just hang up at that point. Fortunatly (and due to the invention of caller ID) I recovered to the best of my ability 🙂

    Thank’s for being transparent! I don’t know why we writers have a tendancy to freak out on ourselves. Glad to know it all worked out for you!

  12. I think I just LMAO!

  13. I’m worried I woke up my next door neighbours from laughing too hard, but they’ll get over it.

    I have no idea what goes on at conferences but I might bite the bullet and see if I can go to one this year. I’m one of those people who is perfectly outgoing on a computer or with my friends, but put me in a room full of people and I just want to sink into the nearest wall. So the idea of going to a conference has me terrified. But everyone says they’re great, so I’m going to have to go eventually…

    What was that? No, no, I didn’t scream. Me, give in to my fears and start crying at the thought of having to talk coherently to complete strangers about my book? Please…

  14. Oh my gosh! What an experience 😐 Thanks for sharing, Kristen… And you did make me laugh, as usual! 😀

    Too bad that all the cool conferences are in the US… And that we don’t just speak English in The Netherlands. That would make it all so much easier for me, lol. I would LOVE to go to a con like DFW some time, but I just can’t afford a huge flight like that for just a weekend 🙁

    Anyway, I hope you’ll have a great time, and hopefully a lot more relaxed than the first time you went!

    All the best!

  15. You’re funny. 😀

    A friend is attending her first writer’s conference this weekend . . . I sent her this link.

    • Lindsay cummings on February 25, 2011 at 11:41 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for this great post!! I am looking forward to meeting you at dfwcon!

    • laradunning on February 26, 2011 at 12:39 am
    • Reply

    What a great post. I could relate to the enthusiasm of the conference. Sounds like you had a rollercoaster of a day.

  16. Perfect timing for this post, thank you! I have my first conference in April. I’m so excited to go the class sessions and hope to attend a practice pitch session the night before the conference. Suit jacket, huh? I never would have packed that. How do you dress for a writing conference? Is it a business dress event? I never would have thought. Please help this conference newbie!

    1. Be comfortable. No one really pays attention to your dress and you are going to do a lot of sitting and walking and toting crap around. Wear layers in case you need to adjust for too much AC or heat.

  17. What a great tale. Love the line about retinal damage from how bright your future was! I’ve had that a few times too. In fact, I can barely make out these characters I’m typing. Great advice going into my first couple conferences this year. You are one of my favorite people in all of internetland because of posts like this one.

    1. Piper Bayard and I were just talking about how much we like you and love your comments, so the feeling is mutual. THANKS! 😀

  18. Laughing so hard. I could just imagine you swaying while trying to get yourself upright. Lessons I learned–be confident but not haughty, take the first aid kits and stock up with Tylenol, and lastly, be enthusiastic but don’t go if I’m dying in bed. 🙂 Thanks for the post.

  19. I’m one of the lucky ones who had no major blunders during my first conference. I owe it all to the agent/editor panel on the first day. One of the agents said something that changed my entire view of the writing industry.

    She said, “I’m shy.” Wow. They really are human. She went on to explain that, even though she’s shy (or maybe because of it), she attends conferences and networks with authors. She felt just as awkward as the rest of us, but she did it any way. (She hid it well by the way.)

    • Gene Lempp on February 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm
    • Reply

    Morbid fascination or “Hey, look at Kristen twitch from eating the orange-mottled mushroom, but she seems better now except for that off-centered eye”. I think a bit of both, but without them both you wouldn’t have all this great advice to keep us from doing the same things. Hyper-focus can be a great thing at times (brushing out unruly plot tangles), and a complete detriment in others (any inter-social environment). Things never play out the way our expectations and pre-fantasies imagine, but having fun and staying relaxed is always effective.
    Thanks for another great post Kristen, I know you’ll thrill them at the conference. Just be sure to check the bathroom after your classes for students that forgot to bring the right food with them.

  20. I love your hilarious writing. All your advice about attending conferences is so true!!

  21. Kristen, how you manage to turn the un-funny to the seriously funny is beyond me. I find it reassuring that you knew so much (pre-2008) yet made mistakes. Thanks for being transparent and real.

    By the way, love your book. Plan to apply so much more of your advice and tips later this year. (Once this ms is off my desk.)

  22. Bought your book WANA! Bought it first on Kindle; then started into it and liked it so much, I went back and ordered a “real” copy. (Sorry, but there is still part of me that likes to turn “real” pages. Plus, I like scribbling comments on the pages as I go!) I have been writing for quite a while and have been published in four magazines, but this internet arena is still new to me. With your help, and a few others, I am learning my way around. (Can you spend too much time trying to LEARN HOW TO DO and never actually get around to the doing part?) I have a few blogs out there…even here…but I am still very much of an amateur! Kind of just jumped in without much to go on. Now…I am learning what to do and not to do! Gasping/hyper-ventilating every now and then, as I discover how little I know about what I am doing! I love your blogs and am learning so much from you. Our sense of humor is somewhat alike, so that makes it even more enjoyable. I get your blogs by email so that I won’t miss anything! Only one problem with that…I get alot of others too, and if I get busy, my poor email about chokes to death! But I will not delete anything until I have devoured every word…sometimes more than once. Thanks again for all the info. Love it!

    • Kadja1 on March 3, 2011 at 7:44 am
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing. I tend to be nervous any time I network anyway. I will definitely keep this in mind when I go to my first writer’s conference. I love how you use humor amidst such chaos! My sister has all those food allergies and she goes through absolute hell when she ingests the wrong stuff! Thank you so much for sharing. Between you and Piper Bayard–my sanity stays in tact, I think. Have a great week! 😉

  23. Hi Kristen, I attended the DFW con this past weekend and took your course on blogging. I must have jotted down 20 pages of notes. I’ve since revamped my blog and have started doing regular posts on the same themes like you suggested (and no ranting, no political or religious chit chat anymore!). I’m also tagging the heck out of my posts and putting my name on everything under the sun. I also got a Twitter account. Thank you so much for all the great advice on building an author platform! I’m going to give it my all and cross my fingers. Thanks so much for doing the class.

    1. What’s your twitter name, C.J.? I’ll follow. 🙂

  24. Kristen,

    Just wanted to let you know how helpful your class was at the conference. I have a whole new perspectives on blogs and am aiming for that three times a week standard! I mentioned you in my blog, mathewfranks.wordpress.com. Hope that’s okay!

  25. Honestly, this is a great post! I’ve never been to a conference or saw the point until now. What are the best ones (aside from the one mentioned in this post) you could recommend? Especially any that are in California.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kristen Lamb, D.M. Solis. D.M. Solis said: RT @KristenLambTX: #Writing conferences –Beware of Crossing Deer http://bit.ly/gnfQMB #pubtip #writegoal #nanowrimo […]

  2. […] a hysterical account of a rookie agent pitch session, check out Kristen Lamb’s Writing Conferences–Beware of Crossing Deer. She even has a picture of the big […]

  3. […] Lamb’s hilarious tale of woe about attending her first conference and suffering from an unfortunate food-allergy […]

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