Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference by Joan Y. Edwards

Here are ideas to help you get the most out of a writing/illustrating conference. Whether you’re attending a one or two-day conference or one that lasts longer, you can take action to learn as much as possible. Planning ahead of time will enable you to take advantage of every opportunity to get you closer to publication. I hope that by reading this blog post and/or attending a conference, you’ll learn a writing or illustrating skill or technique to inspire you to believe in yourself as a writer and/or illustrator and never give up.

Before a Conference

1. What skill do you most want to improve? Attend the workshop that you believe will help you improve that skill the most.

2. Visit the webpages of at least three of the presenters that interest you. Check out their books at the library or on

3. If you have specific questions for presenters, write them down and ask them at the conference.

4. Get business cards printed. Put an image and title of your books on the back:,,

5. Get bookmarks printed:,,

6. Buy a new spiral or composition notebook with a bright colorful design. This way all of your notes are in one place. When you get home, you can transfer your handwritten notes to your computer. You can use a scanner to copy your notes and meaningful handouts.

7. Buy a folder with 2 pockets and prongs. You can put handouts here. Punch holes in them when you get home. This will keep the handouts all in one place.

8. Buy two pens that write just the way you like a pen to write. Put them in your pocketbook to take with you.

9. Write a pitch for three of your manuscripts. Read my blog: "How to Entice an Editor/Agent with a Pitch (Logline). You can print out your pitches on 3x5 cards, 4x6inch cards, or plain 8.5 x 11 printing paper. Carry the pitches with you to the conference. Put one copy in a folder. Put another copy in your pocketbook. Practice giving your pitch in front of a mirror. Use eye contact.

a. Pitch Part 1 Regular Pitch. In screenwriting and movies they call it a logline. You can read them in the TV guides or movie reviews.

My name is _______________. (Meeting a real agent or editor can do strange things to your speaking ability.) My GENRE for this book is __________. My WORD COUNT is ________.

This is a story about Hero______________ with a FLAW_________________
Whose GOAL (Life Changing Event) _________________ is Opposed by _____________ and ASSISTED BY______ in the BATTLE between _________ and __________.

b. Pitch Part 2 - Changes in Hero
Log Line 2 is Linda Rohrbough’s invention that she shared at Pike's Peak Writer's Convention in 2010. She says to add a second log line to further pull the editor/agents into your book.
Tell the character who changes and how they change (the character arc).

HERO CHANGES from__________________ to _______________ BECAUSE OF _____________ AND BY USING ___________________.

c. Pitch Part 3

What is the universal theme or premise of this story. The universal theme or premise answers the question: What did the main character learn from striving for this goal in this situation?

The Universal theme or premise of this story is _______+ _________ = ______________.

10. If your book is published, take 10 copies with you. If they allow participants to sell books in the bookstore during the conference, contact them way ahead of time to see if yours can be included. If not, take the books with you. Take one with you to each conference session. Someone seeing it might want to buy it or look at it.

11. Take hard copies of three of your manuscripts and/or a portfolio of ten of your illustrations that you want to do more of, that you enjoyed doing best. There might be a chance to have someone look at your work. You will be professional and feel professional.

11. Take comfortable clothing to wear in your favorite colors to keep your spirits high. Take a sweater or blazer, in case the air conditioning makes the conference room too cool for your inner thermostat. If you're hot, you can take off the blazer. Jeans, a shirt, and a blazer are good work attire for writers. Linda Rohrbough says that you want the editors to think you just left your computer to meet with them.

During the Conference

1. Hand out business cards with your name, address, phone number, email address, website and/or blog. If you don't have any business cards, type up the information on your computer, print them out, cut them out, and hand them out to as many people as it seems comfortable to you, then add 10 more.

2. Do you feel lonely and out of touch with people? Plan to talk to at least 3 people who sit beside you in a workshop at the conference. Exchange names, email addresses, and business cards with everyone with whom you talk. Here are possible questions to start your conversation:

"What are you writing?"

"Are you in writing group? Is it online or face-to-face?"

"How do you find time to write?"

"Do you write best in the morning or at night?"

3. Meeting an agent or editor
a. If you happen to meet an agent or editor in the elevator or at lunch, remember he/she is human, just like you. Ask one of these questions or one of your own:

"What is your favorite project right now?"

"How do you know when a book is right for you?"

"What's your advice for writers?"

b. After you ask your question of an editor or agent, there's a great possibility that you'll be asked, "What kind of writing do you do?" This is a perfect lead in for your pitch. Hold your head high, look the editor/agent in the eye, and tell them your pitch like he/she is your best friend.

4. Read over your notes and organize them into your computer
a. If you have a laptop or iPad, take notes with it during the conference. When you get home, edit your notes and add information from your handouts.

b. Use your spiral notebook or composition book to take notes. Put handouts in a folder.

5. Take a short walk for exercise in between sessions.

6. Get plenty of sleep.

7. Eat as healthy as possible during the conference, fruits, vegetables, and proteins. This will keep you alert and help you focus.

8. Enjoy yourself and learn as much as you can.

9. Write a litany of things for which you are thankful each morning before you begin your day.

10. Thank the presenters and the organizers for what you like about the conference. Make suggestions for change to make it more beneficial to writers and/or illustrators.

11. If you find a book that inspires you at the workshop, buy it if the price meets your budget. If not, wait until you get home and order it from the library or purchase an inexpensive used copy from Amazon or other source. See if it's available in an ebook format that's less expensive.

After a Conference

1. Sleep if you are tired. Accept yourself as you are and where you are. Accept others as they are. Focus on what you want. Be thankful for what you have and where you are. Put the fun back into your writing/illustrating.

2. Read and organize your notes and handouts from each workshop. If they're on paper, scan them into your computer, if possible. Write at three major things you learned from each workshop. Add more details, if you want.

3. Make a top ten list of things that you learned at the conference.

4. After all this information soaks into your mind, body, and spirit, write/revise three goals for your writing/illustrating using what you learned. Be patient with yourself. Here are three categories and possible actions:

a. Writing Skill/Genre

1) Read 10 books in your chosen genre and 3 books on the craft of writing.

2) Revise your favorite manuscript and submit it to an editor or agent.

3) Learn a new technology.

b. Marketing

1) Submit manuscripts/sample illustrations to different agents and/or editors on a regular basis. Participate in Publisher Submission on the Third Friday of the Month (PubSub3rdFri).

2) Prepare a book presentation for a school/organization.

3) Prepare a proposal to present a workshop for a writing conference.

4) Prepare a pitch for a manuscript. Go from a page summary and then focus on the words to hook readers. Keep shortening your pitch: 200-100-50-25 words. The ultimate goal would be to have a pitch that is 140 characters long to fit in Twitter. If you have all these, you can use them in your query letter or cover letter. If you want a blurb to put on your book, you'll have it. If a teacher asks you about your book, you'll have a pitch to get them to want to buy your book.

5) Prepare or update a post card, business card, bookmark, signature for email to promote you and your writing. Use your book titles and pitch blurbs.

6) If your book is published and you took it with you to the conference, is there something you plan to do to improve the promotion of your book at the next conference you attend. Write it down in detail. Educate and motivate yourself to carry it out.

c. Networking

1) Website, Blog, Critique Group

2) Book Presentations for schools and organizations

3) Facebook Author/Illustrator Page; Twitter; Linked-In, others

4) Contact at least three of the people who gave you a business card. If you remember your conversation with them, remind them of how you enjoyed talking about "their love of horses" or "their sadness at being rejected." Thank them for sharing a resource. Congratulate them on their manuscript. Compliment them for being brave and reading their story at open mike. Thank them for giving you a new way to look at a problem you were having. Visit their websites or Facebook pages, they might refresh your memory and/or give you new information to mention to them.

Below are articles with more ideas for gleaning the most out of a writing conference:

1. Kristen Lamb, "Getting the Most Out of Writing Conferences:"

2. Yvonne Russell, "Getting the Most out of a Writers’ Conference:"

3. Margo L. Dill, "Writers Conferences: Five Reasons Why You Should Go NOW, and How to Get the Most for Your Money:"
4. Marita Littauer, "Four Keys for Writers Conference Success:"


  1. This is an awesome article, packed with the best information for artists as well as writers. Thanks so much for all the hints and tips and words to the wise. The tips for After the Conference are just as important and should be on everyone's to-do list.

  2. Good article. I only disagree with one portion, the one about the pitch. The pitch needs to be professional, well written and known, but not dry. A pitch is like the first paragraph of a book: You either grab your audience (in this case an agent or editor) or lose him. Therefore it needs to be interesting.

    I have been on both sides of the pitch activity: author and publisher.

    I wrote an article on giving a pitch, but I can't remember if it has appeared already or is scheduled. I'll have to search.

    I attend at least one conference physically a year and one on line. I have benefited from all.


  3. Joan,

    What a lot of great tips. Thank you! Aren't conferences fun?

    Linda A.

  4. Dear Ginger,
    Thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you think my ideas are good ones for writers and illustrators to use for conferences.
    I love your illustrations. They are intriguing and fun.
    Do something good for you today!

  5. Dear Vivian,
    Thanks for the compliment about my article. The pitch ideas are only outlines of what needs to be included. Of course, if pitches are boring, they won't attract any editors or agents. If writers write the pitch in an interesting way, it'll pull the editors and agents in. They won't be able to get the story out of their minds. Then they'll ask for the full manuscript so they can find out what happens.
    Thank you, Vivian, for all the help and inspiration you give to writers and illustrators.
    Do something good to celebrate you today!

  6. Dear Linda,
    Thanks for reading my article. I'm glad you thought there were a lot of great tips. Conferences are definitely fun. Meeting new people, learning new ideas, finding the answers to a few writing/illustrating problems. It's all fun.
    Do something to celebrate your writing today!