Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Cons of cons

By Julie Wright

I'm doing a sequel to last week's blog. I started thinking about conferences for writers and then cringed at several of my own (and worse, if you can believe it, other's) errors while attending conferences.

The Pros of Cons is that people get to meet you and know who you are.
The Cons of Cons is that people get to meet you and know who you are.

If you have a tendency to shoot off your mouth before your brain is fully loaded, you might want to consider duct taping your mouth shut before entering the conference arena. What you say can and WILL be used against in court of publication decision making.

Some basic rules for cons are:

1. Never bring a manuscript to hand off to an editor or an agent. This isn't just a flippant rule either. No, you are not the exception. Editors and agents do not want to lug your manuscript through airports and taxis along with all their luggage. Agents and editors usually use their travel time to read manuscripts they've asked for. This is valuable time for them and it really, really ticks them off to have someone try to eek into that time.

2. Never try to upstage a panel of authors, agents, and editors when you are in the audience. There is a reason why people are in the audience; it is to listen to the people with the microphone. If no one handed you a microphone, then don't assume anyone wants to hear from you. Honestly. I've been in some conferences where an audience member will tie up ten minutes of time while they pontificate about their half-written manuscript. Don't do this. I was talking to an agent afterward and he said he'd written the name down of the guy who wouldn't shut up, so he knows who to immediately reject. I think the agent was joking, but I think he was being honest too. Make yourself someone who is likable. Agents have so many reasons to reject a manuscript, do not spoon feed them more.

3. Use this time to socialize and network. Don't underestimate the importance of good friends. Even if you didn't get to buddy up with the editor of Scholastic, if you made other writer friends, you had a successful con. Writer friends are immensely valuable when the rest of the world thinks you're insane for trying a career at writing.

4. Feel free to talk ask questions during Q and A. Even if you don't have a microphone, you CAN ask a question. Questions are great to ask so long as they aren't, "Hi, My name is Joe and I just wrote the next Harry Potter. Will you publish it?" or "Why did you reject my manuscript?" Asking a well formed question can get you noticed in a positive way. Asking an off-the-wall-not-pertinent-to-this-discussion question will get you noticed in a negative way. If you aren't sure which side your question might fall on, error on the side of caution and don't ask.

5. Editors and agents are people too. So if you get a chance to be in an elevator with them, feel free to talk to them. Ask about how they like the conference. Talk to them like normal people. I think people get tongue twisted and freaked out because they forget that these guys are human. Even if you don't end up with a professional relationship with the agent or editor, you could end up as a well respected acquaintance, or even a friend, and that is something worth having.

6. This is not the time for off-color jokes and crude humor. We aren't in junior high; let's not act like it. I only mention this because I witnessed a scene that has forever scarred my mind. That guy will never be published.

8. Don't gossip. It's a small world. You never know who knows who and more--who LIKES who. You'd hate to be in need of a surgical procedure to remove the foot in your mouth. Never speak ill of others. It saves you the trouble of needing to apologize later.

7. Respect their time. I cannot tell you how often I see someone who has pounced on an agent or editor in the hallways between classes and panels and cons and they talk and talk and talk and . . . you get the picture? The agents eyes roam desperately for some escape, but they don't want to be rude . . .
Don't be the guy everyone is running from. If the agent looks at a watch or seems to be looking around, understand they likely had somewhere to go. Ask for a business card and shake their hand and leave it at that. Later, when you query them, you can say, "We met at the conference and you gave me your card."

8. If you got the card, send the query. Don't sit on business cards. Publishing is a dynamic business. editors and agents change houses and companies all the time. If you've got the card, you want to query immediately while the Con is still fresh in their mind. If you've got the card, the only thing holding you back is you.


ali said...

That was great Julie - thanks!

Julie Wright said...

Anytime :)