Those of us attending the American Christian Fiction Writers' Conference next week are beginning the big countdown.
Many will be participating for the first time. I'd like to give out a smidge of advice for the first timers, based on my last two conferences, this will only be my third so I'm by no means a veteran!
First of all, remember that attending a writers conference is NOT the means to making or breaking your future career in publishing. It is simply a valuable tool, something that will benefit you greatly along your path to publication. I could be wrong, but I believe it is rare to receive a contract or snag an agent AT the conference. Not to say that sometime down the road the connections you made there will flourish into something more, but please don't go into conference expecting to come away with your golden ticket. I've been there done that, and having those unrealistic expectations ups the pressure of your appointments by ten thousand percent. In other words, don't be stupid. :0)
I think a common dream many of us unpublished writers have, sadly. "Oh, they'll be SO impressed with me..."
Uh huh. Do you KNOW how many other writers are attending this conference? Last year I believe we overshot 400.
That said, it's great to have expectations, just make sure they're realistic. Dreams are different. Hold onto your dreams for dear life, because they'll keep you going. Just don't put the farm on them coming true after one appointment.
If you're pitching, come prepared to do so, but don't stress. Yeah, I know. So my first conference I didn't sleep for three nights...okay, I can't talk. Try not to stress. How's that? Yes, it's intimidating sitting down in front of a total stranger who could very well show an interest in your work and *gasp* ask to see it - catch word could.
I've found the best way to get through the nerves that invariably come with these appointments is to remind yourself that you're making connections. You're giving the editor or agent a chance to put a face to a name they may or may not have seen before.
Even if they're not interested in what you have to offer now, it's not the end of the world. You may have future projects that might work for them. It's all about timing, and in this business, timing is a fickle creature.
If you happen to stumble and stammer, don't worry too much. Pitching isn't my thing at all, but I always make sure I have a great one-sheet, maybe I go a little OTT on this, but oh well, and I at least know something about my story! LOL.
Relax. Seriously. Editors and agents are people too. I've met quite a few by now and I can tell you they're all nice. Really.
That said, if you want to make a good impression, respect their time. Show up early for your appointment and keep an eye on your watch so you don't run over time. Now, IF the person ahead of you is taking their sweet time and running into your time, what can you do? Well, for one thing, I believe there are coordinators in the area that keep an eye on these things. If not, you can move slowly toward the table, usually the editor or agent is also aware of the time and will wrap it up. Unless of course they're sealing a million dollar deal, then you might have to wait.
Make friends! Yes, even if you're shy, you can do this. If you don't squeeze a little extrovert out of the introvert, you'll regret it.
There are so many great people in ACFW. You'll love meeting them and they'll make you feel at home right away. I'll be around, so come find me, there's at least one person you know already. If you're still skeptical, jump on the Forum at ACFW and join in the Conference Chatter. My crit partner and I actually 'met' this way - we started IM'ing a few weeks before the conference so once we met in person it was like we already knew each other. And guess what, we're still friends!! Don't ask me how she puts up with me and all my craziness, but she does. You'll have plenty of standing in line time at lunch and dinner, so make the most of it. Strike up a conversation and see what happens!
Speaking of meal times - again, this is an area where I saw people stressing a lot - scrambling to sit with the agent or editor they really, really wanted to talk to. Last year I decided to leave it up to God. I sat where I sat and whatever happened, happened. I talked about my book once but mostly I just enjoyed the food! LOL. Actually, one of those meal times was a definite God thing. I happened to sit at Susan May Warren's table, there was an empty spot and hey, who doesn't like Susie? She asked what we were all working on. I'd just been giving some serious food for thought from the agent I'd met with that morning and thinking of ways to improve my manuscript. I gave Susan the gist of the story and within minutes she'd put her finger on what needed to be fixed and suggested ways of doing so. The funny thing about this is that months later, once I secured an agent, Susie worked on an edit of that same manuscript for me! That's what I mean when I talk about the God-ordained appointments.
As I said in my other conference post, go to have fun, go to learn and meet people. Most of all, go trusting God. He knows what you need more than you do. It's really important to believe in yourself and your writing, but just know that things don't happen overnight. Even when you have an agent, things don't happen overnight! Patience and prayer. I'm still learning as I go, so we're all in it together.
And if you're reading this and can't make the conference this year, you can still purchase all the teaching tapes online. Infact I highly recommend doing so. Every year, ACFW makes sure we have the best teachers and awesome speakers. Even if you can't be there in person, you can still share in the wealth of information so graciously doled out to us by these awesome authors.
These are just a few thoughts I had to share. If you have any questions about the conference for us, fire away, we'll do our best to answer them.
See you next week!