Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rant: Conference invitations

I'll come to your writing conference.
I'll work my ass off for you.
I'll judge contests, teach workshops, and even answer questions in the bathroom.
I'll come early, and stay late.

Don't worry about showing me the sights or giving me a vacation. If I want a vacation or sightseeing, I'm going to a place where no one discusses query letters or SASEs.

In exchange for working hard and not complaining (any more than usual) here's your part of the deal:

1. Pay for airfare, hotel and meals. Don't give me an "honorarium" and tell me that's for expenses. Don't give me a dollar figure and tell me that's what you'll reimburse me. I won't do that stuff anymore. Pay what it costs to get me there. I'll give you an idea of air fare if you need one, and you know the hotel costs.

2. Have the hotel and the writing conference in the same location, or a very very short walking distance apart. I don't drive, and even if I did, I don't want to add to your expenses by renting a car that's going to mostly sit in a parking lot.

The reason this is high on my list is that when there are short breaks in the schedule it's really helpful to be able to go back to my hotel room, wash my fangs and brush my face. It's helpful to have some moments of quiet. It's nice to be able to change my shirt if I get grubby during the day (and you'd be surprised how grubby you get rolling around in gerunds and narrative arcs, and query pitfalls all morning.)

If I have to ask for a ride back and forth, I won't. I hate asking for stuff. I like to just be able to do what I need to do, on my schedule.

3. Don't mess up my schedule. Tell me when I need to be there, and when I'm done. I don't care if you add appointments in between, but don't surprise me the night before with "oh, your first appointment is at 8, not 9." I try to get work done when I'm attending conferences and frequently I'll have set up a phone or email appointment with someone thinking I wasn't scheduled.


4. Please please please encourage people to bring pages. There aren't a lot of people who want to see pages at a conference. I do. I'd rather look at the writing than fall in love with a concept, get home and find out the writing sucks. I'd MUCH rather fall in love with the concept, get a look at the first ten pages and be able to say "hey, you're starting at the wrong point." Please please please let me help people efficiently.


5. Don't schedule breakfast, lunch and dinner with authors. One or two is fine, but not all three. If I can have one or two meals with just presenters it's almost as good as down time.

6. Have your conference in the off-peak travel season. Not summer. Travel is a beast at best, and summer is the worst. If you have your conference at off-peak times it's less expensive to get us there, and it's easier on us.

7. Make sure I know the conference organizer's name and cell phone number. If my plane is delayed, I will call and tell you, but I have to know who to call.

8. Vet your agents. Make sure they've sold something THIS year, or represent people who have established careers. It's entirely acceptable to ask agents for recent deals. The subtle way is to ask what books they want available at the conference. My way is to just ask point blank. The middle way is to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and do a search.

9. Have panels and classes that appeal to writers who aren't beginners. I salivate for those folks. It's MUCH more likely they are ready to be published than the raw beginners.

10. Invite any of my local clients to a lunch or two and comp them. Let them sit with me. I don't get to see them very often, and for that one thing alone, I'll be your devoted fan forever.

11 comments:

Margaret Yang said...

Point nine, about "advanced" panels: Amen, sister! It blows my mind how many absolute beginners come to writer's conferences. I feel sorry because it's a waste of the writer's time and money. After you've got a polished manuscript is the time to start attending those things.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Awesome, thoughtful list. Thanks, Janet. I'll be sure to pass this on to some folks I know who'll need it.

As for #9, may I add a second amen? I can't tell you the number of conferences I've attended now where I've been sorry I wasn't home writing. I have two degrees in creative writing. I want more than "this is what makes good dialogue."

Kelley said...

Number eight, please.

Conferences are rare here in NH. The last one I'd checked out-the only agent anywhere near my genre was, well, questionable. No recorded sales that I could find. No "real" clients I could find. Threads on forums warned people about her.

*banging head on desk*

WHY?!!?

If they're going to take my money for a conference, and they were more than happy to take it, at least provide legitimate agents for pitch sessions. Please.

December/Stacia said...

Yep, I want to amen 8 as well. It always amazes me when I hear about someone pitching an agent at conference, and I haven't heard the name so I look, and it's an agent with no sales. How did they get there? How do the conference organizers feel justified and comfortable with taking money from writers so they can pitch someone who doesn't actually know what they're doing? Heck, they might as well pitch me. Or the janitor. Or each other.

If the conference is "sponsoring" that agent, they owe it to their paying customers to make sure it's a real agent who can actually help their careers.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

Janet, I want to ask you a question but I don't know where to ask you this question. I don't want to email you because I am sure your inbox is flooded with emails.

So I was wondering... whenever I visit an agent's (or agency's) website, and the submission guidelines go something like, "we accept email queries. please send your synopsis and the first chapter blah blah..."

this drives me crazy because I am not sure if they mean a proper query letter OR if they want a 1-2 page synopsis? I am soooo confused. I'd appreciate a helpful answer from you. Thanks.

Travis Erwin said...

I'm going to print this off and give it to the chairperson of our local conference.

Julie Weathers said...

Please please please encourage people to bring pages. There aren't a lot of people who want to see pages at a conference. I do. I'd rather look at the writing than fall in love with a concept, get home and find out the writing sucks. I'd MUCH rather fall in love with the concept, get a look at the first ten pages and be able to say "hey, you're starting at the wrong point." Please please please let me help people efficiently.

THANK YOU! My logical mind tells me the last thing an agent wants at a conference is more stuff to keep up with.

9. Have panels and classes that appeal to writers who aren't beginners. I salivate for those folks. It's MUCH more likely they are ready to be published than the raw beginners.

Amen. I'm going to Surrey this year. It will be my first conference and it comes highly recommended for the quality of presenters and workshops.

This is one thing I have worried about with some other conferences. I understand people who are just starting out need help also and I am not such an elitist to think I can't learn. However, some more advanced techniques on how to make a good story a great story are what I crave.

Susan Adrian said...

Julie: Surrey gets all these things right. I think that's why Janet must like it so.

Julie Weathers said...

Susan, yes, I have heard as much. No one knows how much I am looking forward to this conference. KC says frequently there is an embarrassment of riches there and she isn't joking. I'm almost to the point of drawing names out of the hat because it's so hard to decide which workshops to attend.

Now I just wish I had thought seriously about losing some weight a few months ago.

Heavy sigh

Just_Me said...

Ya know... I haven't been to one of these yet and you're scaring me. Maybe I'll just keep doing the blog-tour thing...

H. L. Dyer said...

This really makes me want to organize a conference. Chicago needs more conferences.