Friday, May 18, 2012

May Conferences: Etiquette

  • Talk to people you are sitting with at dinner or sessions, standing next to in the hallway--you never know where and when you'll find advice that'll change your career or people that'll become life long friends
  • Take copious notes
  • Pick an agent/editor/published author's brain when appropriate: during free time, meals, spare time in a pitch or consult session
  • Ask what other people are writing, sessions they are attending, things they've learned
  • Get involved in extra events, readings, and workshops
  • Volunteer to be "the example" in a session--if an agent is teaching a workshop on pitching and asks for people to practice, do it;  you get not only the attention and advice of an agent but the audience is your sounding board (applies to first sentences, titles, character names, you name it)
  • use the opportunity to find a critique group--you'll usually find a board where people will post "looking for' ads
  • If you know you have to duck out of a session early to get to a pitch or consult, sit near the back on an aisle. Leave quietly. The presenters won't be offended.
  • Likewise, if you arrive at a session late due to another appointment, save certain questions to yourself and concede you've probably missed some important info. Ask a peer or the presenter at the very end if there were handouts or someplace you can find the lecture notes. Or ask a friend/neighbor/your new besty to look at their notes.
This is totally my own opinion. I'm not at all a germ-a-phobe, but I don't actually care whether or not you shake my hand. I'm not going to not look at your work if you don't shake my hand. The thing is, I shake so many people's hands at conferences that I carry sanitizer with me and make frequent trips to the bathroom to wash my hands. I often get sick after conferences from a combination of stress and germs. Don't make a big deal out of not shaking someone's hand. But this is utterly up to you and I won't turn down a hand shake. (when will fist bumps become an appropriate formal greeting?)

  • pitch agents in the bathroom
  • Use the question and answer portion of a panel or session to ask narrow, personal questions that won't benefit anyone else, or to pitch--you can get a consult session for that or track someone down in their freetime to ask
  • make everything about you
  • drink too much
  • Take five minutes minutes to describe your book if another writer/agent/editor asks what you're writing--a quick elevator pitch will do, or to another writer, the genre and basics (YA timetravel to ancient Rome)
  • Take five minutes to pitch an agent when he/she is obviously in a hurry/on the way to the bathroom
  • Confront an agent about a rejection or rejection by a colleague
  • Bring materials and expect an agent to critique your ms or query during a pitch session
  • Ask questions in a Q&A if you've arrived late that have most likely been answered already--a question about query basics if the session is about queries
  • Be that "doom and gloom" person who always has to talk up the e-book apocalypse and/or bash traditional publishing--keep questions polite and educational for all

I cannot stress this enough: When in a session and the speaker asks for questions, don't take that as an opportunity to pitch an agent or ask for such narrow advice that will apply to only you. Make it broad enough that many more people will benefit from the answer--you are taking their precious time as well as the speaker's.

Are there any conference pet peeves you've developed over the years?

Happy conferencing!


Kelley York said...

I've yet to go to a conference, but it completely baffles me some people would pitch to agents/editors in *bathrooms.* (But I've read the horror stories!) That's just...I mean...I don't even like talking to people in bathrooms, let alone trying to pitch a book.

Helpful info, all of this. Thanks. ;)

Stephsco said...

My thinking is many people prone to pitch an agent in a bathroom or take up Q&A time for their own book idea are probably not reading these blogs. But it's good to get etiquette out there in whatever form! I've seen Q&A hogs and railroaders at the conferences I've been to, but thankfully the moderator/speakers have been very good at handling them.

Matthew MacNish said...

FWIW, I'm totally fist bumping you if we ever meet.

SM said...

I was just at a conference where I saw plenty of misbehaviors - the worst being dead-simple basic questions that indicated the individual had done no research, and which were off-topic to the session where they were being asked. In craft sessions, people generally don't want to talk about "how to find an agent" for example.

But it's not just writers who need to watch themselves at these things. In one of the sessions I attended, one of the agents came off as a narrow-minded, anti-intellectual jerk. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to go on query tracker later in the day and mark him as an "avoid."

Mart Ramirez said...

That's a really great list. Thank you, Vickie.

Unknown said...

Biggest conference pet peeve? When someone goes into a class taught by a published writer and bashes the writer's work. It is so unprofessional and just down right rude. Even if you think you are a better writer, keep it to yourself.

Unknown said...

My experience with conferences is that some attendees treat it like a job interview (prepare answers to likely questions, have an idea who it is they will network with, dress professionally, etc). Others treat conferences like a vacation (enjoying the hotel bar, complaining about the food and service, general 'loud' behavior, etc).

There are lots of temptations - it's kind of like Darwinism. It takes a certain amount of discipline to remember why you are there and what you want to get out of it.

Last conference I went to, several attendees hit the bar hard before their pitch sessions (for liquid courage, they said). But I noticed one lady in particular who did not. She dressed in a suit, waited patiently for her pitch session, paid attention to which agents/editors had appointments that never showed up - and she ended up getting five or six extra opportunities to pitch her manuscript that day.

Her professionalism and focus (and a good pitch) earned her big page requests from every pro she met that afternoon.

Another thing to keep in mind - the agent panel at this conference stated that after they request pages at conference pitch sessions, a shockingly high percent (I think they said it was 30-40%) of the time, no pages are ever submitted to them.

Conferences are not inexpensive. Know what you want to get out of it before you go. :)

Stina said...

My pet peeve is when the instructor of the workshop goes on and on about their book and doesn't deal with the topic of the workshop. It doesn't sell books, and people usually leave to check out a different session in progress.

DL Hammons said...

I think I was at the same conference SM was at and I know exactly what agent they're talking about!

And your point about asking narrow questions that pertain only to your situation...OMG!! This happens so often, and steals time from the rest of us.