Calming Your Conference Jitters
Hi, everyone! Welcome to the wonderful world of the California Dreamin’ Writer’s Conference. Romance writers are the most generous, most giving, most supportive people in the publishing world, so set your expectation right now that you’re going to have a wonderful time at the conference this month.
Whether this is your first, or your tenth-plus conference, there’s always something to get nervous about. So let me tell you a few secrets, hm?
First off, everyone is in the same boat. The new people are nervous because it’s their first conference. The old-timers are nervous because they’re probably giving workshops, or pitching again after not having to pitch for a long time. The agents and editors are nervous because they really want to find the Next Big Thing, and they’re afraid someone will faint on them (but more about that later).
What you need to remember, no matter where on the spectrum you fall, is that we’re all in this together. We’re all here to learn, to have fun, to teach, to pitch and be pitched to, to laugh and hug and buy books at the book signing, to sign books, to giggle with our roommates till the wee hours of the morning, and then wake up bright-eyed for another long day.
Conference is our reward for holing up in our rooms day after day, night after night, getting those words down, so do plan on having fun!
Okay now, regarding those agents and editors/publishers who will be here; I’m going to let you in on a little secret. They’re people, too. They’re friendly, fun people who, like you, are here to work (and maybe to escape the snows back east, but that’s fine with us). The very best thing about small conferences is you can talk with these people in a relaxed setting.
Didn’t sign up for a pitch? Maybe, just maybe, you can pitch to an editor or agent at lunch, or at the Dessert Reception on Friday night, or maybe in the bar. Be yourself, be friendly (not pushy!), and when they happen to ask you, “So what kind of romance do you write?” be prepared to give a clean, concise answer. Here’s a sample conversation:
Agent/Editor: Hi, person to my left. What kind of romance do you write?
You, the Writer: I write (insert your genre here – contemporary, paranormal, historical, erotica, etc).
Agent/Editor: Cool. I’m actually looking to acquire that genre. What’s your current story about?
You, the Writer: It’s about a princess in hiding who is looking for the last Jedi Master to help her save her planet.
Agent/Editor: Sounds fascinating. Is it finished?
You, the Writer: Why, yes it is. It’s complete at 60,000 words.
Agent/Editor: Then I’d love to see your first three chapters. Here’s my card.
Of course, not all agents and editors are going to (a) be actively acquiring what you’re writing or (b) ask you to send them chapters, but at smaller conferences, the possibility is high. Agents and editors are people who want you to succeed, and there is absolutely no reason to be so terrified that you faint. Unfortunately, a lot of new conference goers don’t get the memo, and they shake in their shoes, develop a bad stomach ache/head ache, and forget to blink, until their pitch is over and done with.
If this is your first time, be prepared to be welcomed and congratulated for being there. Need a topic of conversation? Ask someone with a Speaker tag what they are going to be speaking about. That will help calm their nerves, which will help calm your nerves, and everyone gets to be friends. Cool, huh?
If you can, print out the conference schedule and try to choose from the myriad of tracks we have. It can be hard, when you want to go to three different workshops, and they’re all at the same hour, so a little forethought ahead of time may save you workshop angst.
Oh, and business cards. Yes, you need them. They are inexpensive at VistaPrint, or at Staples I believe, so check it out and grab some before the week before conference. Then make sure you pack them.
Clothes-wise, even though we’re in southern California, it is the end of March and therefore unpredictable. Not to mention, hotels can get cold (and hot!); so layer your business casual clothes, and you’ll be fine. Remember you want to give off a professional air; but suits/heels and hose aren’t necessary (because California!), unless, of course, that’s how you’re branding yourself.
Above all, come expecting to have a great time, and to meet new friends. It only takes one conference to get hooked.
Can’t wait to see you all there!
Christine Ashworth is a romantic from way back, having first picked up Harlequin romances at the age of twelve, then falling in love with bigger books when she swiped her mother’s copy of Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love.
She’s happily married to an actor/dancer/guitarist/hippy man, has two tall sons, and tends to her garden and her family in southern California. You can read about her cooking, gardening, and wine picks at her website.