Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Write Brain: A Conference Primer

Plan. Pace. Ask. Breathe.

Those words of advice came from Pikes Peaks Writers President Chris Mandeville during a Tuesday Write Brain session. The writers group hosts free workshops on a variety of topics. This month, the program focused on next week's Blaze the Write Trail conference.

The conference from April 29 to May 1 in Colorado Springs offers more than 80 workshops according to veteran attendee Charlie Rush, who offered loads of advice. PPW Conference Director Bonnie Hagan also joined the panel to inform the group of newbies wanting to know more about the conference.

The trio covered the key topics like pitch appointments with editors and agents; how agent and editors will be intermingled with attendees at meals; how read and critiques work; and workshop content.

They hit on other topics like meals; bathroom locations (including a secret bathroom that may not have large lines); bookstore locations; and areas where attendees can congregate without disturbing workshops.

Bonnie said, "We work very hard" to offer a friendly and professional environment. The Write Brain session is part of that strategy. It was an opportunity for conference attendees to educate themselves about the event and ask questions. PPW also has a special add-on day of longer workshops on April 28. One session on this day is all about pitches. The conference also offers an orientation for attendees on Friday and Saturday.

Charlie, Bonnie and Chris detailed how the year-round planning process will come to fruition next week. They packed a lot of tips in two hours. Some of the tips I liked included:

From Bonnie:
  • All pitch appointments are Saturday.
  • Remember editors and agents are human and are approachable.
  • This is a face-to-face query.
  • If an agent requests your work, ask questions about how to submit it.
  • Don't badmouth an agent or editor or get into an argument over a disagreement. 

I used to watch American Idol during the auditions. Remember those rejected singers, who came out cursing and waving their fists at Simon, Randy and Paula. Don't do that at conference. Charlie, Bonnie and Chris all emphasized publishing is a small world. No one wants to be the "did ya hear about the writer ..." story.

Bonnie continued with:
  • Don't monopolize conversations.
  • Don't pass out manuscripts.
  • Learn your elevator pitch. 
  • Know the answer to the question, "So what is your book about?"
  • Say Thank you and be courteous.

From Charlie:
  • He cautioned writers on two points for pitch appointments — don't pitch unless your manuscript is complete and don't burn bridges. He said he pitched an agent that was right for him, but his manuscript wasn't finished. 
  • You are not alone. He said 42 percent of the more than 300 conference attendees are newcomers. 
  • Ask questions. The PPW staff are more than happy to help.
  • Have fun. Make new friends.
  • Plan which sessions you will attend. If you are early in your writing journey, you may want to consider a workshop on dialogue over a program on how to write a synopsis.
  • Drink lots of water. Colorado can be dry.
  • Don't drink too much at the bar. You don't want word getting around of your behavior.

From Chris:
  • Take an index card or business card to pitch appointments, so you can write down how to submit your work.
  • Be prepared for the pitch appointments with information about your work and be conversational. She said some agents ask writers to skip their notes and tell them about their manuscript.
  • Celebrate every request to "send it." 
  • Dress professionally. A pitch appointment is an interview.
Oh, and don't forget, turn off your cellphone.

After all that, are you ready to Blaze the Write Trail?

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