Category Archives: Agents

Conference Season is Upon Us

Good Day, Scribe Followers,

PJ Sharon here. March is an exciting month for authors. Springtime is around the corner and this year’s conference circuit begins. Since I’ve been at this a few years, now…eight to be precise, I’ve come to learn the value of attending at least a few hands-on workshops and major conferences every year. There are so many great opportunities out there, how does one know which conference is worth the time, effort, and money?  I’ve narrowed down my favorite, and most productive conference experiences. I’d love to share my take on a few of them.

I’ll start with the CTRWA sponsored events. I may be biased since this is my home chapter, but the events planners for CTRWA manage to consistently offer fantastic programming at very reasonable prices. With a smaller, more intimate gathering of authors, you can enjoy getting to know other writers, networking, and learning from such greats as Michael Hague and Kristan Higgins. Michael Hague’s teaching on story structure and the heroes’ journey revolutionized my writing. I can’t wait to hear him speak again this coming weekend! CTRWA also puts on an incredible Fiction Fest conference in the fall. These two events are on my MUST attend list.

This will be the first year I’m attending the New England Conference April 24-26, so I’ll be anxious to see how that one is. I’ve heard good things, and I’m looking forward to presenting, as well as seeing some of my CTRWA pals giving workshops as well. If expenses are tight–which is the case for most of us writers–presenting workshops can be a great way to attend conferences at a discount and also get your name in front of a a good number of people.This will be my first time presenting to a crowd this size, but with a workshop on Ergonomics and Self Care for Writers (Subtitled: Is your writing killing you?), how can I go wrong?

One of the funnest parts of attending conferences is that you never know who you’re going to meet. I rode an elevator with Nora Roberts three times before realizing who she was…my bad. I also got some amazing and very sound advice from Bella Andre at the 2013 National conference. She was open, warm, and honest–just like her books.

RWA2013 me and Bella Andre

Me and Bella Andre at the 2013 National RWA conference, where she rightly told me to set aside the third book in my Lily Carmichael trilogy and go home and finish another contemporary YA romance. I did as she suggested and produced PIECES of LOVE last summer before finishing HEALING WATERS which released in December. In doing so, I was able to keep my contemporary readers happy, add a box set and novella to my bookshelf, and still finish up the trilogy before the end of 2014. I don’t think I would have written and recorded my PIECES of LOVE theme song if I hadn’t been pushed to write that book at that time. I needed that time away from writing the last book in the trilogy to regroup and get organized again before bringing the series to a close. Writing something totally different and using my music in a new way gave me the creative boost I needed and offered my contemporary readers new content.

I’ll always value the opinions of others who have done it before me and done it well. Conferences are rife with good advice from the pros!

When it came to deciding between RT Booklovers and the National RWA conference this year, it was a no brainer for me. I’ve been to RT twice, and both times found it to be a bit disorganized and chaotic. There were some good workshops and the schmoozing is always fun, but overall, I get much more bang for my buck at Nationals. One caveat, is that RT is a great place to meet readers.

R Fan pic- Marissa pic (2013_06_02 00_59_02 UTC)

The YARWA folks do an amazing job putting together a Day of YA, where hundreds of young readers show up to meet and chat with authors. I might have to go back again for just that event! I took this pic of me and one of my YA readers who actually recognized my name and had read my books! One of those perfect moments I’ll never forget.

Meeting awesome people and rooming with others is one of the greatest parts of conferences for me. I’ve had the best roomies and it saves me a bunch of money! That’s me and my Scribe’s pal Katy Lee at the 2013 National conference below. I’ve had the great pleasure of bunking with some top notch ladies who are always up for an impromptu brainstorming session or a late night cocktail. The hotel bar is a hot spot for agents and editors, so be ready with those elevator pitches and always be professional.

 Me and Katy Lee

Since my focus has shifted a bit this year toward creating visibility, opening myself up to educational opportunities, and writing my non-fiction book, I figured offering my workshop at the National RWA conference in July would be an excellent way to spread the word about my first passion–health and wellness. How much fun will it be for me to share my best life balance and self care tips with hundreds of authors–all of whom are suffering from the sedentary lifestyle syndrome that is sweeping the globe? (My story about how this idea came to be and my celebration of 10 years as an entrepreneur is up at my website, along with my three best exercises for improving posture.)

For those of you who spend hours a day at your desk or in your car, or find yourself imprisoned by your computers and perpetually attached to your cell phones, i-pads and e-readers, you know the pitfalls of the sedentary and chair-bound lifestyle all too well. Do you suffer neck and back pain, poor posture, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, or even significant weight gain from all the sitting you do? With today’s fast paced, digitized world, we’re all finding ourselves in this predicament and there seems to be no end in sight to the perils of techno-overload and the inevitable decline of our health as a result. Having the experience and knowledge to help others navigate their way back into a health body is a privilege and I take the responsibility seriously. The more people I can reach with positive messages about proper ergonomics and self care, the better.

We won’t even talk about all those gorgeous (and non-ergonomic) shoes we’ll all be wearing! Conferences are a mecca for fashion and glitz…an opportunity to feel like a princess a few times a year.shoe pic

The last conference I’ll attend will be CT Fiction Fest in September. That should round out my year nicely with an affordable way to advance my writing, meet some new people, and hang out with my pals for another fun-filled weekend of replenishing the creative well. I had to skip all the conferences last year in lieu of finishing two books and a novella in 2014. This year, I’ll be making up for it!

Which conferences or workshops are on your MUST list? Any tips you’d like to share about making the most of your conference experience?

Choosing Your Path

Happy Tuesday, Scribe’s followers. PJ Sharon here, sharing my thoughts on a topic near and dear to my heart—choosing your path. I love being the Captain of my own ship!

My fellow Scribe sister, Sugar, did a great post yesterday on reasons why one should consider pursuing a traditional publishing career. She had some excellent reasons for doing so. You can read about them here. For as many reasons as there are to seek a traditional publishing contract, there are just as many on the side of going Indie (the PC word for self-publishing).

But how does one know which path is right for them? How do you choose your path to publication?

First, let’s happily recognize that there are now many options open to writers for getting their stories into the hands of readers. Up until five or so years ago, that wasn’t the case. A writer had to jump through hoops and pound on a lot of doors, hoping to sneak out of the slush pile and onto the shelves through a series of death defying strokes of luck. If they grew weary of the chase (and the dozens of rejections), they could pay thousands of dollars to have someone publish their work for them and end up with nothing more than a trunk full of books. This soul-sucking practice, called “vanity publishing”, was more or less a scam to bilk writers who were desperate to see their work in print and couldn’t make the cut with traditional publishers for whatever reasons.

For some writers, the reason for rejection was as simple as having their books not “fit the market”. Traditional publishers were in that unique position of having thousands of “applicants” vying for the ten slots they might have available. They were the gate keepers who decided what books got published, where they were distributed, and what types of books readers were likely to buy based on what was currently selling on the market. Those parameters left a lot of amazing writers out in the cold with no way in.

Fast forward to the digital age of Amazon, e-readers, and the new world of publishing. Writers could now bypass the query-go-round, skip fighting for an agent, and jump into the fray with the hundreds of thousands of other writers making their books available to the masses. Yes, there is crap. Yes, there are still poorly edited books that shouldn’t see the light of day, and yes, the market is so saturated that it’s a wonder that anyone can sell more than a single copy of their book these days. But over the past few years, the quality of books being produced by Indie authors have steadily improved as they’ve learned to hire good editors, cover artists, and formatters to help them in producing a competitive product. And the avenues through which to sell those books continues to grow daily.

For those not interested in handling all of the fine details, there are a plethora of small press publishers cropping up to take those chores off the shoulders of the author.
But buyer beware. Anyone attempting to handle their career on their own without the advice of an agent or the backing of a reputable publisher, is in for a bumpy ride with lots of pot holes. I’ve had a few missteps, but have managed to avoid many of the big pitfalls myself by participating in yahoo group loops where Indies congregate and share information. They have been an invaluable resource in navigating the shark infested waters of the publishing world. Honestly, I haven’t seen that small press publishers do much more for authors than they could do for themselves, but if you are looking to get a foot in the traditional publisher’s doors, and don’t want all the responsibilities of creating your masterpiece, a small press might be a good first step.

As Sugar mentioned yesterday, many authors are NOT making buckets of money, whether they are DIY’ers or traditionally published, but there are also many in both camps who make a good living. There seems to be no tried and true way to guarantee success, and I’ve come to the conclusion that success in publishing requires dogged determination, perseverance, and a huge chunk of luck. Timing is everything and no one seems to know what will sell tomorrow or why some of the crap that comes along the pike sells like hotcakes. But one thing is for sure, the doors are open and it’s as good a time as it has ever been to be an author…no matter which path you choose.

If you’re still on the fence, I’ve created this short list of pros and cons that might help you decide.

Traditional Publishing
PROS: See Sugar’s post from yesterday. If you want the name recognition and backing of a reputable publishing house, a support team of editors, cover artists, and marketing professionals, and access to distribution and space on store shelves, this might be the route for you. It can take considerable time and effort to break in, but if you are lucky enough to be a top seller, your path will be paved in gold, the red carpet rolled out for you, and your tiara awaits! Kudos for making the big time!

CONS:  If you know that your story is a tough sell with a traditional publisher, you have a time sensitive topic that needs to be published NOW, or you aren’t willing/able to work to someone else’s deadlines and demands, this might not be a good fit for you. Also consider that negotiating contracts can be tricky and getting the attention of a good agent to help you navigate the process can be daunting. In addition, if you aren’t a top seller, don’t expect a second contract, and your dismissal may mean that it will be tougher to get contracted with another publishing house.

Small Press Publishers
PROS: Generally speaking, it’s somewhat easier to get in the door and you’ll have a faster turn-around time getting your product to market with digital first publishers. They will handle the editing, cover art and formatting for your book, and may even give you some tips for effective marketing…or not.

CONS: Depending on the sales of your e-books, you may never qualify for a print version of your book. And let’s face it, most of us still want to see our books in print and on store shelves. Royalty rates may be higher than larger houses but getting those royalty checks within a reasonable amount of time and having access to your sales numbers is hit or miss. It also seems that small press publishers do very little to help their authors with marketing, (please feel free to let me know if I’m mistaken), which for me would be one of the few incentives to move on over to traditional publishing. The other is the coveted ADVANCE, which you will likely NOT get from a small press publisher. Or if you do, it will be well…small. As it stands, it wouldn’t make sense for someone like me who has established myself in the Indie realm to jump on board with a small press. They really can’t offer me much that I’m not already doing for myself.

Indie Publishing
PROS:
Love those 70% royalty rates! (Even at the 35% royalty rate for lower priced books, I can charge .99 cents and still make more per unit than trad authors whose books sell for $7.99). I can change my price point at any time, update my covers, or change my categories and descriptions on retailer sites, which is enormously helpful when running a sale or promoting my books. Love the control I have over every aspect of my product. Love setting my publication schedule and not worrying about meeting someone else’s deadlines. Love the real time sales numbers so I can easily keep track how my promotional efforts are working…or not. Love the flexibility and freedom!

CONS:
Hate that I don’t have access to mass distribution of print books. Hate that I have upfront costs of a support team, ie: editors, cover artists, etc. and NO ADVANCE. Hate the stigma of being “self-published”, although this is slowly becoming less of an issue and I’m not one to be too concerned about what others think of me, anyway. Hate that I am solely and completely responsible for everything—including writing, producing, and marketing a high quality product that may or may not sell based on a market that is constantly changing.

Hybrid Authors
I have not wrapped my mind around how anyone can do this without being able to write full time. To have multiple projects, deadlines, and demands from more than one publisher as well as self-publishing would make me insane! Fast and prolific writers are doing it every day, and if you’re writing in more than one genre, this makes sense.

For me, the best of both worlds will be when authors and publishers can be on equal footing and work together to create great books and put a system in place to get them into the hands of readers; when authors are paid fairly for their work with contracts that reflect the best interests of BOTH parties, and when marketing becomes a joint effort that takes into account that a “target audience” doesn’t necessarily live in a box.

Then everyone will be happy and there will no longer be “sides” to the issue. Publishing will simply be publishing, and whichever path you choose, it will be the right one for you. You’ll gain the respect you deserve from peers and industry professionals, there will be rainbows and butterflies, and we will all live happily ever after.

What do you think?

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

Hello,loves. Suze here.

With CTRWA’s Fiction Fest, an annual writer’s conference held in Connecticut (this year beautiful Mystic, home of a first-rate aquarium and a seaport village museum) fast approaching, I thought it might be useful to list a few do’s and don’ts for getting the most out of a conference. By the way, there’s still time to register for Fiction Fest if you haven’t done so yet. Click here for more information.

1. DO dress appropriately. You don’t need to be attired in full business suit, spectator pumps and a strand of pearls, carrying a leather briefcase. But don’t show up in Daisy Dukes and a cowboy hat, or yoga pants (sorry!) either. Remember you will be meeting and mingling with industry professionals–other writers, potential readers, and those who have the power to sell or buy your book (agents and editors). These are people who are, or who will be, your peers or your fans. Do you want to look like a slob, a working girl, or a writing professional?

Wear something casual, but moderately stylish. A dress or skirt and cute top are always appropriate. Jeans, as long as they’re in good shape (not faded, ripped or frayed) are okay, but I would definitely pair them with nice shoes, a well-fitted colorful jacket (not denim, unless you’re actually a cowgirl), a new-looking tee shirt, and a statement piece of jewelry. A big colorful necklace or chunky bracelet not only looks great, but can serve as a conversation starter. When in doubt, watch a few episodes of What Not To Wear on TLC. Stacy and Clinton are usually right on the money about what looks appropriate and stylish and they address all body types.

That being said, there are a very, very few people–and you know who you are–who can get away with outrageous outfits like corsets and feathers. Chances are extremely good you are not one of them.

2. Related to #1 above, DO wear a bra. This should go without saying, but Bouncing Betty has been spotted at conferences. Ask Sugar Jamison.

3. Also related to #1 above, DO wash and comb your hair and wear a little makeup. You don’t need a full Clinique makeover with products expensive enough to pay your mortgage, but you’ll look and feel more professional with at least some mascara and a lightly tinted lip gloss (my favorite is Burt’s Bees in Watermelon).

4. DO bring some business cards. You can get them quickly, free or extremely inexpensively, from Vistaprint. Even if you’re just getting started as a writer, a business card with your name and email address (social media information if you have it) is essential. You’re not being presumptuous by having cards. You’re going to be meeting lots of people, some of whom you are going to want to stay in contact with–and who will want to stay in contact with you. A preprinted business card is a necessity, in my book.

5. DO bring some extra cash for the raffle. There are always tons of great prizes, and it’s a money-maker for the organization hosting the event.

6. DON’T hang out with your friends all day. Sit–and talk with–with new people at the luncheon and the workshops. I would argue that the most important part of conferences is the networking. Sure, the workshops are great, and the chance to hear a good speaker is valuable and inspiring, but you need to be making industry connections. The more people you know, the more opportunities you have. That’s just business. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Trust me on this. I am a former wallflower who now feels comfortable talking to just about anybody. If you’re at a loss for words, here are some conversation starters:

  • Hi, I’m Glenda. I came here from Vermont. Where are you from?
  • That’s a gorgeous necklace. Are you enjoying the conference?
  • You were in the BDSM workshop, weren’t you? What do you write?
  • Oh My. Wasn’t that Katy Lee who just walked by? I love her books.

See, it’s not that hard. You automatically have something in common with everyone at the conference–you love to read, and you write (or want to write). I don’t know any writer who doesn’t like to talk about writing. So don’t be shy.

7. DON’T get drunk during the cocktail hour. ‘Nuff said.

8. DON’T stalk people. If you happen to meet up with an agent, editor, or author in the ladies’ room, just say hi and maybe that you are enjoying the conference. (If it’s an author, you can tell her that you loved her last book) Don’t try to pitch your book while the stalkee is attempting to apply lipstick, blow her nose, or dry her hands at the turbospeed machine. If you are asked, that’s great. Go for it. But there’s a time and place for everything. Talking to someone in the next bathroom stall while you are each trying to do your business is not, um, good business. Again, be professional.

OK, how about you? What are your tips for getting the most out of a conference? What was the best conference you ever attended?

Top 10 tips, quotes, and advice I heard at RWA2013

PJ Sharon here, happy to be home after a fun filled week in Atlanta at RWA 2013. It was such a busy week, I couldn’t possibly recap all the cool events, workshops, and networking opportunities I enjoyed. So instead, I thought I would share the highlights in a top 10 list. I’ve paraphrased the exact quotes, but wanted to share the amazing messages from some notable authors and industry professionals.

1)      Advice from Indie author Bella Andre. “Writing is a business. Know who your readers are and write what you can sell. If it’s not selling, change something. Put a new cover on it, change your description, or change the categories on your book’s page.” This is paraphrased, but definitely the gist of her message. I had the opportunity to chat with her and she gave me some very good career advice. She was awesome and I’m now a huge fan girl.RWA2013 me and Bella Andre

2)      Kristan Higgins in her incredibly insightful and moving luncheon speech. “What we do makes a difference. Romance novels can help people through the darkest, loneliest, and most painful times in their lives.” Really…if you ever doubt the worth of what you are writing, you need to remember how you feel after reading a heartfelt and powerful love story by one of your favorite authors.

3)      Michael Hague on the ultimate tool for understanding your character’s deepest fear and motivation. “I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal, just don’t ask me to_________.”

4)      Author Carla Neggars on Writing as Work/Writing as Play: Do they need to be either/or? “It comes down to creating a dynamic dialogue between work and play. It’s about abandonment and concentration, the continent of reason and the Island of intuition. Set a schedule with intention and stick to it.” 

5)      Tips on e-mail marketing from Heroes and Heart Breakers authors.  “Create a catchy subject line that has searchable key words and offers a promise. Meet that promise. Send out newsletters on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Balance info with offers and engagement of readers. Blend editorial and marketing with a call to action from your readers sprinkled in.” There was some talk about gaining newsletter followers by using Romance Studios, adding your newsletter link to an automated Twitter response for new followers, adding the newsletter link to your Facebook page, Author Central page, etc.

6)      Mark LaFebvre from KOBO Writing Life on their now offering pre-orders for Indies. “We’re open minded in Canada.” I loved this guy and can’t wait to start working directly with KOBO to sell my books.

7)      Bella Andre says that audio books are the latest big thing and SEO is the key to attracting your readership!

8)      Author Barbara Freethy recommends at least three proof readers for Indie-pubbed books. I agree!

9)      Agent Christina Hogrebe recommended book bloggers for promoting your YA titles. “If a high traffic blogger loves your book, it can go viral in no time.” Here’s to hoping she’s right!

10)  A quote from award winning author and RITA Awards emcee, Christie Craig. “The difference between northern writers and southern writers is that northerners start their stories with ‘Once upon a time,’ while southern storytellers start every story with ‘You ‘aint ‘gonna believe this sh**.’” Christie Craig was hilariously funny and did a fine job as emcee. WTG Christie!

RWA2013 me and Katy Lee Beyond all of these excellent tips and so many more from people like Cathy Maxwell, our keynote speaker, and the excellent agent/editor panels, the best part of the conference for me was the new friends I made and the wonderful companionship of my CTRWA peeps (other than D.S. who it turns out is a terrible covers hog).

Please feel free to share some of your highlights in the comments section below. And speaking of favorite conference highlights, check out all the spectacular shoes! Can you guess whose they are?shoe pic

Top 10 tips, quotes, and advice I heard at RWA2013

PJ Sharon here, happy to be home after a fun filled week in Atlanta at RWA 2013. It was such a busy week, I couldn’t possibly recap all the cool events, workshops, and networking opportunities I enjoyed. So instead, I thought I would share the highlights in a top 10 list. I’ve paraphrased the exact quotes, but wanted to share the amazing messages from some notable authors and industry professionals.

1) Advice from Indie author Bella Andre. “Writing is a business. Know who your readers are and write what you can sell. If it’s not selling, change something. Put a new cover on it, change your description, or change the categories on your book’s page.” This is paraphrased, but definitely the gist of her message. I had the opportunity to chat with her and she gave me some very good career advice. She was awesome and I’m now a huge fan girl.RWA2013 me and Bella Andre

2) Kristan Higgins in her incredibly insightful and moving luncheon speech. “What we do makes a difference. Romance novels can help people through the darkest, loneliest, and most painful times in their lives.” Really…if you ever doubt the worth of what you are writing, you need to remember how you feel after reading a heartfelt and powerful love story by one of your favorite authors.

3) Michael Hague on the ultimate tool for understanding your character’s deepest fear and motivation. “I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal, just don’t ask me to_________.”

4) Author Carla Neggars on Writing as Work/Writing as Play: Do they need to be either/or? “It comes down to creating a dynamic dialogue between work and play. It’s about abandonment and concentration, the continent of reason and the Island of intuition. Set a schedule with intention and stick to it.”

5) Tips on e-mail marketing from Heroes and Heart Breakers authors. “Create a catchy subject line that has searchable key words and offers a promise. Meet that promise. Send out newsletters on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Balance info with offers and engagement of readers. Blend editorial and marketing with a call to action from your readers sprinkled in.” There was some talk about gaining newsletter followers by using Romance Studios, adding your newsletter link to an automated Twitter response for new followers, adding the newsletter link to your Facebook page, Author Central page, etc.

6) Mark LaFebvre from KOBO Writing Life on their now offering pre-orders for Indies. “We’re open minded in Canada.” I loved this guy and can’t wait to start working directly with KOBO to sell my books.

7) Bella Andre says that audio books are the latest big thing and SEO is the key to attracting your readership!

8) Author Barbara Freethy recommends at least three proof readers for Indie-pubbed books. I agree!

9) Agent Christina Hogrebe recommended book bloggers for promoting your YA titles. “If a high traffic blogger loves your book, it can go viral in no time.” Here’s to hoping she’s right!

10) A quote from award winning author and RITA Awards emcee, Christie Craig. “The difference between northern writers and southern writers is that northerners start their stories with ‘Once upon a time,’ while southern storytellers start every story with ‘You ‘aint ‘gonna believe this sh**.’” Christie Craig was hilariously funny and did a fine job as emcee. WTG Christie!

RWA2013 me and Katy Lee Beyond all of these excellent tips and so many more from people like Cathy Maxwell, our keynote speaker, and the excellent agent/editor panels, the best part of the conference for me was the new friends I made and the wonderful companionship of my CTRWA peeps (other than D.S. who it turns out is a terrible covers hog).

Please feel free to share some of your highlights in the comments section below. And speaking of favorite conference highlights, check out all the spectacular shoes! Can you guess whose they are?shoe pic

Connecticut RWA Fiction Fest 2013 Early Bird Special!

JOIN US! Connecticut RWA 2013 FictionFest will be Saturday, Sept. 21st at the Hilton Hotel of Mystic, CT! Come for great speakers, workshops & multiple pitch-appointment opportunities! hourglass

The keynote speaker this year is 6-time RITA Nominee & Winner and New York  Times Bestselling Author, Roxanne St. Claire. She will also hold her popular workshop on how to fix your broken scenes! I’ve taken the workshop before and can attest to its amazing benefits.roxie

FictionFest will also welcome Jim Azevedo from Smashwords for a double session workshop, and life coach and expert organizer Lisa Lelas.

And now for the bonus: Register Online at: www.CTrwa.org for an earlybird registration discount available through June 30th! Don’t miss it!

How to Choose a Writer’s Conference

PJ here, happy to be on the East coast and back in my own bed…ahhhh. After doing this writing thing for a while, I’ve been to quite a few writer’s conferences, and I wanted to share my experience on how to choose the “right” conference for you. If you belong to RWA or a similar writer’s organization, you probably get inundated with lots of options. Here are a few things to think about.

Location/Accommodations: Check out the hotel venue and make sure the location is some place you’d like to stay for a few days. A bad night’s sleep, disappointing food, or poor quality hospitality can really put a damper on your stay. It’s worth visiting the hotel’s website and checking out their reviews. Make plans for car rental and recreational activities ahead of time so you don’t get there with hopes of visiting a locale on your “down time” only to find that you can’t get a car rental on short notice or the place you want to visit is closed. Although you are going for business, one of the perks of traveling is enjoying the sights along the way. Also, check to see what is around your hotel. Are there local restaurants and shopping within walking distance? Is there a gym? An indoor pool? Are you next to a train yard, airport, or in a bad section of the city? Some of these things may not be important to you, but if they are, make sure you know what you are paying for ahead of time. Scope out your hotel and surrounding area on Google maps.

Price: Is it affordable and worth the money for what you are getting? Are meals included? Are the speakers well known and knowledgeable? Is it worth your time, money, and effort? Remember to consider your loss of income while you’re away from your day job, and factor in any accrued costs such as wardrobe, entertainment, and additional travel fees (taxis, trains, buses etc.). Remember to save all receipts for tax purposes.

Focus of conference: Does the conference offer workshops that will help you further your career goals? If you are a newer writer, make sure there are craft workshops geared to what you’d like to learn. If you are seeking publication, are there opportunities to meet with agents and editors to pitch your story? Agent and editor panels offer a great opportunity to ask questions, find out what they are looking for, and hear the latest about the industry from publishing professionals. If you are a published author, do they offer promotion, marketing, and business oriented workshops? Interested in self-pubbing? Do they offer the most updated information available in this rapidly growing and changing aspect of the industry? If you are participating in a book signing, how successful have previous years been and how many readers can you expect to see? Shipping books is expensive, so ask for clear answers about realistic expectations. My experience is that print books don’t sell all that well at conferences and I rarely recoup the cost of shipping. I can see e-books being the way to go for future signings.

Networking: Conferences are a wonderful place to meet like-minded individuals and make professional contacts that you might never have the chance to meet otherwise. Don’t stalk the agents and editors but research them and know who you’d like to make a connection with. Make the effort to sit next to them at lunch or dinner (or in the bar). Be ready to talk intelligently about your work. Be prepared with a SHORT pitch of your WIP. Create a one or two sentence summary (log line) of what your story is about. The most common question asked at conferences is “What do you write?” The second most common question is “What is your story about?” Have an answer memorized and ready, and confidently smile as you give them your brief spiel. Don’t monopolize their time, but use the time wisely. If you get tongue tied and start rambling or their eyes begin to glaze over, stop talking and ask them a question about something unrelated. Where are you from? Are you a writer, too? Do you love baseball, zumba, pole dancing? Something that will put you at ease and take the heat off of you until you can collect yourself and get comfortable enough not to sound like an idiot. These are just people, but they are professionals and are there to FIND YOU! Respect their time, but don’t let your fear stop you from putting yourself out there.

Quality Speakers: I cannot stress this enough. Do some research on the speakers. What are their publishing/professional credentials? Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they are interesting, entertaining, or an expert in their field. Have they done this workshop before? How many times? Ask around to other writers and check out the websites of your presenters. If they don’t have a professional website that is engaging and informative, it might be an indicator that they aren’t all that well organized.

Organization: If you’ve ever participated in organizing a conference, you know about the gazillion moving parts and the army of people it takes to put on a seamless production. Of course there are always things that go wrong or details that get missed, but overall, organizers want it to be a good experience for everyone and they want attendees to return year after year to support the effort. If they don’t return e-mails, or answer your questions clearly up front, chances are the conference won’t be much better organized than the individuals running it. Conferences are generally a way for organizations to make money to support writers and their endeavors, so organizers (who are all volunteers, so be patient and kind to these people) are invested in making your conference experience successful. If there are suggestions you have for improvements, be sure to share them with conference organizers.

And last but not least, Food: You might have to contact the conference organizers for this information, but it’s worth asking about the menu ahead of time. If you have dietary restrictions or just want to make sure that some healthy selections are available, it’s worth the added effort to ensure that your needs are known ahead of time. You also have the option of doing a bit of shopping when you get settled in and stocking your hotel room refrigerator (make sure one is available in your room when you book your reservation) with fruit, yogurt, water, etc. so you can avoid the breakfast buffets that offer all those yummy bagels, pastries, muffins, and such. Will there be adequate chocolate selection at breaks? Just sayin’.

Unlocked Secret: Do your research, guys. There are enough choices for quality conferences around the country and your educational dollars are valuable, so make them count and get the most of your experience.

I hope to see you all at the RWA National convention in Atlanta this summer. It’s shaping up to be a fabulous time!

Any other tips for our readers to help them find a quality conference? What has been your favorite conference experience? Any funny experiences you’d like to share from the “trenches”?