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Writing Conference Success: Real-Time and Post-Conference Strategies

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

It’s conference weekend! You’ve mapped out your classes, signed up for your pitches, sent in materials for critique, prepared your dossier, and painted your nails. Whew! Now what?

Workshop Strategies
After every workshop, thank the presenter and request his contact info so you can follow up if you have post-conference questions. If you don’t receive a card, write down the information on handouts. ALWAYS take the handouts, and at the end of each day (or each break, if you can swing it), reread the handouts, adding notes that you want to remember while they’re fresh in your mind. If you go with a friend, divide and conquer by attending different workshops and requesting two sets of handouts. Sometimes you can glean the same info by reading the handouts as if you had actually attended the class.

Critique Etiquette
Try not to get defensive as your critique expert pulls apart your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. This is what you paid for, and it’s the only way you’ll learn. Instead, take copious notes and ask for his contact info in case you need to ask follow up questions post-conference. Thank your expert.

Pitch to Your Heart’s Content
Pitch to your chosen agents and editors. Ask to leave your proposal package with them or offer to mail it first thing in the morning. Don’t forget to ask for a business card and say “thank-you.”

Mingle
Offer up your business card to everyone you meet and ask for theirs in return. Find the conference committee members and thank them for their hard work. Ask if you can volunteer your services for next year. Give them your business card, too!

Within 24 Hours Post-Conference
Three-hole punch your workshop handouts, and file them in a marked binder. Organize the business cards you received at the conference, and send follow up e-mails to every contact you made. If it was an instructor, send a short e-mail thanking him again for his class; if it was a conference committee member, send a follow up reminder that you’re available for future venues; and if it was a new friend, send an e-mail to follow up on whatever it was you two said you’d do after the conference and make it happen!

Prepare all proposal packages for mailing by making sure you have the agent/editor’s correct address. Make adjustments to cover letters to reflect any new information you gleaned during your pitch session (including updated addresses). Reference something you talked about to jog their memory. Under your return address, mark in big, bold letters: REQUESTED INFORMATION – [NAME OF] WRITERS CONFERENCE. This will keep you out of the slush pile.

After every e-mail has been sent and every proposal package mailed, sit back, relax, and congratulate yourself on making the most of your first writers conference. We’ll see you at the next one!

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (maryandonianwwconferencATyahoo.com).

Writing Conference Success: Preparing Your Dossier – More on Bios and Cover Letters

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

Many people will go into a conference empty-handed, but not you. I have two good reasons why you should walk into the conference armed with business cards and proposal packages (thinly disguised as inexpensive paper folders). First, these items will build your credibility and boost your professional demeanor. Second, at best you’ll get your proposal in the hands of editors and agents for their long flight home, and at worst you’ll be in the enviable position to immediately mail follow-up materials.

Two important elements that will go into your proposal package are your bio and cover letter.

Bio
Your bio page can be made up in any number of ways. You can use a more traditional resume approach, listing all of your writing credits in chronological order, along with relevant educational background, and so on.

Or you may opt for the author’s book flap approach, where you write your bio the way you would like it to be seen on the back cover of your book.

One author I know lists her writing credits, but includes next to each credit a full color photo representing each credit. I used her approach for my last proposal package and ended up using visual icons representing the Contra Costa Times Newspapers (two of my essays were printed in this newspaper) and both an Institute of Children’s Literature logo and a Willamette Writers logo (for my education and involvement in these institutions, respectively).

When it was all said and done, my bio page looked pretty impressive.

Cover Letter
Your cover letter is really a one-page query letter you would send in lieu of meeting your agent or editor. It should be addressed to the agent or editor to whom you’ll pitch, along with her complete (and accurate) company title/imprint, address and phone number.

Your salutation should be addressed to Ms. [Last Name], unless you have met the person before.

The first paragraph should be a one-sentence summary of the book you’re trying to pitch.

The second and possibly third paragraphs should describe your book by first stating the need for such a book and then by telling why your book is the perfect solution to that need.

The last few paragraphs talk about you.

Why are you the perfect person to write this book?

What have you done that’s note-worthy, and why would people buy from you?

This is where you will talk about your platform, if you have one. If you don’t have paid writing credits, then highlight other achievements, such as (relevant) degrees completed or awards won.

Even non-relevant degrees might work if you spin them right: “I have an M.B.A. with an emphasis in Marketing, a skill set that will come in handy after my book has sold.”

Remember: Every interaction should close the sale or advance the sale, so close your letter with an offer to send more: “May I send you the entire manuscript? Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.”

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (maryandonianwwconferencATyahoo.com).

Preparing Your Dossier

Mary AndonianWriting Conference Success
By Mary Andonian

I met the president of our local writers association at my first writer’s conference. We were on an afternoon break between workshops, and I made conversation by offering her some of my SOUR PATCH KIDS candy. She declined the candy but accepted my business card at the end of our brief encounter. A few months later, she contacted me about joining the conference committee. You, too, will be prepared for your first conference if you bring the following:

Business Cards
Go to www.vistaprint.com to create simple, inexpensive cards for under $20.00. Your cards should contain the obvious: name, address, phone, and e-mail. Do not use business cards from your current employment if your work has nothing to do with writing. Do purchase business cards if you’re a stay-at-home mom who has yet to write anything for revenue. You want to be seen as a professional writer, not as someone who is “looking to change careers” or “who writes as a hobby.”

Proposal Package(s)
These are inexpensive folders that contain all of the pertinent info you would want to share with an agent or editor during your pitch session. On the cover, middle-centered, attach a label printed with your project’s name on it. Inside, affix your business card to the provided tabs. On the left hand side, insert your “bio” page. This is a single sheet of paper that lists your writing credits. On the right hand side, insert what you predict she’ll want to see as a next step: first forty pages for fiction, or a table of contents and brief chapter summary paragraphs for non-fiction. Paperclip these pages together. (Stapled pages are a no-no.) Insert on top of these pages a query/proposal letter addressed specifically to the agent or editor to whom you’ll pitch.

Package Style
Your bios page can be made up in any number of ways. You can use a more traditional resume approach, listing all of your writing credits in chronological order, along with relevant educational background, and so on. Or you may opt for the author’s book flap approach, where you write your bio the way you would like it to be seen on the back cover of your book.

One author I know lists her writing credits, but lists next to each credit a full color photo representing each credit. I used her approach for my last proposal package, and ended up using visual icons representing the Contra Costa Times Newspapers (two of my essays were printed in this newspaper), a Writers Digest magazine cover (one of my essays took honorable mention in a WD recent contest), and both an Institute of Children’s Literature logo and a Willamette Writers logo (for my education and involvement in these institutions, respectively).

Last, But Not Least
Don’t forget the candy. It’s a great conversation-starter.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (maryandonianwwconferencATyahoo.com).

Pitch Like a Sales Pro: Writing Conference Success

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

I have been a salesperson my whole life. It seems only natural then that I would position my book as a “product,” and the agents and editors who purchase them as “clients.” Your pitch at a conference is the means to closing the sale of your product—your book.

The pitch is like delivering a query letter in person. Elements of a good pitch:

1. Identify the need
2. Position your unique solution to that need
3. Describe your business strategy, including packaging, positioning, marketing, and support
4. Overcome objections
5. Close or advance the book sale

Begin your pitch with a brief statement of the knowledge gap that exists (for non-fiction book proposals) or the conflict in your story (for fiction queries). For example:
“Fifty million Americans die from this disease, but they don’t know they have it until it’s too late.”  This is a knowledge gap statement. The gap is that people don’t know about this disease until it’s too late. That’s a real problem. Solution? Why your book, of course. “My book on (disease) will educate the consumer so she can catch it in time.” And then go on to break down your unique solution.

After you describe your solution, back it up with a description of your product. Does it read like a Vicki Iovine Girlfriend’s Guide book? Does it smack of Anne Lamott? Compare and contrast your book to actual books on the shelf. In my pitch for my non-fiction humor book, Mind Chatter, I said, “You read over and over books about ‘staying in the moment.’ My book is a humorous take on NOT staying in the moment!”

If you’re pitching non-fiction, you have two products to sell: your book and your platform. Your platform is your credibility in the marketplace, as defined by your “following.” Do you teach classes on this subject? Are you a medical professional who prescribes this solution to your patients? Again, differentiate yourself from the rest by telling them why you’re the most credible person to write this book.

Your pitch will consist of about two to three minutes of sales pitch, and another five to six minutes of questions and answers. Think of their questions as objections, and your answers as overcoming the objections. For example:

“How many pages?”

“About one hundred.”

“That’s short, isn’t it?”

“It was written in bite-sized chunks for busy, on-the-go people who don’t have time for longer books on similar subjects.”

“Makes sense.”

Save the last few minutes for personal relationship building. You want to find common ground with your client so they’ll remember you when they receive your follow-up materials.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (maryandonianwwconferencATyahoo.com).

Do Your Research: Writing Conference Success

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

Plot Your Course
You just received your conference brochure in the mail. What to do? The first thing I’d recommend is go online and print another copy of the brochure from the conference Web site. This will be your working copy: the one you will dog-ear, mark up, highlight, and scribble on. Your goal this month is to profile the agents and editors listed in the brochure, and map out your workshops. If you already have your list ready, spend this month reading books on how to pitch. We’ll catch up to you in August.

Most conferences have a limit on how many pitches you can buy. Plan on picking four agents and editors and learn as much about them as you can. Here are a few sites to help you:

WRITER’S MARKET (www.writersmarket.com)
Part of Writer’s Digest magazine, Writer’s Market is my favorite source of information. For a low subscription price ($30/year), you have instant access to a searchable database. Not only will you learn more about your target agents’ and editors’ needs, you will also be able to use Writers Market’s “submission tracker,” a neat organizational e-tool that helps you keep track of your queries and proposals.

HINT: If you don’t find your agents’ or editors’ names, try using their agency or imprint names.

PUBLISHERS LUNCH (www.publishersmarketplace.com)
Publishers Lunch is self-described as the most widely read daily dossier in publishing and known as “publishing’s essential daily read.” This is a free e-newsletter that gives you the latest, greatest info on everything publishing. My favorite part is the weekly deals. They describe who’s selling what, for how much, and by whom. Scan their weekly list. Is your targeted agent there? If so, what is she selling?

HINT: If you have the means, purchase a subscription to the companion of Publishers Lunch, Publishers Marketplace. This is a site dedicated to publishing professionals and acts as a clearinghouse. It is only available to registered members for a $20 monthly fee. Membership is month-to-month, so you can always use it short term to glean the most up-to-date info on your targeted agents/editors.

BILL’S LIST (www.wrhammons.com)
Bill’s List might take you a while to navigate, but once you figure out how to search on it, you will find information GOLD.

HINT: Check out the “No Dumb Questions” section to find questions (and their answers) you don’t have the guts to ask.

PREDITORS AND EDITORS (http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/)
This is a wonderful site that acts as an industry watchdog. They reveal scam artists and other folks who would not act in your best interest if they should happen across your manuscript. Compile your target list and then go here to feel better about your choices. I just searched on my agent’s name and saw that she was “recommended.” I’m feeling better already.

HINT: If you can’t find the agency name, search for your agent or editor by their first name. As stated on their Web site: P&E lists agents by first name just like businesses because businesses don’t have last names.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (maryandonianwwconferencATyahoo.com).

Volunteer Your Way to Success

Mary AndonianWriting Conference Success

By Mary Andonian

Every career handbook states that the best way to find a job is through networking. Why should your writing career be any different? We assume you have some writing talent, but these days that’s not enough. You need people in the biz who can help you. But first you must help them.

Last month I talked about befriending the conference committee. This will be your primary objective before the conference. Not only will you walk into the conference with a few new friends, but you just might score a free registration or even some monetary compensation.

As an example of where you might volunteer your time/skills, consider the Willamette Writers conference committee. This group is made up of five people, each needing a multitude of helpers to accomplish their goals. The agents and editors coordinator (currently, that’s me) brings in the literary people who will accept your book (or book proposal); the film coordinator brings in film agents and producers who will purchase screenplays; the program coordinator designs a workshop schedule that includes authors, and literary/film professionals; the office manager handles the background details, like registration, volunteer coordination, and hotel logistics; and the conference chair oversees these positions and has the additional task of creating marketing materials and advertisements.

These people need volunteers to help them before, during, and sometimes after the conference. Depending on the assignment, you may score a free registration, pocket change, or even an opportunity to interact with agents, editors, and film producers. No matter what, you’ll instantly feel like you’re “a part of,” instead of the outsider who’s trying to “break in.” This small shift in attitude will do wonders for your confidence level when it’s time to pitch that all-important book proposal.

Case in point: I recently contracted with a prominent agent for my book, “Bitsy’s Labyrinth.” I have corresponded with her for over two years: first, as the program coordinator, and now as the agents and editors coordinator. When I pitched to her recently, I didn’t have the usual jitters because I was already in a semi-working relationship with her. It feels natural now that we would collaborate on my new book.

Action Steps this month:
Call your local writer’s association and ask how you can help out with the conference.

What not to do:
Don’t wait until the last minute to volunteer. The best positions fill quickly. Do not misuse your volunteer position by badgering the agents and editors with your book idea. Instead, concentrate on doing your job well. When the time comes to pitch your book, they’ll remember you.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator.  Her book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth, was picked up by a prominent agent at last year’s conference. You can reach her at (www.maryandonian.com).   

The Faces Behind a Writing Conference

Mary AndonianWriting Conference Success
By Mary Andonian

We’ve talked about all the people you’ll meet at a writers’ conference, including agents, editors, presenters, and manuscript critique specialists. Here are other folks you won’t want to miss the next time you attend a conference:

Authors
At the conference to share their expertise and to promote their work, authors can typically be found either signing books, teaching/presenting, or critiquing. Look for the ones who are in between activities, make an introduction, and then ask them about their journey to success. Listen to their feedback and count yourself lucky that you get this personal workshop that wasn’t listed in the brochure.

Attendees

This is you. Find others whose company you enjoy and stick with them at the conference. You might already be part of a critique/networking group. If so, encourage your peers to attend the conference with you. You’ll feel more confident walking into a pitch if the last person you see is your writing bud giving you the “thumbs up” sign. If you go alone to the conference, make friends by approaching the people who asked good questions in your workshops. They just might become your future “thumbs up” writing buds.

Conference Committee
These are the people who labor away all year to make the conference a reality. Look for an opportunity to help them. Do you have a skill set they can use on next year’s committee? Is it your secret desire to make copies of handouts at 3:00 a.m.? The committee can use you. Find a way to meet them and offer your services. Not because you want to sell conferences for a living, but because it will help give you an insider’s perspective to the writing conference realm.

Action Steps this Month
1. Target a writing conference you’d like to attend. Contact the conference committee and ask if any volunteer positions are available before, during or after the conference.
2. Encourage your writerly friends to register with you.
3. Scan the brochure and find authors you’d like to know. E-mail one of them and ask if you can buy them a cup of coffee and “pick their brain” at the conference.

Attitude Is Everything
Don’t go into the conference with an attitude of “What’s in it for me?” Instead, think of every interaction with every person as an opportunity to be of service. Your successful writing career will be the result of many people working together to bring your words into the world. Someone’s counting on you to help them do the same.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator.  Her book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth, was picked up by a prominent agent at last year’s conference. You can reach her at (www.maryandonian.com).


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