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).   

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