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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How To Get The Most Out Of a Conference by Suzanne Rossi

Hi everyone.

Hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. I know I did. Nothing like barbeque and auto racing to make my weekend shine.

But on to other things. I recently registered for the Moonlight & Magnolias Conference sponsored by the Georgia Romance Writers chapter of RWA. It's held in Atlanta in early October and is my drop dead favorite conference. Great people, great workshops, and lots of networking opportunities. In the past ten or so years, conferences have fallen by the wayside. Not nearly as many as there used to be. They're expensive to put on and to attend. So if you are looking for a conference and haven't tried M & M, I urge you to give it a whirl.

As I was filling out my registration form, my mind slipped back to my first conference. It was in 2003--or maybe 2004--in Jacksonville, Florida. I had no idea what to do or expect. I walked into the hotel lobby and took a deep breath. The desk clerk was busy and the line to check in long--all women--so I assumed they were writers here for the conference. I looked around and recognized no one. Talk about intimidated! I was rubbing shoulders with editors, agents, and published authors. And here I was--a total newbie to the business. I didn't even know how to pitch my story to an editor or agent. But I came away from that conference with a whole lot of enthusiasm to do the job right.

So, I decided that this month, I'll try to guide those of you who may be new to the industry through your first experience.

First of all, select your conference wisely. If you're going to shell out all those bucks to attend, then look at the keynote speaker, the guest speaker, the editors and agents in attendance, and above all, the workshops presented. Do research on the editors and agents. Do you write what they are seeking in a story? Find what you think is a good match and make a pitch appointment or two. The same goes for workshops. Do you want to know more about the craft? Are there presentations that align with your level of experience? Perhaps you need guidance with characterization or plot. But don't forget those discussions regarding marketing and promotion.

Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to strangers. And the best place to do this is the bar. I'm serious. More networking goes on in bars over a glass of wine than anywhere else during the conference. Even if I know some of the people sitting at a table, I gravitate toward a table where I know no one, ask politely if I can join them, and introduce myself. Most people welcome you because they've been there, done that, too. Pass out business cards, tell them what sub-genre you write. Discuss which workshops you'll be attending and do they have any recommendations?

Attend as many panel discussions as possible. These can give you good insight into the trends of the industry. Participants can include editors, agents, bestselling authors, and publishers. The end of the session is usually open to questions. Have a question? Don't be afraid to ask it. If this is your first conference, you need to know the answers so why not get them from the sources closest to the action. And those on the panel will be happy to oblige.

Now, let's go back to the bar for a moment. You walk in and see an editor or agent sitting there. This is no time to be shy. Ask advice that helps you to understand the process of writing, but under no circumstance pitch your story unless asked! Editors and agents have listened to pitches all day and are having that glass of wine to relax.

Make no mistake, conferences can be exhausting. Be sure to take time to decompress. I always try to disappear to my room for an hour or so to watch TV, read, or go over notes I've taken. If there are no evening activities scheduled, find a group and have dinner outside of the hotel. Talk about business if you want, but I found it just as rewarding to discuss family, travel, and discovering mutual friends made at other conferences.

So, your first conference is over. You're on your way home filled with new ideas, hopes that the editor or agent who requested your manuscript will call with good news soon--trust me, visions of the bestseller list will flash before your eyes--and the feeling you've accomplished something worthwhile.

One last suggestion. Don't forget to maintain those contacts you've made via social media. Like, comment, and make suggestions on postings.

Now get out there and investigate which conference will do the most for you, make new friends, and keep your fingers crossed. That bestseller list might not be a fantasy!

Hope I've been helpful. See you next month.



  1. I remember my first national RWA conference in Dallas. Talk about information overload! I learned a lot, though, and am grateful I attended. I was able to get more from the second one I attended in Denver. I believe I benefited more from the smaller conferences and wish I could attend M and M.

  2. The Jacksonville conference was small and intimate. I shudder to think how lost I would have been at Nationals!


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