Getting ready for a writers conference can be a little nerve-wracking, but it needn’t be. Conferences are important to your professional progress, but no one conference is a make-or-break experience. It’s just one link in the chain of your career.
Still, you want to prepare. There’s a lot to do beforehand, but today I’m only going to focus on what you need to bring.
Business cards. Even if you consider writing a hobby, do not go to a writers conference without business cards. Not because they help you look professional even if you’re an amateur—although they do—but because it’s the easiest way to exchange contact information. You’ll give them not only to agents and editors, but also to other writers you want to stay in touch with. Use an envelope or some other container to store the business cards you collect from others.
Notebook. Digital or paper, whichever you prefer. Some people bring laptop computers. When handouts are provided digitally, I like to put them on my iPad and take notes with a stylus. But I write faster on actual paper with a good ol’ ink pen. Whether I can read those notes later is iffy.
A sweater. Meeting rooms, especially in hotels, are often kept absurdly cold. Good thing I like to knit.
A pitch sheet. Some people call this a one-sheet. It’s basically an advertising flyer for your book. You can use it as a prop and an ice-breaker during the pitch. When you sit down for the appointment with an agent or editor, you hand over the pitch sheet and say something like, “I have a historical novel set in the 1920s,” or what have you. They may read the sheet or just ask you to give your verbal pitch. If they ask for the manuscript, they may keep the sheet as a reminder of the meeting. Some use the pitch sheet to take notes. Others will hand it back because they don’t want to carry paper home. You’ll only need four to six copies. If more people than that want to keep your pitch sheet, consider it a blessing to go pay whatever exorbitant fee the conference center’s business office charges you to make extra copies.
A copy of your proposal. One copy is probably all you will need. Agents and editors might be willing to look over a few pages, but they won’t want to take it home with them. They’ll ask you to e-mail the proposal and sample chapters. So have those ready to go before you leave home.
The first five or ten pages of your manuscript. A proposal usually includes three chapters or fifty pages, but at a conference there’s no time for that. At best they’ll read a few pages. And again, they’re not likely to keep them.
Does it surprise you to see all the stuff related to, you know, your actual manuscript listed under “optional?” Here’s the thing: All you need to pitch your manuscript is a clear idea of what your book is about and the enthusiasm to present it convincingly.
At the ACFW conference one year, I packed my pitch sheets and proposal…and then left them in my hotel room on the day of my appointments. So I met the editors with nothing but my business cards and my brain. I got manuscript requests anyway. That’s how I discovered these things were optional.
But I have never attended a conference where I didn’t need a sweater.