At every writing conference I hear horror stories about the outrageous things people will say and do to get an editor’s or agent’s attention. And it occurred to me that writing conference newcomers—and a few clueless conference veterans—might benefit from a refresher course on writing conference behavior.
Here are the Top Ten Things Not to Do at a Writing Conference:
10. When sending in your work to be critiqued, do not single-space the manuscript, use a microscopic Font, or include a 10-page synopsis. Not following the guidelines labels you as a rank amateur and annoys whoever is critiquing your writing.
9. If you don’t know anyone in the room, resist the urge to hide in the coat closet or cower under the buffet table. Writing conferences are for networking. Climb out of your shell and make some new friends!
8. During workshops, small group sessions, or keynote speeches, do not talk on your cell, text, or draw unflattering pictures of the speaker—especially if you’re sitting in the front row. Speakers notice these things, and not in a good way.
7. In breakout sessions hold back from pointing out every flaw in the work being critiqued. Use the sandwich method—discuss the positive aspects of the writing, give a suggestion for improvement, and end your critique with an overall positive comment. If you can’t think of any positives, go directly to the punchbowl on the buffet table and bob for orange slices.
6. No matter how annoyed you may be, do not bitch at the conference organizer about the schedule, speakers, food, door prizes, parking, accommodations, or weather. This person has spent months working out the details, dealing with vendors, and finding replacements for cancellations. If you don’t like the way things are being done, roll up your sleeves and help put the next conference together.
5. If you are lucky enough to have an editor or agent ask about your current project, do not take up their time with a 10-minute description of your inspiration, writing philosophy, characters, plot, setting, and theme. Before the conference, practice summarizing your story in 60 seconds or less—30 is better. An interested person will ask for more information; someone who isn’t interested will breathe a sigh of relief.
4. At mealtimes do not elbow, trip, or head butt other hopefuls out of the way so that you can sit at the table with a presenter. Being a writer doesn’t grant you immunity from wrongful injury lawsuits or assault charges. And there’s always the possibility you’ll elbow the wrong ribcage by mistake.
3. If you find yourself in a situation where complimentary drinks are served, you do not need to “get your money’s worth.” Drunks are never as charming or witty as they think they are. And upchucking on an editor’s shoes is not the recommended way to make a lasting impression.
2. Do everyone a favor by not dropping the names of every editor, editorial assistant, intern, and agent you’ve ever met, heard of, or seen from a distance. Nobody—and I mean nobody—cares.
And the Number One thing NOT to do at a writing conference:
1. Never, ever, ever corner an editor in the restroom, pass your manuscript under the stall door, and hold the poor woman hostage on the stool until she reads it. That’s not opportunity knocking at the door; it’s the SWAT Team.