Just got home from presenting at the Florida Writers Association Annual Conference. I was honored to give two presentations--one on writing query letters and the other with my agent, Amy Boggs, on the agent/client relationship.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. Despite some opening-five-minutes nerves, the presentations went well and the feedback we received was extremely positive. The conference organizers were very attentive and friendly, and everything went off without any hitches.
However, just a few words of friendly advice:
1. If a conference offers pitch sessions for an additional fee, don't pitch an agent while she or he is trying to eat a meal unless the agent specifically asks you about your book. Agents get hungry and want to eat, too.
2. Don't push pages, CD's, or full manuscripts on an agent at a pitch session. Have those materials in your bag in case the agent ASKS for them, but don't offer unless they are requested. Agents don't want to carry manuscripts on airplanes or try to fit them in their luggage.
3. Don't ask an agent to read your pages and offer feedback in a ten-minute pitch session. You are forcing an agent to rush through your work and you're putting him or her on the spot, which no one likes. You want the agent to take time with your materials.
4. Don't open a conversation with a writer by criticizing her presentation, her agent, or her work. If feedback is requested, that's fine, but otherwise, the old saying applies. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
5. Be aware of personal space. Don't back someone into a corner. Leave at least a couple of feet between you and the person to whom you are speaking. Don't hang on to someone's hand throughout your conversation. I may have more issues with physical contact from people I don't know than the average person, but I don't think anyone would feel comfortable in these situations.
Yes, all these things happened, some to me, some to others I observed. No, they did not dampen my enthusiasm for the experience. And in the cases that directly involved me, I responded politely and professionally. But not everyone would. If you're a writer looking to make those vital networking connections, go about it in a positive, intelligent way.
Many, many attendees approached me and my agent at appropriate times, at cocktail receptions, during snack breaks when everyone was mingling, and between sessions when we weren't hurrying to get somewhere, or after the final session of the day.
Many asked first if this was a good time to chat, which we appreciated. Many opened with a compliment on one of our presentations, making sure it was honest and heartfelt. Many expressed appreciation for our time. Many asked if they could join a conversation before jumping in. These were all wonderful ways to network.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at the conference, and I do hope I'm invited back to present again. Many thanks to the FWA organizers for the opportunity.