Friday, June 5, 2009

Guest Blogger: MelissaPEA on What Not To Do At Conferences

We’ve all heard the warnings about conference etiquette. No monopolizing editors and agents. No launching into a lengthy pitch unless asked. No sliding a manuscript under the bathroom stall when the editor next to you really just wants a few squares of toilet paper.

I used to think this was folklore. What self-respecting writer would actually behave like this? Editors and agents must be making it up, just to sway anyone from ever behaving so rudely.

I was wrong. Some writers think that attending a conference entitles them to elbow their way past the other aspiring writers and into an agent’s or editor’s good graces.

I was flabbergasted not long ago, when a woman had the audacity to say at a conference luncheon table, “Well, we’re sitting with editors and agents, and I drove eleven hours to get here so I’m not going to waste this opportunity.” She then polled each publishing professional to see if they’d be willing to have a looksie at her novel, which she described in detail.

Apparently she hadn’t read the list of no-nos that came with the conference packet. “Please pass the ketchup” is okay to say at the lunch table; “will you read my manuscript” isn’t. Everyone else appeared annoyed or uncomfortable, but the woman rambled on about that manuscript and others. I was so busy seething and tuning her out that I regrettably did not tell her to shut up.

My drive to the conference was only a half-hour, but over the years I’ve made numerous professional and personal sacrifices to become a children’s writer. So an eleven hour ride? PSHAW!

When we go to these conferences, we’re all excited about the possibilities. But we shouldn’t brim with so much enthusiasm, like Miss Eleven Hours, that we alienate editors, agents, and other attendees.

The thing I love about the children’s writing community is that we are an extremely supportive group. I have made great friends at conferences. We encourage each other all the time. Isn’t it better to make friends than enemies at conferences?

Did you ever meet someone who committed a conference faux pas? Do you have any advice for others on What Not To Do At Conferences?


Unknown said...

Oh, ARGH. I hate people like that.

(and you're not the only one whose had that experience--Reviewer X just posted a big one about what happened to her at BEA)

Yat-Yee said...

Or you could end up on the other end of the spectrum. I was seated next to Andrea Brown at a writing retreat--I was late to dinner and that was one of the seats available--and we talked about the food and the weather and kung fu, everything except my book, till she eventually asked.

A new mantra at conferences: I will not be Miss Eleven Hours.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

dont speak in cliches

Tess said...

It's finding a balance. Like Yat-Yee, I tend to clam up when a perfectly legit opportunity to discuss my ms arises. It is ok to have a two minute 'elevator pitch' ready in case you are asked about your writing. It's not ok to monopolize their time.

kah said...

I was the opposite of Ms. 11. I had the honor of sitting next to one of my dream agents at a conference dinner. However, she was sick and losing her voice. While many table mates pressed her and forced her to talk (sore throat and all) I told her to rest her voice, then encouraged her to leave early, down some Nyquil, and get rest.
Agents are human too. I sympathized and treated her with compassion, not annoying agent-struck awe and questioning. Result? She remembered me, appreciated it, and requested my full.
Yay for the golden rule.

BJW said...

I've seen a pretty angry desperate aspiring writer come close to assaulting an editor at a conference right in front of me. The editor happened to be my friend, so needless to say I'm still a bit chapped about it.

As writers or illustrators we need to remember that there are very good ways to get published and being rude is not one of them. It is a SMALL industry. Editors talk!

Cool blog and discussion. Nice to meet everyone.