Are you gearing up for a conference and find yourself wondering what to wear, what to bring, and how NOT to make a fool of yourself in front of editors and agents? Then this is the article for you.
Practical Do’s and Don’ts for Attending a Children’s Writer and Illustrator Conference
- Do NOT harass editors and agents to see your work. It’s perfectly okay to talk with them should the opportunity arise, but shoving your manuscript in their faces is NOT the way to make a good impression, nor is asking them if they will look at your work later. The only time you should ask an editor or agent specific questions about your work is if you’ve paid for a private one-on-one critique and you are in a session with the editor or agent specifically for the purpose of talking about your critique.
- Do dress appropriately. I can’t stress this enough. You have to remember that most of these editors and agents live in New York. They are usually pretty decently dressed people. You should try not to look like you just threw on the first mumu you could reach when you rolled out of bed this morning. Leave the ties and business suits at home. But do dress business casual. Even Casual Friday for the office environment is acceptable (so neat denim can work if you still look put together.) If you’re a lady, dressing with the rule of three in mind will help you weather any conference. Three? What do you mean? 1) Wear a top. 2) Wear a bottom. 3) Bring something to wear over your top in case the room is cold. This might mean a coordinating jacket, cardigan or sweater. Men? You’ll be safe with a collared shirt, button-down, or sweater with khakis or neat trousers.
- Do NOT forget your business cards. I manage to do this at least once a year and feel like a complete idiot when I find myself scribbling my info on the back of a napkin. These conferences are a great way to network with writers and other industry professionals who are in a position to help you or vice versa. Make it easier to network by having a “professional-looking” business card to give to them. If you don’t know what “professional” looks like, ask buddies you trust to help you pick out your design. Haven’t published anything yet? It doesn’t matter. You’ll want your name, your email address, physical address, phone number, and your title “WRITER” or “ILLUSTRATOR” on there. If you don’t want to share that much info, at the very least, put your name, email address, and title on your card. The best place to get FREE professional-quality business cards on the Internet quickly is, by far, Vistaprint.com. I use them myself and am extremely pleased with their product. (The matte finish also looks and feels great. No need to upgrade to the glossy or the 100-lb paper unless you really, really want to.)
If you’re an illustrator, making up a postcard displaying samples of your work in full-color is also a REALLY, REALLY GOOD IDEA. You can also do this at Vistaprint.com. So get those ready and printed in time for your conference.
- Do bring a notebook and a writing instrument. You’ll be taking lots of notes and you’ll want a working pen to do it with. Using one notebook reserved strictly for conferences might also help you stay organized if you plan on going to more than one in your lifetime.
- Do NOT make Q&A sessions all about you. Often, you will have an opportunity to ask questions of editors and agents at the end of a session. If you want to know something, don’t make the question all about you. There is nothing more aggravating to your audience or speaker than having to answer a question about the marketability of your picture book about frogs and funerals for the 8-12 year-old audience in front of two hundred people. Make your questions open-ended and general so that everyone may benefit from the answer.
- DO remember to smile. Every year I see it. People who attend conferences with a permanent scowl on their faces as if they were forced to attend. It’s easy to get nervous and worry about whether or not you are making all the right moves, but in that process, don’t forget to change the expression on your face. Sometimes something as simple as a “pleasant” countenance is all you need to to start up a conversation.
- Do NOT forget to bring breath mints or gum. Speaking of your mouth, there is nothing worse than having stale breath from keeping your trap shut for hours on end. Or maybe you had a sandwich with onions on it for lunch. So don’t forget to bring the Altoids with you. Not only will your breath thank you, but it’s a great way to make nice with the neighbor sitting next to you who just might have forgotten to bring their own arsenal of fresh-breath products.
- DO leave room in your baggage for freebies. If you’re going to a large conference, like the annual national SCBWI conferences, do leave room in your luggage for all the freebies you will bring home. Mostly this will consist of publisher catalogs. I personally prefer to stuff all these publications into the “expandable” part of my carry-on and then ship the whole puppy back on the plane. Going to the conference, however, I make sure I have my luggage with me at all times. Nothing worse than having your luggage lost when you’re on a trip.
- DO NOT get drunk. Okay, this goes without saying. But little do you know how much partying there can be if alcohol is present! You’ll want to remember who you are and what you did the night before when you wake up for the second day of the conference.
- DO put yourself out there. If you make one promise to yourself, it should be this: MEET PEOPLE while you are at the conference. How rare it is to be among others who love children’s writing as much as you do! And guess what? You might find your new, beloved critique partner at one of these conferences. That’s how I met both of mine. Are you shy? Me, too. I just try to remember most people hate small talk as much as I do. You already have something in common with everyone around you–so break the ice! Put yourself out there and be amazed by how others respond.
Good luck at your next conference! Now excuse me while I get ready for mine!