As I'm preparing myself for the SCBWI Carolinas writers conference this weekend (Sept. 19-21) I have been thinking about any tips I could give to writers who are attending this conference, who attend conferences in general, or who are looking to attend conferences but haven't made the plunge.
Many writers worry about how they'll battle their nerves and impress that agent or editor. It can be intimidating to approach someone you don't know and pitch your book or have a critique with them. I think agents and editors often get put on these pedestals. I guess we're seen as gatekeepers of sorts and getting through to us can lead you to the promised land of the published author. And you might worry you won't be able to impress us or get your pitch just right. I'm not going to tell you to imagine the agent or editor you're approaching in their underwear (as that might make things a little weird and personally has never helped me with public speaking and nerves) but try to imagine them as a regular old human being (we are, we promise!). I personally get nervous before speeches, and most people do (even the best public speakers), and sometimes I get nervous meeting authors who I really admire. But, 9/10 times nerves are what happens before you actually start speaking, and once you start going they flit away.
If you tend to get nervous, practice can really help when it comes to pitching. Practice in front of a mirror; practice for friends or other writers. When you feel good about your pitch you likely won't be nearly as nervous about delivering it. But, be careful not to practice it to the point where you repeat it word for word kind of robotically. Try to be natural. If you have a decent amount of time with that agent or editor start off with a friendly, "Hello. How are you? It's nice to meet you! I hope you're having a nice conference." Starting off friendly and open will break the ice a bit with the person you're talking to. Generally if someone is nice and warm to you, you return that sentiment. It's much easier to speak with someone who you warmed up a little. Make sense?
Remember: Getting nervous is part of being human, and my point is that we aren't scary and are generally friendly, understanding people. As an agent or editor we work with a lot of people and if we were unapproachable and cold, we probably wouldn't get too far in the field. As agents and editors we want nothing more than to find more great voices to work with and publish, and often times we find them at writers conferences. I appreciate the courage it takes to talk to us and I respect it immensely.
You've already made that first step and have finished a book! If you ask me that in itself is a huge accomplishment. Be proud of that and use that confidence to move to the next level. Getting published generally takes a lot of hard work and the more you work to get it, the more you read and practice your craft, the more you stay on top of what is working for your genre or age group, and the more you stay true to yourself as a writer the higher your chances of success. You have to be willing to work for it and it may be a tough journey and take time.
As an agent looking for new talent I really enjoy getting to help writers with their craft (and I think most editors and agents who attend conferences share this joy). We're not there to criticize or judge or turn you away--we attend conferences to help writers. So don't be afraid for that critique session. See it as an opportunity to learn and network and hopefully make it to that next level. Think of the possibility of meeting that perfect agent or editor for you. One often has to put themselves out there to get positive results, and remember we're there to help you!
I hope this was reassuring and helpful in some way!