Preparing for a Writer’s Conference: The Elevator Pitch

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Congratulations! You’ve just signed up for a writer’s conference. Whether you’re attending your first conference or you’ve gone to a couple dozen in your career, there’s always plenty of prep work to do before you go. For one, you’ll need to pack your elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a brief description of who you are and what kind of writing you do. Most authors agree the pitch should be no more than 30 seconds long, or about 50 to 100 words. Since you don’t have a lot of time to make your points, you need to make every word and every second count.

But creating a pitch for the first time can be daunting. Even more experienced writers don’t always get it right and have to re-do theirs from time to time, especially as their projects change.

Why is an elevator pitch necessary?

There is some debate among literary agents about the purpose of elevator pitches and whether they are truly necessary. At the Book Ends Literary blog, agent Jessica Faust suggests that authors and would-be authors dump the traditional pitch in favor of real conversation. Some agents don’t want to be bombarded at a conference with pitches. They’d rather get to know you as a person and as a writer. They want to talk about publishing and the latest books you’ve read.

I can understand Faust’s point. Imagine being a literary agent at a conference attended by several hundred people. Would you want to be hounded by all these would-be authors? If that were me, I would want to hide out in a corner just to avoid the rush of people clamoring for my attention.

Still, it’s important to have an elevator pitch ready in case someone asks. Why? Because writers like to hear what other writers are working on, and agents and publishers are always looking for new talent and new book concepts. So when someone asks, “What are you writing?” you can be prepared to answer them, briefly and succinctly.

Moral of this story: don’t dump your elevator pitch altogether, but do keep it in your back pocket.

What should an elevator pitch include?

When you only have 30 seconds to make an impression, it can be challenging to squeeze as much information into your elevator pitch. Opt for the most important points. Avoid giving a chapter-by-chapter account of your story; that will simply take too long. Shorter is better, about 50 to 100 words, but have more points prepared in case you are asked follow up questions.

What genre do you write? – Mention what genre story you are writing. Is it women’s fiction, a memoir or a self-help book? For examples of some great elevator pitches in these three genres, see Bookbub’s Insights blog.

What is your current project? Give a brief summary of your story line, focusing on character and conflict. Then add context for the story – where does it take place in relation to the world we live in. Finally, consider why readers should care about your story.

What have you written previously? Even if you haven’t published anything before, say so. Instead, you can say, “This is my debut novel.”

Keep it snappy. Once you’ve written the key elements of your pitch, edit it so it will grab a listener’s attention.

Practice your pitch. Keep practicing your pitch so it feels comfortable rolling off your tongue. One of the worst things to happen is to sound too rehearsed and canned, or like you are speaking lines for a play. You want to come across as natural as possible.

Here’s a great tip from The Writing Cooperative. When someone asks how they can find out more about you and your writing, don’t just hand out your business card or spit out your website URL. There’s no guarantee that they will ever follow up with you and checkout your website on their own. Instead, say something like “I’ll be happy to give you that information. Do you have an email address I can send it to?” or ask for their business card. This way you can follow up with them after the conference. Be sure you really do follow up with a personal note.

Another important tip: don’t hound agents and publishers at conferences. Focus on creating conversation. Ask them how their day is going. Ask what authors they enjoy reading. Ask what sessions they’ve attended. Get the conversation started.

Then don’t be surprised if they turn the spotlight on you at some point and ask “What are you writing?” Then be ready to give your elevator pitch, naturally and comfortably.

A Writer’s Guide to Networking

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As writers, we often work solo, unless we’re collaborating on a project with someone else. Sometimes it can get lonely in our creative worlds. It’s not easy working in isolation, but it is necessary to create the  work of our dreams.

But writers cannot live by their writing alone. They have to take time to get out to meet people too. But if you’re like me, you’re a bit of an introvert, which doesn’t make it easy to connect with others.

At a recent event presented by the Chicago Writers Association, a panel of local writers and editors shared their tips for building a strong network. Whether you need a break from your writing, need help getting past a sticky plot point, or simply want to connect with like-minded professionals to find out what they’re working on, your network is an important element in your career development.

One thing the panelists agreed on is this: your writing always comes first.

Here are a few of their suggestions for building your network.

1. Be a good literary citizen. Share what you know with others. Either at meetings and workshops or through your social media channels, be willing to help others. Give advice, tell others about a book you’ve read recently, or tell others about a workshop you attended. Build literary karma – by giving freely of yourself to others, people will remember you when you need help from them.

2. Promote other writer’s works. This dovetails nicely from the first point above and adds to your literary karma. If another writer you know just got published, congratulate them on your social media channels. Even if you haven’t read the book yourself, when your followers and fellow writers see the generous spirit of your comments, they are likely to return the favor when you publish yours. Put other people first.

3. Be a joiner. Join two or three groups that resonate most with you. But don’t just become a member; be active too. An easy way for other members to get to know you is to get involved on a committee because it forces you to interact with other members and industry players. For example, volunteer to be on the membership committee to welcome new members or work on event planning.

The panelists also suggest getting involved in two or three groups to gain different perspectives and further expand your social circle.

Conversely, not all writing groups and associations will resonate with you. That’s okay. Attend one or two of their meetings as a nonmember first to get a feel for what they are about. It may take two or three meetings to decide if you want to become a member.

4. Actively attend meetings. Don’t hide in a corner and observe the proceedings. Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new people at the event. Make conversations with people, and be sincere when you talk to them. Make the conversation about them, and refrain from pushing your personal agenda on them.

To get the conversation started, think of a couple of questions to ask ahead of time. For example, “What book are you reading now?”, “What are you currently writing?”, and “What keeps you awake at night with regard to your writing?”

Remember other attendees are in the same boat as you. They may be as shy and introverted as you are. It might help to seek out individuals who are off in a corner by themselves. They’re likely new to the group too, so start up a conversation. I find it’s easier to approach one person than it is two or three huddled together.

5. Connect on social media. Many publishers, authors, editors and agents are on social media. Follow them and politely engage with them. Share their posts, comment on their stories, and read their blog.

Here’s a great idea and one I plan to implement: send handwritten complimentary notes to them. Thank them for the work they do, for publishing a certain author whose work you enjoyed, or congratulate them on reaching a milestone. It will make their day. Remember, many of these literary professionals work in isolation too, and they want to hear that their work matters. However, be polite and sincere, and don’t push your agenda.

6. Avoid imposter syndrome. For some writers, it can be difficult to admit that they are a writer especially when they haven’t published anything. Avoid of temptation of telling yourself that you don’t belong with other writers because you haven’t published anything. It’s a self-defeating mindset. Whether you are a newbie writer stretching your creative muscles, or you’ve published several books already, you are welcome at all and every networking event. Practice saying out loud “I am a writer. I am a writer.” Keep repeating it until it is deeply ingrained in your soul. So the next time someone asks what you do, you can say with confidence “I am a writer.”

Remember writing is a journey and we are all passengers on the same road. Some of us come with more baggage than others. But that doesn’t mean you are not welcome to the club. You are not an imposter playing at writing. If you write often, even if you haven’t been published, you are a writer and you belong.

Finally and most important, do your writing before your networking. Your writing should always come first. If you don’t do the writing, the networking is meaningless.

Networking is more than collecting business cards. You also have to learn to be a good literary citizen too.

 

Remembering the Queen of Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark

MHC autographSeveral weeks ago, we lost an icon in the literary world. Author Mary Higgins Clark passed away at the age of 92 and her loss will be deeply felt among generations of her loyal readers.

Clark authored 56 books in a career that spanned more than 40 years, which is amazing considering she didn’t get published until she was 43. It took hard work, dedication and persistence to keep writing and keep revising — a lesson for all aspiring authors. In a lovely open letter on Clark’s website, Carolyn K. Reidy, the CEO of Simon & Schuster, Clark’s publisher, writes of Mary’s work ethic and her generosity with her readers.

Clark was one of the first authors whose books I routinely sought out in bookstores or at the library because I always knew they were well written and kept me turning the pages until its satisfying conclusion. I always looked forward to the new releases from her with great anticipation, not unlike the Harry Potter series two decades later.

Clark was also one of the few authors I met during a meet-and-greet at a bookstore near my office many years ago. I remember walking into the bookstore and noting with surprise that there weren’t many people in line to meet her, maybe three or four. Mind you, this was 1991, long before there was social media and cell phones and selfies. They didn’t exist back then, so there was little pre-event publicity other than an ad in the newspaper.

I waited eagerly as she chatted with the gentleman in front of me. She actually took the time to talk and answer his questions. When my turn came, I excitedly told her I loved her stories and wanted to be a writer myself. I can’t remember what we talked about after that, but she patiently signed my book (Loves Music, Loves to Dance) with the line “Happy reading and happy writing” followed by her signature and the date. (See image above.)

It’s hard to believe I have had that book all this time. I never had the heart to donate it or give it away because, well, it was a signed copy and it had my name in it. That made it special to me.

When I heard the news of Clark’s passing, I pulled out the book from my collection and looked at what Mary wrote inside. It warmed my heart all over again. Even better, it inspired me to keep writing and keep working toward my publishing goal. Stopping my work now would be like betraying an old friend.

I think many writers can point to one or two authors who have inspired them to be the writer they wanted to be. For me, it was Mary Higgins Clark as well as suspense writer Joy Fielding, who signed a book copy for me in 1995.

JF autograph 2

If there is a moral to this story, it would be to seek out the advice of other writers who have traveled the road you’re on, especially if they are writers whose works you admire. Ask them questions about their craft, no matter how dumb they may sound. These days, most authors have a website and are on social media, so it’s easier to follow them and keep tabs on what they are doing professionally. Check in with them every so often, but don’t hound them. Check their calendar, if they have one, to find out when they’ll be visiting your town. Then make a point to stop by and say hello. You never know what that meeting might lead you toward.

What about you? Do you have a favorite author that inspired you to become a writer? Have you ever met them in person? Share your story in the comments below.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Writer’s Conference

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Last week, I shared a list of writer’s conferences taking place in the coming months. These conferences are brimming with good, relevant information that can help you become a stronger, more proficient writer – and maybe pave the way to getting your manuscript published. You can connect with other writers who are traveling the same path as you, and you can learn from published authors, agents and editors.

While many of these conferences can be cost prohibitive for some people, there are ways to be able to finance the admission fees, such as grants and scholarships. (See my post from last week for more information.)

I recently signed up for a conference – my first one – because I wanted to immerse myself in this intensive learning experience. I want to take my writing career to the next level. Signing up for the conference was the easy part. The hard part is preparing for the event. Luckily, I have found numerous tips for getting the most out of the conference experience, which I am happy to share with you.

1. Set a goal (or two) for the event. Think about why you want to be there. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to meet an agent or an editor you may be interested in reading your manuscript? Meet a favorite author? Make new friends? Learn about self-publishing? Get inspired to write that next novel? The choice is yours.

By setting a goal beforehand, you can go into the conference with the intention to work toward that goal. For example, if your goal is to build your network for fellow writers, make a goal of meeting at least three new contacts. Make sure to follow up with them after the conference by email or phone, even if it’s just to say hello.

2. Dress appropriately. Remember you are there to conduct business and you are representing yourself. Dress as you would as if you were going to a job interview or a business meeting. Think business casual. Refrain from wearing jeans and a T-shirt because they might send the message that you don’t take your career seriously.

3. Start networking before the conference begins. This is a great suggestion by Steuben Press. Just because the conference won’t take place until June doesn’t mean you can’t engage with guest speakers until then. If there’s an author or editor that will be present, start following them on social media. Pose a question for then on Twitter or their Facebook page or comment on their blog post. Then when you see them at the conference or bump into them during a coffee break, you can refer to one of those comments to begin a dialogue. The key is to get your name and face in front of them so they will remember you.

4. Practice your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a brief summary of your manuscript that you should be able to recite to anyone you might meet anywhere – a coffee shop, on the street, or in an elevator. Keep the pitch to no more than two sentences or approximately 50 words, suggests the folks at Jericho Writers. Most editors and literary agents you meet will be pressed for time, so anything longer than two sentences might be a time drain. Besides, most elevator rides don’t last very long.

5. Be organized. Establish a system for tracking everything from who you meet to what you learn each day from each session you attend. I like to carry a notebook that contains all my notes from workshops, classes and conference sessions. Because it’s all in one place, it’s easy for me to look back at some notes from two years ago, for example, that I may need today.

Another habit I’ve developed in my career is to make notes on the back of each business card I receive from somebody. On the back, I write the date and event where I met that person. Again I have something to job my memory about how I know that individual. When I follow up with an email, I can refer to that event that took place so they know who I am.

6. Turn off your devices when you’re networking with others. Stay in the present moment. Enjoy meeting new people without distractions. Besides, when you’re constantly looking into your smart phone, you send the message that you really prefer to be somewhere else. When you show a lack of interest in the world around you, others will show a lack of interest in you.

7. Eat with new friends and business contacts. Once you’ve made some new friends, invite them to sit with you at lunch or meet over coffee. The important thing is to not eat by yourself or sit alone at a table. Sometimes the best relationships begin in one-on-one settings or in smaller groups.

8. Don’t take the conference too seriously. Don’t be all work and no play. Make sure you have fun too. Attend some of the social events, or form your own group outing like visiting an art museum or listening to live music.

9. But don’t get too comfortable. On the other hand, don’t play it so loose and fancy free that others think you aren’t serious about your writing. There’s a time to work and a time to play. Find a healthy balance between the two and you should walk away from the conference feeling excited and energized to take your writing to the next level.

Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? What was your experience like?  How did you prepare for it? What tips do you have for your fellow writers about attending conferences?

Attending a Writer’s Conference Can Make a Difference in Your Career

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If your goal for 2020 is to get more serious about your writing career, then you might want to consider attending a writer’s conference.

There are plenty of reasons to attend a conference: to find an editor, to connect with an agent, to learn more about your craft, to gain motivation, to expand your network, among others. Only you know what you want to accomplish when you get there.

Knowing which conference to attend can be daunting however. There are numerous conferences to choose from and there seems to be more every year. Which one you choose to attend will depend on your budget, of course, the location, and perhaps the size of the event. It’s also important to consider your goal for the conference: what do you hope to achieve while you are there? You might also be enticed by the editors and agents who plan to attend, or who the keynote speaker will be.

Your best bet is to choose a conference that is a) locally accessible and b) serves your genre. That way you know you can spend time with other like-minded professionals who are writing within the same genre and you can connect with editors and literary agents who specialize in that genre. For example, if you write science fiction or fantasy, your best bet is to attend a writer’s conference for the sci-fi genre, though you can get just as much out of a general writer’s conference too.

If cost is a concern, check conference websites for information about scholarships. Some conferences do offer scholarships for part or all of the cost of the conference, so it might be worthwhile to check it out. Also, some states offer grants for individual artists to pursue a professional development goal or complete a project. For example, the Illinois Arts Council offers grants for individuals artists (although as of this writing, funding has been expended and won’t continue until 2021).

Below is a brief list of writer’s conferences for the first half of this year. There are plenty more in the second half, but most of them have not published dates or registration information just yet. Most of the conferences listed below are located in the Midwest, close to where I live. If you live elsewhere, check Google for writing conferences and university-sponsored workshops close to you. Later this year, I’ll do a follow up post about scheduled conferences for the second half of the year. Stay tuned.

What about you? Have you attended a writer’s conference? Where did you go? What was your experience like?

March

Midwest Writers Workshop Agent Fest
Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
March 13-14, 2020

Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference
Presented by Chicago Writers Association
Chicago, Illinois
March 21-22, 2020

University of Wisconsin Writers Institute
Madison, Wisconsin
March 26-29, 2020

Southern Kentucky Writers Conference and Bookfest
Bowling Green, Kentucky
March 30, 2020

April

Screencraft Writers Summit
Chicago, Illinois
April 24-27, 2020

Spring Fling Writers Conference
Presented by Chicago-North Romance Writers of America
Chicago, Illinois
April 30-May 3, 2020

May

Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference
Black Mountain, North Carolina
May 24-28, 2020

Bear River Writers Conference
University of Michigan
May 28-June 1, 2020

Indiana University Writers Conference
Bloomington, Indiana
May 30-June 3, 2020

June

Rutgers-New Brunswick Writers Conference
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
June 5-7, 2020

Write by the Lake Workshop and Retreat  (not a conference, but a working retreat)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
June 15-19, 2020

Write-to-Publish Conference
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
June 17-20, 2020

Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference
Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minnesota
June 22-28, 2020

Jackson Hole Writers Conference
Jackson, Wyoming
June 25-27, 2020

And the big daddy of them all:

Writers Digest Annual Conference
New York City
August 13-16, 2020

More conference listings to come later this spring.

In Memoriam: Remembering the Authors and Journalists We Lost in 2019

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Before we get too far into 2020, let’s look back to the past year and the talented writers we lost.

Authors

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winning author of “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon”

Anne Rivers Siddons, author of “Peachtree Road” and numerous other novels set in and around Atlanta.

Judith Krantz, bestelling author of steamy, sexy romance novels including “Scruples” and “Til We Meet Again.”

Herman Wouk, author of “The Caine Mutiny” died at age 103

Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous poems about nature and animal life

Vonda McIntyre, award-winning science fiction writer best known for her Star Trek novels

Johanna Lindsey, bestselling author of more than 50 romance novels

Ernest Grimes, author of “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

Graeme Gibson, Canadian author and conservationist who was also the long-time partner of Margaret Atwood

Betty Ballantine, who with her husband helped reinvent the modern paperback through Bantam and Ballantine book publishing groups.
Journalists

Cokie Roberts, highly-respected journalist known for her work on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and co-anchoring ABC News’ “This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.”

Garth Reeves Sr., longtime publisher of the Miami Times and a prominent voice of Miami’s black community

Kathryn Johnson, journalist with the Associated Press who covered pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement

Russ Ewing, well-respected TV reporter in Chicago

Steve Dunleavy, Australian-born tabloid journalist, columnist for the New York Post and lead reporter for the TV show “A Current Affair”

David Horowitz, consumer reporter best known for his work hosting the TV show “Fight Back!”

For more about celebrity deaths, visit Legacy.com.

2020 Reading Challenge: How Many Books Can You Read in One Year?

 

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Looking for a new challenge for 2020? If you love to read and would like to expand your knowledge of genres and writing styles, beyond John Grisham legal thrillers and self-help books that leave you feeling more confused than before, then the 2020 Reading Challenge may be right for you. Here’s how you can participate.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to read one book from each of the categories listed below up to 26 books. That equates to one book every two weeks.

For an added challenge, see if you can read one book from all 34 categories. If you complete all 34 categories and there’s still time in the year, reward yourself. Either take a break from reading or read anything you want. You’ve earned it!

I won’t be handing out prizes for this challenge. The only prize is the pride of personal achievement, unless you want to reward yourself with a well-earned gift, like a massage or a copy of the latest New York Times bestseller.

I have participated in reading challenges the past three years. 2018 was my most productive year, having read 42 books. Last year was more difficult with only 27 (28 if you count the one I started the last week of December but finished the first week of January).

The experience has been rewarding. Not only have I expanded my book knowledge, I’ve discovered new authors and genres I didn’t think I would like (paranormal romance, anyone?). And I had so much fun and a sense of pride each time I crossed a category off my list.

That’s why I’m sharing this reading challenge with you. If you love books as much as I do, you won’t turn down this challenge.

So for your reading pleasure, here are the categories you can choose from. Remember, the first-level goal is 26 books — one book for every two weeks of the year. Any titles beyond that are bonuses. You can read them in any order you choose.

1. Autobiography or memoir
2. Historical fiction
3. A classic
4. Young adult novel
5. Mystery/thriller
6. Science fiction/fantasy
7. Romance/romantic suspense
8. A non-fiction book or current events
9. True crime
10. A self-help or psychology book
11. A book you read in your childhood
12. A book you read in school
13. A book/novel published within the past year
14. A book/novel published more than 100 years ago
15. A first-time author/debut novel
16. African-American fiction
17. Latin-American fiction
18. A book by an author who is deceased
19. A book made into a movie or TV show
20. A book that someone recommended to you
21. A book set in your hometown
22. A book set in a foreign place
23. A book with a place/location in the title
24. A book with a number in the title
25. A book with a person’s name in the title
26. A book with a color in the title
27. A book with a one-word title
28. A collection of short stories
29. A collection of essays
30. A play
31. A book about sports or an athlete
32. A book that features an animal (Example: Seabiscuit)
33. Paranormal/vampire
34. Current Top 10 best seller

Of course, if you can think of another category for your own reading challenge, you can add it to the selections above. Since I’m getting a late start on this endeavor, the challenge begins now and runs through next January 7, 2021. I will check in periodically to share my progress and perhaps also book titles and authors I found worthwhile.

Have fun! Let the reading begin!