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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ten Tips for a Successful Conference

I went to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference this last week.

Wow! The conferees had so much to choose from. The Blue Ridge folks (Novel Rocket's own Edie Melson, for one) offered 22 classes at one time. If you couldn't find a class that spoke to your need you weren't looking. And what a great faculty! There were the usual teachers--editors and agents and award-winning authors, but there were also professors, publicists, and pundits, as well as professional speakers, actors, and at least one producer of films and TV shows. They all spent their time and money (because, let's face it, many of them could have been making more money writing or editing or acting or working for their clients) in order to equip God's people to be better communicators, to get their messages out to wider audiences, and to move up to the next level in the God-given ministries or careers.  If you've never been before, I urge you to start saving now for next year. It's a wonderful conference.

I'm going to a couple of other Christian conferences this year—Write to Publish is in two weeks, Greater Philadelphia starts the last day of July, and ACFW is in the middle of September. Make plans to go to a conference or two this year. I think you'll enjoy them and grow.

And despite the jokes we make about people passing proposals under the bathroom stall doors, staff members do not get angry or hold grudges when you make newbie mistakes. We are not out to get you. Quite the opposite. We want to help you succeed.

So, in an effort to help you succeed at all you do, and since this is fresh on my mind, let me give you a quick list of things that may help you get the most out of your next conference. In no particular order, here are some thing to remember:
  1. Get plenty of sleep prior to conference, because chances are you will lose some sleep once you get there.
  2. Ask God to give you divine appointments and then look for those appointments in the faces of the "little" people who need your help as strenuously as you look for them in the faces of editors and agents you'd like to talk to.
  3. Go with a desire to serve God and his people.
  4. Understand that it is your job to make the editors love your work; it is not their job to pretend to love it when they don't.
  5. Resolve to rejoice when God says "No," as fervently as you rejoice when he says, "Yes."
  6. When an editor or an agent asks you to send your work, send your work.
  7. When an editor or an agent tells you they can't use or represent your project, don't argue. Arguing isn't going to change the answer; it's only going to frustrate the agent or editor. Instead of arguing, listen to the reasons they give and determine to address those issues and pitch to them again the following year.
  8. Take the long-term approach. Don't expect a publishing deal to come from the conference, instead aim at getting to know some writers who might critique your work or aim at getting to know one agent or one editor. Be open to what God wants to give you—for most people, it won't be a publishing deal.
  9. Don't expect staff members to teach their classes to you at the dinner table so you can go to someone else's class during class time. 
  10. Don't go to meetings you don't want to go to—it's OK to take some time to recharge in a rocking chair on the deck or to take a walk or even to take a nap. 
OK, that's enough for now. What about you? What's your best advice for a new conference-goer? Or what is the eleventh point you wish I'd covered?

Sally Apokedak
Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She's in the process of of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.


  1. Some of the best conversations I've had at writers conferences weren't with agents or editors. They were with other writers who share my passion for story-telling. It's so important (and so hard sometimes) to keep things in perspective. We need to attend with the right attitude. Thanks for reminding us to look for divine appointments with the "little" people.

  2. Hey, Kim, thanks for commenting. You're the expert on getting the most out of conferences, I guess. You published a book on the topic, right? I think Les Stobbe, my wonderful mentor/boss/dude endorsed it. Wasn't that you? Ah, yes, here it is: The Christian Writer's Coach: How to Get the Most out of a Writers Conference. Looks good.

    And I agree, some of my best conversations have been with writers rather than with editors and agents. :)

  3. Thanks for noticing. :) I feel very privileged to have my article in The Christian Writer's Coach. I'm a firm believer in the importance of attending writers conferences, and I hope to see you at ACFW this September.

  4. I suggest conferees remember old-fashioned courtesy. Examples: At a dining table, don't monopolize the editor/agent with question after question when six other people are sitting there waiting for a turn. Also, keep one eye on your watch at appointments and wind it up when your time slot is ending rather than poaching the next person's appointment time.

    Bottom line: Make yourself memorable by being the congenial writer with a great story idea, and not by being the self-centered person everyone is whispering about. :)

    1. Great suggestions, Rick. I am happy to report that everyone I met at Blue Ridge was mindful of other people. I didn't have anyone monopolize any conversations.

  5. Thanks for the terrific post, Sally, and for the great teaching at Blue Ridge. Something I think goes along w/ what you wrote, is to go into appointments with an open mind to what God has prepared for you during, and through, the appointment.

    1. Hey, Sandy, great to see you here. I might add: take every opportunity to get your writing in front of editors and agents--they may remember you as a person with a wonderful voice. :)

  6. Sally: Number Eight on your list is key in my opinion: Take the long-term approach. My first conference I just learned and made contacts with fellow, supportive writers. At later conferences I made contacts with the man who became my agent (your friend, Les Stobbe), and then got more serious interest from editors. I'm still pre-published but conferences are great ways to learn, connect, and stay the path.
    Like Randy Ingermanson sez, "Think contacts, not contracts."

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dennis. I agree with Randy, and with you. Contacts are so important. I never made a friend thinking they might do something for me later, but now, after so many years in the industry, I know people who started out when I did who are now editors and best-selling authors and they are happy to help me out wen I need help. This was not why I first made friends with them. We just kind of all "grew up" together in the business.

  7. Love, love, love the Blue Ridge Conference! Unable to attend this year so I enjoyed your comments and imagined myself back there. If someone is attending the first time, I would suggest finding some quiet time between all the classes, workshops and meetings. I know the attraction to attend everything you can, I've done it and been exhausted. Now I skip a session when I need to, relax and re-focus and it helps so much :)


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