Dispatches from the Davenport: Your Conference Experience

By Bree Ogden

Literary agents and editors speak quite a bit on what’s appropriate at writer’s conferences and what’s inappropriate. Our purpose is not to shame anyone or make any writer feel self-conscious. Since you pay good money and take time out of your busy schedules to attend these conferences in order to help further your career (and build your base of knowledge), we simply want to help you understand what makes the most out of your conference experience. So to help you out pre-conference, I’ve compiled a list called:

Bree’s 5 foolproof techniques to ensure a successful writers conference experience (and how to have a blast): [patent pending] *wink*

1.) Be Prepared

So often…too often, writers come to conferences with sloppy pitches, rough ideas for books (instead of fully fleshed out manuscripts), or they pitch the wrong agent/editor for their genre. Research every single agent and editor attending the conference. Know what they represent and what they are looking for. This information is readily available all over the internet…on their websites, blogs, twitter feeds, etc. But more importantly, nearly every conference will make this information available to you right on their conference website. Knowing what agents and editors represent and or acquire will help you make the most of your short weekend with these folks. You’ve worked too hard to waste your time pitching an agent who doesn’t represent your genre.

Secondly, know your pitch inside and out. I’m not saying it has to be memorized. I’m saying that if I ask you a question about one of your characters and you hem and haw as if you read the CliffsNotes of your manuscript instead of personally creating the character, that doesn’t bode well. This happens more than you’d think. And it’s typically due to nerves. So just be prepared.


2.) Realize That Agents and Editors Are People Too

We are asked to go to a conference to share our knowledge and our industry experiences with you to try to pull back the curtain and hopefully point you in the right direction. We are there to give you solid advice to the best of our ability. But please understand that we are just people and we make mistakes.

Each one of us may have a different opinion on your work, as this is a very subjective business, but know that we want nothing but the best for you and your career and we’re doing our best to help you achieve your goals. Sometimes we mess up. Sometimes our keynotes aren’t always epic or groundbreaking (although we try like hell to make them so). Sometimes we don’t know an answer to your question. But even in those situations you can still gain a tremendous amount of knowledge to help you in your career.

Lastly, please be respectful of us and our time. Please stick to the guidelines of the conference. If you were given two minutes to pitch us, stick to those two minutes. Please don’t wait for us outside and follow us around asking questions. We have a lot of bases to cover at conferences, and a lot of stressors, just like you. Sometimes we need some alone time to practice our keynotes or lectures. Sometimes we need a little power nap. When writers are respectful of agents and editors at conferences, we are much more inclined to want to spend more time with you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask things like, “may I buy you drink and talk to you about a project that I think would be right up your alley?” But please do not take it personally if that agent says they simply do not have time for that. We’re not blowing you off, and it’s not that we don’t care, it’s honestly probably because we have to prepare for the next day of the conference. Yes, this is a job for us, and yes we are absolutely here for you. But this is why conferences schedule mixers and meet & greets. Take advantage of those!


3.) Make Friends

Writing is a solitary act. You sit alone for hours on end, days and days in a row for months doing this thing that you’re so passionate about. But no man is an island and over my six years of being a literary agent if I’ve learned one thing more than anything else it’s that writers need other writers. Not only for moral support when things get rough but to help answer questions, to beta read, to help familiarize you with the intricacies of the publishing world, and to hold your hand and hug you tight when times gets rough.

I’m often asked how to find writers groups. Well, conferences are a fantastic way to start. Go into the conference with an open heart and an open mind. Make friends with everyone. Talk to everyone. Sit at a different table for every meal. Grab a coffee with a stranger. Ask people about their manuscripts. Show genuine interest in their work and they will show genuine interest in yours. If you do this a few times, you’ll start to find people in your wheelhouse and these can be friends for life. These will be the people who help you navigate the incredibly rocky terrain of the publishing industry.


4.) Leave Your Ego at the Door:

Just because you have attended a writer’s conference and maybe paid more money than you felt you could afford at the time, does not mean that you’ll automatically land an agent. A lot of writers that I meet at conferences feel entitled to agents and editors’ attention and/or representation simply because they have paid the money and attended the conference. This is not how that works.

Writer’s conferences are to make connections with other writers and to have some face time with publishing folks as well as learn more about the industry and gain a better perspective on their own manuscript from the experience and knowledge of a professional.

All too often I am presented with a pitch, manuscript, or self-published book as the author says to me: “The state of literature today is awful and my book is truly unique. My friends and family have told me as much yet for some reason agents/editors aren’t responding…what can you do for me?” This would be the wrong attitude to bring to a conference. In fact, the wrong attitude to have period.

As Chuck Palahniuk once wrote: “you’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” Now of course, you ARE a beautiful and unique snowflake but realize that there are many other snowflakes out there working their hardest to do exactly what you’re doing and chances are agents and editors have dealt with almost all of these snowflakes at some point in their career. Wow us with your concepts, your writing, your HEALTHY amount of confidence, and your charming personality. Don’t try to wow us by acting like we would be insane not to work with you. We can see right through that and it’s not something that we want to work with.


5.) Have Fun!

Work all day, party all night! Not really, but just have fun with it. Make friends, treat agents/editors like the normal human beings we are, eat good food, explore your surroundings when you have free time, be real, be you.

I’ll never forget sitting at a dinner table at a conference in Canada with a few agents, a few editors, a few published authors, and a few aspiring authors chatting about T-Rex erotica. It was an absolute blast and those aspiring authors were having just as much fun as the rest of us. Don’t feel like you can only talk to other unpublished attendees. Be bold. Go sit with some agents. Make jokes with them. Have drinks with them during dinner and be yourself. These are the connections we remember…the writers who came to learn, but had a blast doing so!

I sincerely hope to see any and all of you this year at a conference or two. Or three or four. I’ll be attending some very diverse conferences in 2016, take a peek and comment below if you’ll be at any of these so we can share a hallway hug!


Life, the Universe and Everything -February 11th through 13th


2016 AWP Conference – March 30th through April 2


2016 DFW Writers’ Conference – April 23rd through April 24th

World Horror Con – April 28th through May 1st









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