From Conference to Contract: How to Get the Most Out of Writers Conferences
As freelance writers, we spend a large part of our time on our own. While some writers choose to rent offices to work alongside other freelancers, others work entirely from home. Creating an inspiring workplace is important, but it will only get you so far.
If you want to advance in your writing career, you will have to network at one point or another. And an ideal way to connect with editors and other writers is by attending writers’ conferences.
What can I get at a writers’ conferences?
Depending on the conference, there’s usually a mix of professional development workshops that allow you to learn not only about global industry trends, but also about the needs of specific publications:
- During discussion panels, editors usually explain how to pitch their particular magazine, with a question-and-answer session at the end.
- Some conferences even allow you to sign up for brief, personal meetings with editors so you can pitch them your ideas.
- Most conferences include an intensive social program, such as lunches and dinners that allow you to talk with potential employers in a more informal setting. Costs for attending vary from conference to conference.
Which writers’ conference should I attend?
Given the wide range of conferences available, you’ll have to narrow down your choices. For example, the ASJA annual writers’ conference in New York City offers over 80 workshops in three days. Topics range from writing about fitness to breaking into the technology market.
Then there are conferences like Travel Classics, which cater specifically to travel writers and as such, offer a very low writer-editor ratio (a maximum of 40 writers to 15 editors; you have to apply to attend). For more, check out Linda’s “Conference Scene” column in Writer’s Digest magazine, where she profiles three different conferences each issue.
When choosing a conference, consider the following factors:
- Location. How much does it cost you to get there? Can you combine your visit with other networking opportunities in the area?
- Duration. How long is the event?
- Size. What is the writer-editor ratio?
- Professional program. Are there personal meetings with editors? If so, do you need to sign up in advance?
- Extra-curricular program. Again, do you need to sign up and/or pay extra for some events? Are there any press tours offered as part of the conference?
- Cost: Are there scholarships and/or early bird rates?
Depending on your goals and financial situation, figure out which conference works best for you, and now get ready to make the best of it.
The early bird gets the worm (the editor?).
Preparation for a conference can start months ahead. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make your travel arrangements. Inquire about media rates.
- Read the full schedule. Find out if there is anything you have to sign up for in advance.
- Figure out your schedule if there is a choice of workshops to attend.
- Start networking with writers and editors via Twitter, Facebook and other forums.
- Prepare possible questions for editors.
- Prepare pitches for meetings with editors, always familiarizing yourself with the publication.
- Network, network, network – but don’t go crazy
Conference schedules can be quite overwhelming. Especially if you’re a first-timer, you might feel as if you can’t possibly soak in everything at once.
The key is to come with a few, select goals in mind. Instead of trying to pitch forty editors in three days — as you could certainly try at ASJA — go for a few. Making one or two successful contacts that ultimately lead to long-term relationships is much more useful than talking to every editor, and not really knowing anything about their publication.
Consider the following tips to make the best of your time:
- Be prepared. Again, knowing the publication you are pitching is essential.
- Ask questions. Questions can be a great starting point for a conversation. By asking an intelligent question, you can show an editor you are familiar with their publication, and at the same time, demonstrate that you are keen on finding out more.
- Stand out from the crowd. Whether you carry an interesting business card or have created your own travel app, tell the editor about it and try to make a lasting impression (without being full of yourself).
- Come with an open mind. While preparation is essential, you should also be prepared to remain flexible. You might find that the most successful contact you make is an editor you never planned on talking to. Don’t close any mental doors.
- Be patient. Don’t expect to sign a contract on the spot. Networking with editors is a long process, and it can be a while (or never, to be realistic) before you sign that dream contract.
Home your post-conference plan.
Once you get back home, you’re on your own again. Here’s a post-conference game plan to success:
- Go through your notes and decipher all those stars and underlines.
- Connect with attendees through LinkedIn and other social media.
- Study the publications even further, taking special note of the departments that are open to freelancers.
- Follow up with pitches, keeping in mind preferences editors outlined at meetings (when to pitch, how many ideas, what to put in the subject line, etc.). Mention that you met at the conference, and recall what you talked about (if relevant).
- Include requested attachments, links, websites, photos, etc. If an editor mentioned that he or she will not open attachments, don’t send them.
- When sending your pitch, also state your areas of expertise. That way, even if an editor does not accept your pitch at that point, he or she might be in touch with other possible ideas that fit your areas of expertise. For example, as a travel writer, being based in a particular destination can get you an assignment that you might not have pitched. Similarly, if an editor knows you are familiar with cigars, he or she might contact you whenever a relevant need comes up.
- Follow up again. During the conference, you can usually ask editors at what intervals he or she prefers follow-ups. While online editors have a quick turn around, print editors might need a bit more time to get back to you on your ideas. Stick to what the editor says. If he or she prefers being contacted on the first Monday of the month, don’t email every week.
Are you a regular conference-goer? Have you ever landed an assignment from attending a conference? Please share your tips in the Comments!
If you liked that post, you might also like:
- You Ask, We Answer: How Can I Maximize a One-on-One Pitch Session?
- 7 Ways to Attend Writers’ Conferences (or Any Conference!) for Less
- I Ask, You Answer: Are Conferences Worth the Money?
- “Specialist” Isn’t A Bad Word: A Guest Post by Damon Brown
- Are You Ready to Take the Plunge into Freelance Writing? Here’s How to Find Out